Final report on the review of Canada’s criminal justice system

Introduction

Canada’s criminal justice system is among the best in the world – a model for other countries, and a source of pride for Canadians. It has a strong foundation, but it faces a number of challenges. Change is needed.

Over the past many years, crime and the severity of crime have been declining. Canadians generally feel safe. But our criminal justice system has become inefficient and, at times, crippled by delays. Some have described the Criminal Code as a patchwork of provisions that is out of touch with modern times.

Meanwhile, certain challenges have become more apparent and more troubling – especially the overrepresentation in the system of Indigenous people and individuals from vulnerable and marginalized populations. The system we have today is sometimes ill-equipped to address the needs of those who enter it.

At the same time, many victims and survivors of crime emerge disillusioned with – and disappointed by – the criminal justice system. Despite some advancements in victims’ rights, many victims continue to lack confidence in the system. Some even feel revictimized by their experience. We need to do more to treat victims and survivors of crime with courtesy, compassion and respect.

We also need to find new and better approaches to address emerging issues. Reform is required to ensure long-term safety and justice for all.

In response to these challenges, the Government of Canada made reviewing the criminal justice system a top priority in justice policy. The mandate letter presented to the Minister of Justice in 2015 stated that a review should be conducted to examine and explore a number of important questions, including the following:

  • Are we making our communities safer through our criminal justice system?
  • Are we getting good value for the money we spend as a country?
  • Are we directing our resources to initiatives having the greatest positive impact on the lives of Canadians?
  • Are we adequately addressing and resolving any gaps in the system?
  • Are our current provisions aligned with the objectives of the criminal justice system?
  • Are we seeing improvements resulting from criminal sentencing reforms in recent years?
  • How can we modernize our system to ensure it is fairer, more effective and more efficient?

The criminal justice system has been the subject of intense political debate in Canada over the past few decades. Competing ideals related to rehabilitation and punishment have led to markedly different policy approaches and sharp disagreements about the best way forward. Yet, on the issue of reform, there is considerable consensus.

Many individuals who come in contact with the criminal justice system are vulnerable or marginalized. A significant number struggle with mental health and substance use issues. Some are homeless or living in poverty. In many cases, these individuals’ issues are exacerbated by an over-reliance on incarceration. The system is not equipped to fully address the issues that contribute to criminal behaviour in these groups.

Governments must also take into consideration how the criminal justice system relates to other critical support systems in our society, such as housing, health care, education, employment, training and child protection. They must strive to better understand the root causes of crime – and ensure that Canada is not using instruments of criminal justice to address social problems.

At the same time, we must make changes to ensure the system does a better job of preventing crime and holding offenders accountable. Now and always, public safety must maintain a place of paramount importance. Those who have been convicted of serious offences must be held accountable for their actions. This is a foundational aspect of Canadian justice.

With these priorities in mind, the Government of Canada undertook a review to consult Canadians and stakeholders on how best to transform the criminal justice system. This comprehensive review – the first of its kind since 1982 – was intended to guide the Government in its efforts to ensure that Canada’s criminal justice system is just, compassionate and fair; that it promotes a safe, peaceful and prosperous society; and that it accurately reflects the values and principles of modern-day Canada.

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