Restorative Justice



by Perry Bulwer, B.A., LL.B.

[While attending the University of British Columbia Law School in Vancouver, Canada I participated in the First Nations Legal Clinic for a 4 month term for semester credits and a 4 month summer employment term. This paper was written in 2001 for that program.]


The concept of restorative justice, though only recently considered by modern justice systems, is in fact an ancient concept and one that is intrinsic to the human experience. As Howard Zehr points out, “Restorative justice is not new. In fact, it is as old as most people’s histories, as old as the Bible. It’s not abstract; it’s common sense. Restorative justice, in other words, is not a grand system imposed by “experts” but has profound roots in ordinary people’s needs and experiences.”1

In this paper I describe some of the principles underlying restorative justice, and their relation to indigenous justice systems. I will also examine the growing international interest in restorative justice and how Canada plays a leading role in that field. As well as looking at specific restorative justice projects I will look at Canadian legislation and review how the judiciary is responding to that legislation. Finally, I will survey some critiques of restorative justice and consider the interplay between restorative justice programs and mainstream justice systems.
1 Howard Zehr, Changing Lenses: A New Focus For Crime and Justice (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1990) 181


Restorative justice is a term applied in a general sense to a wide variety of schemes alternative to the mainstream retributive justice system. As a starting point this dichotomy is useful to define. Howard Zehr put it this way: retributive justice views crime as “a violation of the state, defined by lawbreaking and guilt. Justice determines blame and administers pain in a contest between the offender and the state directed by systematic rules.” On the other hand, from a restorative justice perspective, “crime is a violation of people and relationships. It creates obligations to make things right. Justice involves the victim, the offender and the community in a search for solutions which promote repair, reconciliation and reassurance.”2

A broad definition of restorative justice that emphasizes both the process and the outcome was proposed by British criminologist Tony Marshall: “Restorative justice is a process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future.”3 As a broad, working definition it is fine, but it raises many questions that can be answered by outlining some of the agreed upon principles underlying restorative justice. For example, Susan Sharpe proposes the following five key principles:

1) Restorative justice invites full participation and consensus of all interested parties.
2) Restorative justice seeks to heal what is broken.
3) Restorative justice seeks full and direct accountability.
4) Restorative justice seeks to reunite what has been divided.
5) Restorative justice seeks to strengthen the community in order to prevent further harms.4

2 Ibid.

3 Tony Marshall, as quoted by Daniel Van Ness in “Restorative Justice Around the World”, a paper presented to the Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders: Ancillary Meetings, Vienna, Austria, April 2000 [hereinafter UN Congress] online: < (date accessed: 6 April 2002).

4 Susan Sharpe, Restorative Justice: A Vision For Healing and Change, (Edmonton: Edmonton Victim Offender Mediation Society, 1998) 7-12

Leena Kurki suggests that an underlying theory of restorative justice is that the state “should surrender its monopoly over responses to crime to those most directly affected —- the victim, the offender and the community.”5 She incorporates that theory into her version of the basic principles of restorative justice:

1) Crime consists of more than violation of the criminal law and defiance of government authority.
2) Crime involves disruptions in a three-dimensional relationship of victim, community and offender.
3) Because crime harms the victim and the community, the primary goals should be to repair the harm and heal the victim and the community.
4) The victim, the community and the offender should all participate in determining the response to crime; government should surrender its monopoly over that process.
5) Case disposition should be based primarily on the victim’s and the community’s needs –- not solely on the offender’s needs or culpability, the dangers he presents or his criminal history.6
5 Leena Kurki, “Incorporating Restorative and Community Justice into American Sentencing and Corrections” in Sentencing & Corrections: Issues For The 21st Century, U.S. Department of Justice, No. 3, September 1999.

6 Ibid.

Most advocates of restorative justice agree that the principles set out above are the basic building blocks of any restorative justice scheme. However, John Braithwaite has identified another that is crucial to any restorative process and not to be left out. “Non-domination also merits consideration as a core value of restorative justice, ensuring that all voices in the circle are heard and that none are silenced by domination.”7

Many of the principles underlying restorative justice are reflections of ancient, traditional Aboriginal justice practices. “The purpose of a justice system in an Aboriginal society is to restore peace and equilibrium within the community, and to reconcile the accused with his or her own conscience and with the individual or family that has been wronged.”8 James Zion has canvassed the elders of many indigenous cultures around the world for their views on justice and concludes that “…indigenous justice uses respect, consensus, solidarity, mutuality, interdependence, relationships, reciprocity and even love as the means to heal in traditional justice methods. We do not see those values at play in Canadian or American courts or legislatures.”9

The dichotomy of restorative justice and retributive justice is obvious when comparing traditional Aboriginal justice practices to the mainstream justice system. The values underlying Aboriginal justice clearly indicate that Aboriginal people have a different conceptual understanding of justice. That fact was recognized by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples when it concluded that one of the main reasons that the Canadian justice system consistently failed Aboriginals was because it had failed to take into consideration the different understanding that Aboriginals have of justice.10
7 John Braithwaite, “Restorative Justice and Social Justice” (2000) 63 Sask. L. Rev. 185-194 at par.3.

8 Ross Green, “Aboriginal People and the Canadian Justice System”, Justice As Healing, Vol.3 No.4 (Winter 1998) online: <> (last modified: 8 August 2001).

9 James Zion, “Punishment Versus Healing: How Does Traditional Indian Law Work?”, Justice As Healing, Vol.2 No.3 (Fall 1997) online: <> (last modified: 8 August 2001).

10 Canada, Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Bridging the Cultural Divide: A Report of Aboriginal People and Criminal Justice in Canada (Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1996) at 12.


I should clarify here that just as Aboriginal peoples are not a homogenous group, there is no single Aboriginal definition of justice. However, the similarities between the perspectives of Aboriginal nations or cultural groups outweigh the differences to the extent that it is safe to speak of a common understanding of what constitutes justice. Simply put, Aboriginal justice is based on healing whereas mainstream justice is based on punishment. Aboriginal legal theory is organic and flexible, arising from and adapting to the everyday experiences of the community. It “utilizes respect and teaching as its fundamental tenets, unlike the existing criminal justice system where raw coercive force and the threat of incarceration are used to induce the citizenry to abide by an external code.”11

Anyone who has experienced the mainstream justice system, in whatever capacity, knows that it can be an intimidating, heartless, uncaring and rigid process. Aboriginal justice, on the other hand, with its emphasis on healing, reparation and reconciliation often incorporates an element of spirituality into the process that goes beyond merely swearing on a bible. It uses “ceremony and prayer to bond people to the process and to involve the spirits in both the path to a solution and a binding decision.”12 Expressing emotions and feelings is not only allowed, but encouraged as a part of the healing process and a way to get at the heart of the matter. Unlike the mainstream system where offenders are usually labeled as bad persons, the Aboriginal perspective is that the offender has misbehaved as a result of disharmony with others in the community. The flexibility of a restorative approach in being able to investigate the underlying causes of that disharmony and misbehaviour “facilitate[s] the person’s healing process and help[s] them feel connected to the community once again rather than seeking blind justice through punishment under the guise of general and specific deterence.”13
11 James Guest, “Aboriginal Legal Theory and Restorative Justice”, Justice As Healing Vol.4 No.1 (Spring 1999) online: <> (last modified: 8 August 2001).

12 Zion, supra note 9.

13 Guest, supra note 11.


Another important difference in the Aboriginal approach to justice is that it is holistic in nature. In the mainstream adversarial system the focus is on a specific offence and many important factors may be excluded from the process according to the rules of evidence. The holistic focus of a restorative approach, on the other hand, allows every aspect of the offender’s life to be examined: physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual. This examination takes place within the context of the offender’s past, present and future relationships with family, community and victim. Other considerations in a holistic approach include moral, social, economic, political and religious factors.14 This broadens the scope of the process far beyond what an adversarial system is able to achieve.

This widened scope allows for the inclusion of victims’ voices, a central aspect that distinguishes restorative justice. Victim’s essentially have no role within the criminal justice system with the exception, perhaps, of direct testimony with it’s limitations, and victim impact statements. They remain in an undefined position at the edge of a system that considers the only actors in the process to be the decision-maker, the state and the accused. Victims remain isolated from the process whereas in most restorative programs victims are an essential component. Space is provided for their voices to be heard and victim input is considered crucial for achieving the goals of healing, reparation and reconciliation. In Donald Evans’ opinion, “A program that purports to be restorative and does not take victims seriously or give them a voice is flawed and doomed to failure as a restorative activity.”15 Furthermore, James Guest posits that “[c]onnecting a person to their community by helping a person see and empathize with the victim may be the greatest tool in crime prevention.”16

Community involvement is the most essential component of any restorative program. “The main procedural element of Aboriginal legal theory is the involvement of community members in the justice system rather than state intervention."17 Definitions of community vary but for the purposes of this paper it refers to a group of people with common interests and experiences that are outside of the mainstream justice system. Barry Warhaft, Program Director of Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services (VATJS) uses the term “community of interest” to describe the extensive volunteer network that the program draws upon to form its Community Council Forums.18 “For Minnesota Department of Corrections Restorative Justice Planner, Kay Pranis, community self-defines around the issue that surfaces, so everybody who sees themselves as a stakeholder in a particular issue [makes up the community]”.19

Regardless of what definition is used advocates agree that community involvement is a pillar of restorative justice. Most criminal justice systems seldom, if ever, consult with the affected community and yet it is the community that directly suffers the consequences of crime. Restorative justice programs can be seen as grass roots attempts to empower communities to participate as stakeholders in any policymaking and decision making that affects their health and safety. Pranis contends that the relationship between the criminal justice system and the community needs to be re-evaluated. Her work on restorative justice planning suggests there needs to be a reversal of roles so that the “…community is the primary responder to crime and the system operates in support of the community.”20 Of course, before that can be achieved there must be a broad base of community support for restorative justice principles and practices as well as a high degree of participation. The rapid growth of restorative justice programs throughout the world suggests that the necessary support and participation exists.
14 Green, supra note 8.

15 Donald G. Evans, “Keeping the Community Involvement in Restorative Justice”, UN Crime Congress, supra note 3.

16 Guest, supra note 11.

17 Ibid.

18 Barry Warhaft, interview, 5 April 2001, Vancouver, Canada.

19 As quoted by Kurki, supra note 5, at 6.

20 Kay Pranis, “Communities and the Justice System: Turning the Relationship Upside Down”, online: Restorative Justice On-line Notebook <> (date accessed: 6 April 2002).


Canada has played a leading role in the contemporary development of restorative justice. The first Victim Offender Mediation programs were developed in Canada in the mid-1970s. There are now over 500 such programs in Europe, over 300 in the U.S. and over 100 restorative justice projects in Canada.21 Aboriginal Peace Circles, adapted from Canadian and U.S. traditional aboriginal justice methods but common also in indigenous cultures around the world, are used at various stages of the justice process throughout North America in both rural and urban communities. The circle model is inclusive, adaptive and has generally developed along two lines: healing circles to dispose of situations outside of the mainstream system and sentencing circles that presently are limited primarily to making recommendations to judges for case disposition. A third restorative justice model that has spread world-wide is Community Conferencing which developed in New Zealand as adapted from the traditional justice practices of the Maori people. Conferencing is also used at various stages of the justice process though it may not be as inclusive as circles, where any interested member of the community may participate. Conferencing, however, is often engaged much earlier in the process than other models and in some jurisdictions “…is often used by police as an alternative to arrest and referral to the formal justice system.”22

An indication of the growing international popularity of restorative justice is the increasingly innovative adaptations of restorative justice principles beyond the three basic models discussed above. In a presentation at the Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders held in Vienna, Austria in April 2000 Daniel Ness of Prison Fellowship International highlighted the following illustrative developments:23

