Ombudsman’s statement on Restorative Justice Week 2020
November 16, 2020 - As we celebrate Restorative Justice Week 2020, I am thinking about where Canada is currently situated with respect to upholding victims’ rights. Are the rights of more than two million victims who report crimes to the police being met? Are they being informed of their rights and provided with information about services to help them? Do they know about restorative justice programs?
Victim participation is central to restorative justice initiatives. Victims should be informed about their options as soon as they report a crime. Community-based restorative justice programs are designed to give victims and offenders an opportunity to come together voluntarily to seek a resolution that holds offenders accountable for their actions, leads to the reparation of damages, and helps prevent further crime, harm and victimization. Research has found that restorative justice can benefit victims, offenders and public safety.
Although restorative justice has been a feature of the criminal justice system in Canada for many decades, primarily in cases involving young offenders and in Indigenous communities, it is possible that more victims would be interested in participating. There must be efforts to inform victims, but also to ensure programs are available in all communities, well-funded and more well-known.
Unfortunately, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights provides only that a victim can ask for information about restorative justice programs; it does not indicate who in the criminal justice system is responsible for delivering the programs. While all federal, provincial and territorial governments have agreed to the accelerated use of restorative justice, given the evidence of its benefits, there does not appear to be a concerted effort to fund programs properly or make them widely accessible. This gap must be addressed with sustainable core funding for community-based restorative justice programs.
The United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power states that mediation and other forms of restorative justice should be used when appropriate. Besides providing redress, restorative justice can also provide victims with answers to some of their questions, which may reduce their fear and anxiety and promote healing.
Victims in Canada have expressed an interest in better access to restorative justice opportunities within the context of Correctional Services Canada in order to reduce their anxiety and fear regarding the offender’s release. However, access to restorative justice services in prisons remains extremely limited due to lack of funding.
At OFOVC, we believe that more victims and survivors would consider this option if they were aware of it. There may also be a need to identify multiple time points when information about restorative justice programs could be presented to victims, as some may not be open to participation until later in their criminal justice journey. However, the most critical need is for core funding of community-based programs so victims can actually access this option if they wish to.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime