Ombudsman’s statement on Restorative Justice Week 2019
November 19, 2019
My office often hears from victims about how they lack meaningful opportunities to participate and have their voices heard in the traditional criminal justice system. While proceedings focus on determining guilt for the crime and on punishment of the offender, I know from my work on the front lines with victims and survivors that victims need recognition, and help and support to heal over the long-term. They need to know that their concerns and experiences are heard and understood, and they need to know that the offender has taken accountability for the wrongdoing.
Restorative justice can offer a victim-centred and trauma-informed approach to healing after victimization. Victims’ voices are central to the process, and the opportunity to have the offender accept responsibility and understand how the crime affected their lives, and the lives of those around them, can be extremely transformative and empowering for victims, families and wider communities. Healing and rehabilitation can begin when offenders are given the opportunity to make reparations for the harm they have caused.
Many studies show that victims of crime often benefit from participating in restorative justice programs, and many offenders are more likely to admit responsibility through restorative justice than through traditional proceedings. Yet, data shows us that very few victims actually participate. Victims are uninformed about restorative justice options and the evidence of its benefits, such as reduced PTSD and increased satisfaction.
Restorative justice has its roots in Indigenous tradition, and while Indigenous communities have been using its techniques for centuries, restorative justice alternatives are still not widely available in Canada. This is surprising, given that the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety agreed to accelerate the use of restorative justice in Canada in 2018.
The need for significant federal investments in restorative justice programs is long overdue. This Restorative Justice Week, I call on the federal government to support innovative restorative justice programs that incorporate Indigenous knowledge and best practices, and to expand existing programs. Increasing the use of, and access to, restorative justice is crucial to better support victims of crime, and create opportunities for more favourable outcomes for victims, offenders, their families and communities.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime