Legislation and Policy
The Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act enable restorative justice processes to occur within the criminal justice system.
For example, section 717 of the Criminal Code describes Alternative Measures. Sometimes referred to as “diversion”, alternative measures may promote a sense of responsibility in the offender and an acknowledgment of the harm done, without going through the formal court process. Diversion refers to any program, strategy, or response used to hold someone accountable for their actions.
Section 718 of the Criminal Code includes sentencing objectives that are consistent with a restorative approach, including that a sentence imposed provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community, or promotes a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgement of the harm done to victims or to the community. Additionally, conditional sentences (as described in section 742) sometimes are imposed in keeping with restorative justice objectives.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act includes an approach and several provisions that are consistent with a restorative approach, including in section 3 (Declaration of Principle), sections 4 and 5 (Principles and Objectives of Extrajudicial Measures and Sanctions), sections 19 and 41 (Conferences), and section 42 (Youth Sentences).
- Section 6(b) of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights provides that victims have a right to information, upon request, about services available to them, including restorative justice programs.
- Subsection 26.1(1) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act also provides for the opportunity for a victim to request information about restorative justice. To receive information about a federal offender who harmed them, victims must register with the Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada by completing an Application to Receive Information as a Victim (Victims interested in learning more about CSC’s services for victims, including registering, can contact its Victim Services Division toll-free at 1-866-806-2275 or at firstname.lastname@example.org). Upon request, or when they register with the Correctional Service of Canada, victims receive a standard information package about the services available to them, which includes information about its restorative justice programs and its victim-offender mediation services (the Restorative Opportunities Program) in compliance with section 6(b) of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
In Canada, the federal Parliament is responsible for the enactment of criminal law, while the provinces and territories are responsible for the administration of justice. This means that federal, provincial and territorial governments work closely together on matters relating to criminal justice, including restorative justice.
In December 2018, Federal Provincial Territorial Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety approved a minimum target of a 5% increase in restorative justice referrals and processes for victims and offenders. The following report provides baseline data to measure achievement of this target.
In addition, two key policy documents were approved: Principles and Guidelines for Restorative Justice Practice in Criminal Matters (2018) and Restorative Justice – Key Elements of Success.
Internationally, the Department of Justice, in collaboration with Global Affairs Canada, has coordinated the adoption of key resolutions on restorative justice at the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) in 1999, 2002, 2016 and 2018. Some highlights include:
- In 2002, Canada’s input was instrumental in the development of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters, a document which has been a benchmark for international restorative justice practice, and upon which the current document, Principles and Guidelines for Restorative Justice Practice in Criminal Matters (2018) is based.
- The 2016 resolutionFootnote 3 to the CCPCJ on Restorative Justice in Criminal Matters is significant because it takes note of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons and supported the convening of an International meeting of experts on restorative justice that Canada hosted in Ottawa in November 2017.
- The United Nations Experts Group Meeting on Restorative Justice emphasized the relevance of restorative justice in terms of improving access to justice, including for vulnerable and marginalized populations and societies in transition. The group noted that restorative justice was crucial to the achievement of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal # 16, on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
In May 2020, Canada was recognized internationally and presented at the launch of the recently updated United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Handbook on Restorative Justice Programmes (Second Edition).
The 2016 resolution to the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) on Restorative Justice in Criminal Matters was adopted by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at their meeting on July 26, 2016.
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