1. Victim-offender encounters are taking place in prisons in the U.S., Canada, England, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries.
2. Circles of support in some Canadian communities work with serious sexual offenders (often guilty of pedophilia) who are being released into fearful communities. The circles are formed by members of faith communities who enter into a “covenant” with the released offender relating to accountability and support.
3. Mediation and Conferencing are now being done within the justice process. In Australia, England and Belgium police use these alternatives prior to a charge being laid. In Austria, the Czech Republic and Canada probation and parole officers use them.
4. Restorative processes are being used to resolve conflict between citizens and their governments in California, England, South Africa and New Zealand.
5. Legislative action is being taken in a number of countries to expand use of restorative programs. Again, Canada is a leader in this area.
6. Funding and staff for restorative programs is expanding. Most programs begin as pilot projects so increased resources by governments is an indication of success and long-term commitment to the principles of restorative justice.
7. Intergovernmental bodies are taking note of restorative justice. It is increasingly appearing in debate and discussion at the international level. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation on the use of mediation in penal matters. The European Union has funded creation of the European Forum on Victim Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice. The Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court contains a number of arguably restorative provisions. The UN’s International Handbook on Justice for Victims notes the importance of restorative justice for addressing victims’ concerns.
21 “Tutorial: Introduction to Restorative Justice”, online: Restorative Justice Online <> (date accessed: 6 April 2002).

22 Ness, UN Crime Congress, supra note 3, at 4.

23 Ibid, at 5-6.


Although this is not an exhaustive list it points to the rapid, worldwide spread of restorative justice initiatives. One definitive sign that the adoption of restorative justice principles is an international movement is the attention paid to it at the Tenth UN Crime Congress.

One of the four agenda topics of the Crime Congress was, “Offenders and Victims: Fairness and Accountability in the Criminal Justice System”. As one observer noted, that appeared to become a code word for restorative justice, given the high interest in the topic expressed by governmental representatives. During the course of the Congress, a number of NGOs sponsored ancillary meetings on various topics related to restorative justice. … At the conclusion of the Congress the delegates approved a summary resolution, known as the Vienna Declaration. This resolution included recognition of the growth of restorative justice programs, and called on governments to increase their use of restorative justice interventions.24

Canada continued its leadership in this area by co-sponsoring a resolution entitled Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programs in Criminal Matters. This resolution “…calls on the UN to distribute a draft set of Basic Principles, prepared by the Working Party on Restorative Justice, to solicit comments from governments and others, and to convene a meeting of experts to review those comments and suggestions and propose modifications or alternatives to the Commission [on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice]”.25 The resolution was adopted by the Commission and the UN Economic and Social Council.
24 “UN Acts to Advance Restorative Justice”, online: (date accessed: 6 April 2002).

25 Ibid.


In this section I will examine Canadian legislation that seeks to incorporate principles of restorative justice within the criminal justice system. I will also consider examples of how that is being implemented through the use of sentencing and healing circles.

In September 1996 Canadian Parliamentary Bill C-41 came into effect, substantially reforming the sentencing provisions, Part XXIII, of the Criminal Code. 26 In doing so Parliament sent a clear message to all Canadian judges that too many people were being sent to jail. Two major amendments that altered the sentencing landscape in Canada are found in sections 718 and 742.1 of the Criminal Code. Section 718 sets out the purpose of sentencing in the following terms:

s.718 The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:
(a) to denounce unlawful conduct;
(b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;
(c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary;
(d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders;
(e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and
(f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and to the community.
s.718.2 A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:
 (d) an offender should not be deprived of liberty, if less restrictive sanctions may be appropriate in the circumstances; and
(e) all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.
Section 742.1 creates an entirely new sentence, the conditional sentence:

s.742.1 Where a person is convicted of an offence, except an offence that is punishable by a minimum term of imprisonment, and the court
(a) imposes a sentence of imprisonment of less than two years, and
(b) is satisfied that serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community and would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing set out in sections 718 to 718.2 the court may, for the purposes of supervising the offender’s behaviour in the community, order that the offender serve the sentence in the community, subject to the offender’s complying with the conditions of a conditional sentence order made under section 742.3.

With the changes introduced by Bill C-41 the Canadian Parliament clearly placed new emphasis on the principles of restorative justice. Minister of Justice Alan Rock made the following comments during the second reading of Bill C-41 on September 20, 1994:

A general principle that runs throughout Bill C-41 is that jails should be reserved for those who should be there. Alternatives should be put in place for those who commit offences but who do not need or merit incarceration.
[T]his bill creates an environment which encourages community sanctions and the rehabilitation of offenders together with reparation to victims and promoting in criminals a sense of accountability for what they have done. It is not simply by being more harsh that we will achieve more effective justice. 27

Those comments reflect two of Parliament’s principle objectives in enacting Bill C-41: reducing the use of prison as a sanction and expanding the use of restorative justice principles.
26 Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46

27 Allan Rock, House of Commons Debates, Vol.IV, 1st Sess., 35th Parl., at p. 5873.

In R. v. Gladue 28 Cory and Iacobucci JJ. made the following comment on the creation of conditional sentences in section 241.2:

It is true that there is ample jurisprudence supporting the principle that prison should be used as a sanction of last resort. … The availability of the conditional sentence of imprisonment, particularly, alters the sentencing landscape in a manner which gives an entirely new meaning to the principle that imprisonment should be resorted only where no other sentencing option is reasonable in the circumstances. The creation of the additional sentence suggests, on its face, a desire to lessen the use of incarceration.

In R. v. Proulx 29 Lamer C.J. stated:

The conditional sentence facilitates the achievement of both of Parliament’s objectives [to decrease the use of incarceration and increase the use of restorative justice]. It affords the sentencing judge the opportunity to craft a sentence with appropriate conditions that can lead to the rehabilitation of the offender, reparations to the community and the promotion of a sense of responsibility in ways that jail cannot.

Commenting on section 718 in Gladue 30 Cory and Iacobucci JJ. stated:

Clearly, s.718 is, in part, a restatement of the basic sentencing aims, which are listed in parts (a) through (d). What are new, though are paras. (e) and (f), which along with (d) focus upon the restorative goals of repairing the harms suffered by individual victims and by the community as a whole, promoting a sense of responsibility and an acknowledgment of the harm caused on the part of the offender, and attempting to rehabilitate or heal the offender. The concept of restorative justice which underpins paras. (d), (e) and (f) is briefly discussed below, but as a general matter restorative justice involves some form of restitution and reintegration into the community. The need for offenders to take responsibility for their actions is central to the sentencing process. Restorative sentencing goals do not usually correlate with the use of prison as a sanction. In our view, Parliament’s choice to include (e) and (f) alongside the traditional sentencing goals must be understood as evidencing an intention to expand the parameters of the sentencing analysis for all offenders.
28 R. v. Gladue, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 688, at para. 40.

29 R. v. Proulx, [2000] 1 S.C.R. 61, at para. 99.

30 Gladue, supra note 28, at para. 43.



In Gladue and Proulx the Supreme Court of Canada clearly acknowledges the importance of incorporating principles of restorative justice within the criminal justice system as mandated by Parliament, at least with respect to sentencing. I turn now to a consideration of the use of sentencing circles in some Canadian jurisdictions.

In keeping with the organic, flexible nature of Aboriginal justice, there is no single sentencing circle model, but each circle is adapted to fit the circumstances. The basic process, however, is essentially the same. All concerned parties take their place in a circle. These include the three parties involved in a conventional sentencing hearing: the judge, the crown and the accused with defense counsel. Added to the circle, depending on the circumstances, are elders and other respected community members, the victim and their family and supporters, the accused’s family and supporters, police and probation officers, and other interested members of the community. Usually the judge will facilitate the process, however, the egalitarian nature of “[t]he circle significantly breaks down the dominance that traditional courtrooms accord the lawyers and judges. In a circle, the ability to contribute, the importance and credibility of any input is not defined by seating arrangements. The audience is changed. All persons within the circle must be addressed. Equally, anyone in the circle may ask a direct question to anyone.” 31 Everyone who wishes to may speak to any aspect of the issues before them and make sentencing recommendations to the judge who retains ultimate sentencing discretion. Despite that final authority, there is evidence to suggest that in the majority of cases judges do accept the circle’s often consensual recommendation. 32
31 Stuart J., R. v. Moses (1992), 71 C.C.C. (3d) 347 (Y. Terr. Ct.) at 357.

32 Ross Green, “Aboriginal Community Sentencing and Mediation: Within and Without the Circle”, (1997) 25 Man. L. J. 77-125, at para. 14.


Although sentencing circles were not specifically considered in the Gladue and Proulx decisions, the Supreme Court ruled in Gladue that the sentencing provisions in Part XXIII of the Criminal Code, and section 718.2(e) in particular, imposes an obligation on sentencing judges to consider

i) the unique systemic or background factors that may have played a part in bringing the particular Aboriginal offender before the courts, and
ii) the types of sentencing procedures and sanctions that may be appropriate in the circumstances for the offender because of his or her particular Aboriginal heritage or connection. 33
Further comments by Cory and Iacobucci JJ. suggest an implicit approval of the use of sentencing circles:

…one of the unique circumstances of aboriginal offenders is that community-based sanctions coincide with the Aboriginal concept of sentencing and the needs of Aboriginal people and communities. It is often the case that neither Aboriginal offenders nor their communities are well served by incarcerating offenders, particularly for less serious or non-violent offences. Where these sanctions are reasonable in the circumstances, they should be implemented. In all instances, it is appropriate to attempt to craft the sentencing process and the sanctions imposed in accordance with the Aboriginal perspective. 34

Incorporating the Aboriginal perspective into the mainstream justice system was encouraged by several inquiries into the Canadian justice system’s treatment of Aboriginal people including the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba and the Saskatchewan Indian Justice Review Committee. For example, the Manitoba Inquiry concluded: “If non-Aboriginal judges and courts are going to be able to formulate sentences which are appropriate to the needs of Aboriginal offenders, victims and communities, they will need input from those communities. In particular, communities need to be involved in the sentencing process, since sentences should, in part, reflect the needs and desires of the community.”35
33 Gladue, supra note 28, at para. 66.

34 Ibid, at para. 74.

35 Manitoba, Public Inquiry Into The Aministration of Justice and Aboriginal Peoples, Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba: The Justice System and Aboriginal People, Vol. 1 (Winnipeg: The Queen’s Printer, 1991) at 409.


Support for community involvement in the sentencing process also comes from the judiciary. Stuart J. of the Yukon Territorial Court, where sentencing circles are common, commented that “[t]he formal, professional justice system must acquire greater confidence and trust in community knowledge, judgement and instincts.” 36  Bastarache J. of the Supreme Court had this to say in support of sentencing circles:
This approach pursues “restorative justice”, whereby healing the community as a whole and reintegration of the offender are of paramount importance. Such a model responds better to traditional aboriginal conceptions of restoring harmony in the community, and gives control to those communities which have felt deeply disenfranchised and alienated by Canada’s criminal justice system. Sentencing circles often place a greater emphasis on community service or involvement, or non-custodial forms of penance. Although there is sometimes a reaction against such methods of sentencing as “soft”, this idea is hard to sustain where the victim, the victim’s family, and the arresting police officers form part of the circle, as they often do. More is required of the offender in terms of true repentance and seeking forgiveness, although less institutional incarceration is imposed. The sense of community, and encouraging by unconventional forms of social control and involvement the integration of the individual in that community, is the essence of this sentencing process. 37
Sentencing circles have been primarily employed in northern and isolated Aboriginal communities in Canada. They are used extensively in the Yukon and less so in Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The use of sentencing circles continues to evolve and there is no doubt that the level of community involvement, the cooperation of the Crown and Appellate review will shape that evolution. However, it is not my intention in this paper to analyze in depth the use, merits and success of sentencing circles in the Canadian justice system. 38 Instead, it is simply to point out ways in which the principles of restorative justice are being integrated into the mainstream system as mandated by Parliament and supported by the judiciary.
36 R. v. D.N., [1993] Y.J. No. 195 (QL) (Y. Terr. Ct.)

37 The Honourable Michel Bastarache, “The Challenge of the Law in the New Millenium”, (1997-1998) 25 Man. L.J. 411-419, at para. 19.

38 For a good analysis of sentencing circles in the Canadian justice system see Ross Green’s article, supra note 32.

Another example of that integration is the use of Aboriginal Healing Circles under the Alternative Measures provisions found in section 717 of the Canadian Criminal Code. 39  Section 716 sets out the following definition:
“alternative measures” means measures other than judicial proceedings under this Act used to deal with a person who is eighteen years of age or over and alleged to have committed an offence.

Section 717 sets out the conditions and rules governing alternative measures but does not specify any specific model. Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative 40 Justice Services (hereinafter VATJS) is one example of an alternative model of justice that appears to have achieved some success operating within the criminal justice system.

I say within the criminal justice system because although VATJS operates with a fair degree of autonomy and flexibility, and participants are indeed diverted from the court system, the Crown retains a degree of control. For example, Crown Counsel must approve referrals to the program. Furthermore, Crown Counsel are required by Section 717 of the Criminal Code to be satisfied the recommended conditions of any Alternative Measures plan are appropriate. In the case of VATJS a Schedule of culturally appropriate measures was attached to the Protocol Agreement. “Conditions of healing plans that are taken from the Schedule do not require additional approval of Crown Counsel. If the Community Council recommends other reasonable, creative measures tailored to the individual and the circumstances that do not appear on the Schedule, approval of Crown Counsel is required before the measures are implemented.”41

In spite of this controlling influence of the Crown, the Protocol Agreement recognizes that “[o]ne of the key underpinnings of [the] Program is the transfer of responsibility from the courts to the Aboriginal community in holding Aboriginal offenders accountable for their actions. The Community Council model is specifically designed and implemented to allow the Aboriginal community in Vancouver to assume this measure of control over the way the criminal justice system deals with native offenders.”42
39 Supra note 26.

40 There is debate over the use of the word restorative. Some argue that it presumes there was harmony in the first place and ask, “Restore to what? Pre-existing inequaties?” Barry Warhaft, director of VATJS, says that the notion of transformation is a part of many Aboriginal cultures and is truer to the spirit and intent of the program.

41 Vancouver Aboriginal Restorative Justice Program Provincial Crown Protocol Agreement, Legal Services Society, Native Programs, 1999.

42 Ibid.


A Community Council consists of a recognized elder and three volunteers who represent a cross-section of Vancouver’s Aboriginal community. The Council comes together in a circle with the offender, the victim (if they agree), and their support people. Within the circle, participants discuss the circumstances of the offence and the underlying problems which led to the wrongful behaviour. The teachings of the sacred four directions of the Medicine Wheel guide the proceedings of the circle: East = setting the climate; South = telling the story; West = discovering what is important; North = creating solutions. The Council, with input from both the victim and offender, reaches a consensus on what is necessary for the offender to do to begin to restore his/her lost balance and make amends for the harm caused to the victim and the community. A plan is developed that consists of any number of options which include, but are not limited to community service, restitution or compensation to victims, apology to victims, direct services to victims, victim/offender reconciliation processes, education/employment/life-skills training, counseling, traditional teaching and cultural awareness, elder’s teachings, sweat lodges, cedar cleansing, family group conferencing and other reasonable, creative measures tailored to the individual circumstances, subject to Crown approval. 43

In April 2002, VATJS celebrated its second anniversary. As of 31 March 2002 there have been 82 cases referred to VATJS, which is considerably fewer than what it is capable of dealing with. There are a couple reasons for this. One is that if, upon receiving a referral, the client cannot be located, the file must be sent back to the Crown. This often occurs when the case is referred only after a period of time has passed, and subsequently the client’s address and/or phone number has changed. If VATJS personnel cannot track down the client his file must be returned. When this happens the client usually only becomes aware he has been referred to VATJS shortly before, or on, the day of his court appearance. The file may or may not be referred back to VATJS, depending on the Crown’s recommendation. This points to the main reason for the low number of referrals. Defense counsel, First Nations Law Clinics, Native Court Workers and the Law Courts Education Society can all request that the Crown refer a file to VATJS, but the ultimate decision rests with the Crown. It appears that the number of Aboriginal accused eligible for the program is greater than the number that are actually referred by the Crown. The reasons for this may be varied, but it highlights a major difficulty in the interaction between a restorative program such as VATJS and the criminal justice system.

This does not mean that the program is not successful, however. What might clearly indicate success or failure would be recidivism rates, however, it is too early in the existence of VATJS to determine that. Program Director, Barry Warhaft, also points out that success should not only be measured by recidivism rates as they do not tell the whole story. Other factors pointing to success include connecting a client to resources, community and spirituality, the healing of all parties, and personal growth in terms of self-esteem, anger management, respect for others and over coming addictions. 44 Furthermore, the Protocol Agreement recognizes “…the arduous and long-term nature of rehabilitation…[and] acknowledges the desire of the program to deal with repeat offenders….” 45

Presently VATJS handles cases concerning less serious offences. Some examples include theft, mischief, prostitution, break and enter, assault (but not spousal assault), and minor drug offences. There have been concerns expressed by women’s groups that serious offences related to violence against women and children should not be included in a program such as VATJS, at least not without proper consultation with women’s groups and serious consideration of their perspective on this issue. The Protocol Agreement demands such consultation. “The [VATJS} will consider more serious offences only when certain key considerations have been met. Those considerations will include but are not restricted to the Program receiving the mandate from the Aboriginal community to proceed with more serious offences as well as having adequate support services in place to deal with those offenders and victims’ concerns. … The degree and pace to which referrals of a more serious nature are accepted by the Program will be determined through the level of support indicated by the Aboriginal community to the [VATJS].” 46 It is the essence of restorative justice to be inclusive of all voices. However, in spite of the rapid growth and tremendous potential of restorative justice programs, that approach to justice is not without its criticisms.
43 VATJS brochure.

44 Warhaft, supra note 18; VATJS, “Community Drumbeats”, vol. 21, iss. 21, April 2002.

45 Supra note 41.

46 Ibid



It is paradoxical that the growth and expansion of restorative justice programs is occurring at the same time there appears to be, in the U.S. and Canada at least, a public clamouring for the justice system to impose harsher punitive measures. The highest incarcerations rates in the world, the vast industrial prison complex, privatization of prisons and construction of so-called super prisons all belie the fact that restorative justice values are indeed making inroads into the entrenched system. The concern is that “[i]nnovations in entrenched systems such as criminal justice systems are often co-opted and diverted from their original visions. Terms are watered down; old approaches are justified with new concepts; programs are instituted without the necessary value base, with the result that they do not work or have unintended, negative consequences.”47

A common argument against restorative justice relates to the fact that it involves an individualized response to crime. The sentencing principle found in Section 718.2(b) of the Canadian Criminal Code 48 states:
a sentence should be similar to sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences committed in similar circumstances.

This principle of parity is often construed narrowly to mean that fairness requires “…the same sentence for people who have committed similar crimes. However, [the principle] could just as well be interpreted as requiring comparable sentences for comparable offences. This would mean punishment or responses may vary as long as they are meaningfully related to the nature and effects of the crime. Thus, in principle, there is no reason restorative justice cannot respect the tenets of proportionality and equality.”49
47 Zehr, supra note 1.

48 Supra note 26.

49 Kurki, supra note 5, at 9.
One of the strongest critiques of restorative justice comes from the feminist perspective. Of great concern is the power imbalance inherent in cases of family violence. What is feared is “…the scenario of a dominating group of family violence offenders and their patriarchal defenders intimidating women and children who are victims into frightened silence.” 50

A report for the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN) 51 indicates distrust of and lack of confidence in restorative justice projects for precisely that reason. Community involvement is the backbone of restorative justice but if a community is rife with inequities and power imbalances then that approach to justice only perpetuates the silence around family violence. It may be, however, that a restorative model can initiate the healing that such a community requires by following the example of VATJS and only progressing to serious crimes such as family violence once the community can demonstrate its ability to respond judiciously to such offences. In Australia restorative justice has successfully empowered women’s voices in the justice system. “Kathy Daly reports that this has been the experience so far in her extensive observations, from a feminist theoretical framework, of conferences in South Australia. Mothers are often the most eloquent communicators at restorative justice conferences. Sometimes they even speak of the violence they suffer at the hands of their sons, a matter on which they never want to testify in court." 52

Another concern for feminists is that the advances made by the women’s movement in the 1970s to have family violence treated seriously by the criminal justice system might be diminished by diverting such cases out of the court system. “Restorative justice advocates reply that court processing of family violence cases actually tends to foster a culture of denial, while restorative justice fosters a culture of apology. Apology, when communicated with ritual seriousness, is actually the most powerful cultural device for taking a problem seriously, while denial is a cultural device for dismissing it.”53
50 John Braithwaite, “Standards for Restorative Justice”, UN Crime Congress, supra note 3.

51 Wendy Stuart & Audrey Huntley, “The Implications of Restorative Justice for Aboriginal Women and Children Survivors of Violence: A Comparative Overview of Five Communities”, April 2001. Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, c/o VSW 309 – 877 East Hastings St., Vancouver B.C. V6A 3Y1.

52 Braithwaite, supra note 7, at para. 19.

53 Ibid at para. 14.

Another strong critique of restorative justice cautions against the institutionalization of restorative justice within existing criminal justice systems. James Guest points to several potentially problematic areas:
…the use of a restorative justice process within the linear criminal justice system raises issues regarding the level of coercion or the size of the stick being placed above the head of the victimizer. This sword of Damocles defeats the open, honest and respectful discourse sought by invoking the use of the restorative justice holistic processes within the criminal justice system. Victimizers, victims and communities cannot hope for resolution of their problems when the constant threat of incarceration chills the air. … The use of Family Group Conferencing is probably inappropriate after a charge has been laid. The use of a sentencing circle is inappropriate where exists the chance that the recommendations of elders and community members will not be respected by the judiciary. The use of restorative justice principles is inappropriate where the actors within the criminal justice system are not knowledgeable in the process or lack confidence in the use of the process. … There remains the real danger that reforms in the area of restorative justice will be a simple repackaging and relabeling of the existing criminal justice system. That these attempts will be used to deflect criticisms levied against the criminal justice system by the many reports and commissions. And that these attempts at reform will come to be embodied within statistical data used to “prove” that restorative justice doesn’t work. 54

James Zion puts it this way:
The problem with many contemporary justice initiatives directed at Indians is that they are integrationist and ultimately assimilationist. … Indian justice works because it heals. It should not be taken captive by a legal system based on force, as with circle sentencing dominated by a judge or family group conferencing directed by a non-Indian police officer. Indian justice should stand on its own and if the western systems of power, force, and authority wish to utilize Indian methods in their own way, they should do so. 55

Rather than allowing for an autonomous, Aboriginal legal system within the context of self-government the Canadian government has for some time now been on the path of indigenisation of the existing justice system. This includes many of the restorative justice initiatives discussed in this paper as well as the recruitment of indigenous peoples and organizations to deliver existing socio-legal services and programs. This has a ring of tokenism to it. “[I]ndigenisation serves as a cheap substitute for a measure of autonomy, self-government or, indeed, sovereignty. It assimilates indigenous people into the imposed social control apparatus rather than autonomising the social control apparatus for the benefits of indigenous people.”56 For many commentators “[t]he most appropriate place for Restorative Justice processes remains to be within separate aboriginal justice systems existing within separate aboriginal communities.”57
54 James Guest, “Aboriginal Legal Theory and Restorative Justice: Part Two”, supra note 11.

55 Zion, supra note 9.

56 P. Havemann, “The Indigenisation of Social Control in Canada”, in B. Morse & G. Woodman, eds., Indigenous Law and the State (Dordrecht: Foris Publ., 1988) 74.

57 Guest, supra note 53.



It is clear that the theories, principles and practices of restorative justice are making inroads into criminal justice systems around the world. What is less clear is the impact that is having on those systems. In Canada some view the incorporation of restorative justice values into the criminal justice system as a positive step in the right direction. It provides a role for victims and communities, it provides flexibility to an otherwise rigid system and it seeks to rectify centuries of injustice towards Aboriginal peoples by providing them with special consideration within the existing system. This optimistic view considers that restorative justice principles, while perhaps not being able to restructure the entire existing system, will at least influence policies and values for the better. Others feel, however, that for restorative justice to have any significant or lasting effect it should be implemented system wide and become the governing principle of the whole criminal justice system. They argue that it is unlikely that restorative programs can be truly restorative while operating within a system based on retributive values.

