Final report on the review of Canada’s criminal justice system
How we engaged
Any changes to our criminal justice system will have a far-reaching impact on current and future Canadians. This includes not only accused persons and offenders but also victims, their families and their communities.
It is therefore critical that any reforms serve the interests of Canadians and reflect the values and principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A thorough and meaningful review of the criminal justice system demanded a comprehensive and deliberative consultation with diverse and non-mainstream people from across our country – experts, stakeholders and citizens at large.
Open dialogue was therefore a hallmark of the review. Many thousands of Canadians shared their views about – and their personal experiences with – the criminal justice system. In order to capture the interest and gain the perspectives of the broadest possible constituency of Canadians – including experts and front-line service providers – a variety of methods were used:
- 27 expert roundtable discussions
- one-on-one engagements with stakeholders
- a public engagement campaign anchored by a digital consultation website including a Twitter townhall and a Reddit conversation
- four national public opinion surveys
- 18 in-person focus groups
- a series of youth outreach and engagement campaigns
- a series of 19 articles in the online magazine Policy Options entitled “Widening the Lens on Criminal Justice Reform”
By achieving a wide reach, this review was able to provide an extensive and revealing understanding of what Canadians think about their criminal justice system and how they want it to evolve and change.
Crucially, at least one roundtable discussion was held in every province and territory. Provincial/territorial government officials, police, lawyers, judges, academics, Indigenous leaders, non-governmental organizations representing victims and offenders, mental health professionals, front-line community support workers and ordinary citizens, among others, attended these sessions. Innovators, thought leaders and ambassadors for reform were also part of these discussions.
These stakeholders provided invaluable insights into the strengths and shortcomings of the criminal justice system. They also advanced many ideas for how the system could be changed and improved.
Additionally, the Department of Justice supported a series of substantive articles in Policy Options, a digital magazine devoted to public policy debate. A diverse range of experts examined the criminal justice system from different perspectives with an eye to guiding Canada toward a more modern and comprehensive approach to criminality.
A major goal of the engagement was to hear from the Canadian public. To this end, traditional public opinion research served an important role. The review also sought to engage Canadians more deeply and go beyond top-of-mind opinions.
A paid advertising campaign promoted the consultation and its engagement website, which included educational information and videos from Canadians about their own experiences with the criminal justice system. It invited Canadians to provide their opinions on five key issues:
- Victims’ experiences
- Indigenous overrepresentation
- Mental health and addictions
- Restorative justice
- Court delays
An interactive online tool was used to allow for email submissions and online discussions on these topics.
Over a two-month period in late 2017/early 2018, social media posts about the review were viewed more than 4.4 million times. Canadians from across the country were engaged, including family members of victims, academics and researchers, frontline staff from community-based agencies, individuals convicted of a criminal offence, Indigenous people living on and off reserve and interested Canadians.
To further broaden the campaign’s reach and increase the meaningful engagement of Canadians, a popular online discussion forum (Reddit) was used to promote the consultation process to a community of young adults. The Department of Justice’s first Reddit initiative garnered more than 400 responses.
A Twitter Town Hall – hosted by former Parliamentary Secretary Marco Mendicino – provided an additional opportunity for Canadians to engage with an elected official in real time and to share their views, their concerns and their ideas. The one-hour event attracted 560 tweets posted by 161 users.
The broad scope and the transparent and inclusive nature of the consultation process were instrumental to its reach and success. Canadians and experts from across professional disciplines were encouraged to think differently and deeply about the criminal justice system. By employing innovative methods of consultation, the review achieved a more comprehensive perspective on criminal justice reform.
In all, more than 11,000 Canadians actively participated in the public consultation on the possibility of transforming our criminal justice system. They shared their views and perspectives on a number of criminal justice-related issues, including the following:
- sentencing (including mandatory minimum penalties and the use of alternative sentencing measures)
- administration of justice offences
- the rights of victims of crime
- the need for more integrated and complete data/information on the criminal justice system
- the system’s impact on vulnerable populations
- public safety
- restorative justice
- ensuring that Canada is not using instruments of criminal justice to address social problems
- overall confidence in the Canadian criminal justice system
The Department of Justice would later win the International Association for Public Participation’s awards for “Canadian Project of the Year” and “Extending the Practice though Creativity, Contribution, and Innovation in the Field.”
The stakeholder and public consultation process also resulted in the publication of a number of important public documents that chronicle in detail the perspectives and priorities of Canadians on the topic of criminal justice reform:
- National Justice Survey 2017: Issues in Canada’s Criminal Justice System
- National Justice Survey 2016: Canada’s Criminal Justice System
- Consultation with Canadians Report: Criminal Justice System
- Rethinking Criminal Justice in Canada
- Widening the Lens on Criminal Justice Reform
- A Report on Provincial and Territorial Stakeholder Consultations
- A Justice System We Want: Youth Engagement on the Criminal Justice System
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