Consultation with Canadians report - Criminal Justice System

2. Executive Summary

The Government of Canada completed a public consultation on transforming the criminal justice system between November 2017 and January 2018. As part of the Government’s commitment to review the criminal justice system, constructive and thoughtful engagement with Canadians is fundamental. The goal was to provide Canadians with information and facts about the criminal justice system and ask them to share their views on how to improve it.

Thousands of Canadians shared their stories and ideas for a transformed criminal justice system through in-person roundtables, an online Choicebook (interactive educational tool), online discussion forums, email, and social media. Canadians voiced nearly universal support for transforming Canada’s criminal justice system. In general, participants expressed hope for addressing many of the challenges facing the criminal justice system. Nine topics emerged from the analysis of Canadians’ feedback: guiding principles of the justice system; redesigning the criminal justice system; victims’ experience; Indigenous overrepresentation; mental health and addictions; root causes of crime; administration of justice offences; restorative justice and alternative measures,Footnote 1 and court delays.

Guiding principles of the justice system

We heard that the criminal justice system should reflect values of respect, fairness, collaboration, compassion, and inclusiveness. Participants said that objectives of the criminal justice system should include preventing crime, holding offenders accountable, rehabilitation, and repairing the harm caused by crime. Participants called for a multi-sectoral approach to justice with increased collaboration between the criminal justice system and other social systems like health and education. Participants expressed greater support for rehabilitative and restorative approaches, over more punitive criminal justice approaches, as a more effective way of holding people accountable.

Redesigning the criminal justice system

We heard many ideas for redesigning Canada’s criminal justice system. Participants called for more alternative sentencing measures, especially for minor, non-violent crimes. These alternative measures include restorative justice, improved integration between Canada’s health and criminal justice systems, more crime prevention efforts to address the root causes of crime, training justice officials on trauma and systemic biases including cultural biases, and increased diversity in hiring and appointment processes.

Victims’ experience

We heard that the criminal justice system should support victims more effectively. Participants called for a victim-centred and trauma-informed approach to criminal justice, increased victim supports, including free, automatic, and comprehensive legal and mental health services for victims, alternative methods of testifying to prevent re-victimization, increased use of restorative justice, and automatic information sharing throughout the criminal justice process.

Indigenous overrepresentation

We heard about systemic biases against Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. Participants called for comprehensive public education and justice system training about Indigenous history and culture, including the effects of intergenerational trauma. Participants urged the Government to take concrete steps to address the root causes of crime among Indigenous people, including unequal access to clean drinking water, food, adequate housing, and education and economic opportunities. Participants suggested that Indigenous communities control their own justice systems based on Indigenous cultural practices and restorative justice approaches.

Mental health and addictions

We heard calls for prioritizing treatment over punishment for people with mental health and addictions issues in the criminal justice system. Participants discussed a need to better integrate the criminal justice and health systems. Participants recommended increased supports for people with mental health and addictions issues in the criminal justice system including mental health and addictions services, legal aid, and specialized mental health courts.

Root causes of crime

We heard about the need to address the root causes of crime, including poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and mental health and addictions issues, and that doing so is more cost-effective than incarceration. Participants said that traditional criminal justice approaches are often only “band-aid fixes”, which can actually increase recidivism, while problem-solving approaches that address the root causes of crime have the potential to break the cycle of crime. Participants called for increased access to education, mental health and addictions services, and housing and financial supports.

Administration of justice offences

We heard that the criminal justice system should deal with administration of justice offences through alternative measures like community-based programs, restorative justice approaches, and measures that address the root causes of crime rather than imprisonment or other punitive approaches. Participants discussed the negative effects of incarceration and a criminal record. Participants said that bail/probation conditions should reflect the original offence and the accused/offender’s situation and avoid having individuals “set up for failure.”

Restorative justice and alternative measures

We heard that the criminal justice system should consider increased use of restorative justice and alternative measures, including diversion to community-based programs and restitution mainly for minor, non-violent crimes and first-time offenders. Many participants said a criminal record and incarceration do little to address the root causes of crime and have negative effects on job prospects and raising a family. Participants called for alternative sentences that include mental health counselling, job and skills training, and social and financial assistance.

Court delays

We heard about ways to reduce court delays, including fast-tracking serious cases, dealing with minor offences in alternative ways, increasing the use of restorative justice and specialized courts, hiring more judges and Crown prosecutors, and increasing funding for legal aid and prevention programs. Participants also suggested reversing the Supreme Court of Canada Jordan decision.

The ideas and stories shared by participants have provided invaluable insights and will help inform the Government of Canada’s efforts to transform the criminal justice system. The Government of Canada wishes to thank all participants.

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