A third view sees the mainstream system’s incorporation of restorative justice as another example of cultural appropriation, assimilation and an attempted re-colonization of First Nations communities by neo-colonial states with a history of disempowerment of their indigenous populations. 58 For those that hold this view nothing short of a separate, self-governing Aboriginal justice system will ever provide true justice for Aboriginal peoples.

What all these views have in common is the knowledge that restorative justice works. It works because it is intrinsic to the human experience. It is not a grand system imposed by experts but has profound roots in ordinary people’s needs and experiences. It is common sense. 59
58 Juan Marcellus Tauri, “Family Group Conferencing: The Myth of Indigenous Empowerment in New Zealand”, online: Justice as Healing <> (last modified: 8 November 2001).

59 Zehr, supra note 1.



Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, C-46.


R. v. D.N., [1993] Y.J. No. 195 (QL) (Y. Terr. Ct.).

R. v. Gladue
, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 688.

R. v. Moses (1992), 71 C.C.C. (3d) 347 (Y. Terr. Ct.).

R. v. Proulx, [2000] 1 S.C.R. 61.


Sharpe, Susan, Restorative Justice: A Vision For Healing And Change (Edmonton: Edmonton Victim Offender Mediation Society, 1998).

Zehr, Howard, Changing Lenses: A New Focus For Crime and Justice (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1990) 181.


Bastarache, Michel, “The Challenge of the Law in the New Millenium”, (1997-1998) 25 Man. L.J. 411-419.

Braithwaite, John, “Restorative Justice and Social Justice” (2000) 63 Sask. L. Rev. 185-194.

Braithwaite, John “Standards for Restorative Justice”, Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders: Ancillary Meetings, Vienna,Austria, April 2000.
Online:<> (date accessed: 8 April 2001).

Evans, Donald G., “Keeping the Community Involvement in Restorative Justice”, Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders: Ancillary Meetings, Vienna, Austria, April 2000. Online:<> (date accessed: 8 April 2001).

Green, Ross, “Aboriginal Community Sentencing and Mediation: Within and Without the Circle”, (1997) 25 Man. L. J. 77-125.

Green, Ross, “Aboriginal People and the Canadian Justice System”, Justice As Healing, Vol.3 No.4 (Winter 1998) online:<> (last modified: 30 November 2000).

Guest, James “Aboriginal Legal Theory and Restorative Justice”, Justice As Healing Vol.4 No.1 (Spring 1999) online:<> (last modified: 25 August 1999).

Havemann, P., “The Indigenisation of Social Control in Canada”, in B. Morse & G. Woodman, eds., Indigenous Law and the State (Dordrecht: Foris Publ., 1988.

Kurki, Leena, “Incorporating Restorative and Community Justice into American Sentencing and Corrections”, Sentencing & Corrections: Issues For The 21st Century, U.S. Department of Justice, No.3, September 1999.

Pranis,Kay, “Communities and the Justice System: Turning the Relationship Upside Down”, online: <> (date accessed: 16 April 2001).

Tauri, Juan Marcellus, “Family Group Conferencing: The Myth of Indigenous Empowerment in New Zealand”, online: Justice As Healing
<> (date accessed: 23 April 2001).

Van Ness, Daniel, “Restorative Justice Around the World”, Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders: Ancillary Meetings, Vienna, Austria, April 2000. Online: <> (date accessed: 8 April 2001).

Zehr, Howard, “Restorative Justice Hits the Big Time”, online:<> (date accessed: 8 April 2001).

Zion, James, “Punishment Versus Healing: How Does Traditional Indian Law Work?”, Justice As Healing, Vol.2 No.3 (Fall 1997) online:
<> (last modified: 25 August 1999).

Canada, Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Bridging the Cultural Divide: A Report of Aboriginal People and Criminal Justice in Canada (Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1996) at 12.

House of Commons Debates, Vol.IV, 1st Sess., 35th Parl.

Manitoba, Public Inquiry Into The Administration of Justice and Aboriginal Peoples, Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba: The Justice System and Aboriginal People, Vol. 1 (Winnipeg: The Queen’s Printer, 1991.

Stuart, Wendy & Huntley, Audrey, “The Implications of Restorative Justice for Aboriginal Women and Children Survivors of Violence: A Comparative Overview of Five Communities”, Draft version, unpublished, April 2001. Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, c/o VSW 309 – 877 East Hastings St., Vancouver B.C. V6A 3Y1.

Vancouver Aboriginal Restorative Justice Program Provincial Crown Protocol Agreement, Legal Services Society, Native Programs, 1999.


  1. Justice system failing First Nations, report finds

    Iacobucci urges action to get aboriginal representation on Ontario juries

    CBC News February 26, 2013

    It's time for the Ontario government to "get on with it" when it comes to implementing long-awaited recommendations on First Nations juries in Ontario, retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci says.

    A long-awaited report released Tuesday that examines a lack of First Nations representation on juries in Ontario makes 17 sweeping recommendations — not just about First Nations jury representation but about justice as a whole.

    Iacobucci, who was asked a year and a half ago to investigate why so few jurors were members of First Nations communities, said a lack of jury representation is a symptom of bigger justice issues for aboriginal people.

    "If the justice system continues to fail First Nations, they will continue to be reticent to participate on juries," he told a Tuesday morning news conference to unveil the report in Thunder Bay.

    "The time for lofty words and speeches is over. It's time for urgent, substantive and meaningful change."

    Iacobucci called on the Ontario government to implement report recommendations promptly, as First Nations people are all too familiar with reports that sit on shelves.

    He also called for the creation of an assistant deputy attorney general position that would be responsible for aboriginal justice issues.

    Iacobucci's other recommendations range from better data collection for jury rolls to cultural training for police, court workers and prison guards.

    A copy of the report follows at the end of this story.

    The recommendations can’t come soon enough for Marlene Pierre, a member of the Fort William First Nation.

    Five years ago, Pierre’s 27-year-old grandson, Jacy Pierre, died at the Thunder Bay District Jail.

    An inquest into his death was stayed because there was no aboriginal representation on the jury.

    "My daughter and I, we left. We walked out of the inquest," said Pierre.

    A new inquest into Jacy Pierre’s death is expected to start sometime this year and Pierre wants to make sure First Nations people are on the jury.

    "We feel that a terrible injustice is being done to aboriginal people,” said Pierre. “And if we can have some impact on that, then fine."

    Concern about First Nations representation on juries also arose during inquests into the deaths of First Nations students in Thunder Bay.

    continued in next comment...

  2. The Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations in northern Ontario, said the justice system is failing aboriginal communities.

    "I think it's very important that a representative from one of our communities be there ... in order for the families... to see it as a credible process," said Alvin Fiddler.

    The lack of aboriginal representation also means that First Nations people charged with crimes are denied their right to be heard by a jury of their peers, added Fiddler.

    "If you go to trial, you're to be tried by [a] jury of your peers. And I think for many of our community members … if they go to trial and it's a jury trial, chances are they won't see a member of their community as part of that jury."

    Fiddler said he hopes the recommendations Iacobucci puts forward will change that.

    In his report, Iacobucci said that during his meetings with First Nations people from 32 communities, "one point was resoundingly clear: substantive and systemic changes to the criminal justice system are necessary conditions for the participation of First Nations people on juries in Ontario."

    He noted that First Nations leaders "were unequivocal that reintroducing restorative justice programs would have multiple benefits at the community level. Such benefits include the delivery of justice in a culturally relevant manner, greater understanding of justice at the community level ... and an opportunity to educate people about the justice system and their responsibility to become engaged on the juries when called upon to do so.”

    Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno responded to the report by thanking Iacobucci for "his hard work and dedication.”

    “He invested quality time to ensure there was inclusion of our communities through this process, which will go a long way in restoring confidence in the justice system."

    Following the report's release, Attorney General John Gerretsen issued a statement saying he would be reaching out to his "counterparts across government and to First Nations leadership to discuss the important issues raised in this report and to begin the work that is needed to address them.”

    Gerretsen said he would immediately work to address what he called the top two recommendations:

    "We will form an implementation committee that includes the First Nations community... [to] consider the report's recommendations and how they might be implemented.”

    He added a provincial advisory group will be set up to provide advice to the Attorney General on matters relating to First Nations and the justice system.

    you can find the full report in pdf at:

  3. The Transformative Justice Journal

    by Save the Kids, a grass-roots fully-volunteer organization that is grounded in the values of Hip Hop activism and transformative justice, which advocates for alternatives to, and the end of, incarceration of all youth

    The Transformative Justice Journal (TJJ), founded in 2012, is an online, open-source, and peer-reviewed journal dedicated to promoting transformative justice. As an academic-activist journal, TJJ was developed out of scholarly and community dialogues around promoting social justice community-based alternatives to both the retributive and utilitarian punishment models used by criminal justice systems, which victimize offenders and re-victimize survivors of offenses. The current punitive criminal justice system takes control, responsibility, healing, and accountability away from victims and offenders and instead gives them a powerless and victimizing experience. Transformative justice, however, views conflict not from the lens of the criminal justice system, but from the community; as such, those involved in the conflict are seen as individuals rather than victims or offenders. Moreover, transformative justice addresses oppression by systems of domination, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, elitism, classism, and ableism within all domestic, interpersonal, global, and community conflicts. In short, transformative justice is restorative justice plus social justice. Transformative justice expands the social justice model, which challenges and identifies injustices, in order to create organized processes of addressing and ending those injustices. Transformative justice and social justice work together in addressing this need. Transformative justice also builds off the principles of restorative justice in order to address experiences of oppression within mediation.

    TJJ’s mission is not only to identify and challenge the current punitive and retributive criminal justice system, but to end all forms of oppression and punishment within society. TJJ also aims to go beyond theory by promoting transformative initiatives and offering practical and actionable strategies for change in a plain-speaking theory-to-action publication.

  4. Ottawa's Notre Dame High School turns to indigenous tradition to resolve conflict

    Notre Dame High School's 'restorative practices room' open to all students and teachers

    By Waubgeshig Rice, CBC News November 12, 2015

    An Ottawa high school has created a new space to help students resolve conflicts and connect with indigenous culture and traditions such as smudging.

    Notre Dame High School, under the Ottawa Catholic School Board, opened its new "restorative practices room" Thursday with a special ceremony involving local elders, students, teachers and school officials.

    Native studies teacher Alanna Trines and guidance counsellor Kate McGarrity-Fournier helped create the space, which features a circle for discussions, indigenous learning resources and traditional medicines like sage and sweetgrass for smudge ceremonies.

    "Its origins are in First Nations community circles, where people would come together and share their voice and concerns and be respected," said McGarrity-Fournier.

    "If there's a specific conflict in the school, we will be able to refer to this room specifically for restorative practices conflict resolution," added Trines. "We'll be able to have any student that's involved in a conflict sit in a circle, and we'll be able to resolve that conflict in a restorative practices type of way."

    Room open to all students and staff

    Former principal Bonnie Campbell came up with the idea for the room, which will be open to all of Notre Dame's staff and 750 students as a gathering space, or even to hold classes.

    Trines plans to use it regularly for her students, where they'll smudge a few times a week, a practice she's been doing with her classes in recent years

    "I just hope that everyone is going to be comfortable to access this space openly, because I don't want anyone to be shy," said Trines. "If anyone wants to come in, have a class in here, or if a student feels like they just want some quiet time in this space."

    "What we hope for the room is that it will build relationships, create a more inclusive environment at Notre Dame, and a place where people feel their voice can be heard and shared and respected," added McGarrity-Fournier.

    see video of Grade 10 student Kathy Mitchell at:

  5. Restorative justice is effective, not 'soft on crime', say advocates

    North Vancouver organization takes referrals from local police for crimes including arson, theft, assault

    By B.C. Almanac, CBC News November 19, 2015

    Every year, the third week of November is marked as Restorative Justice Week by the B.C. Ministry of Justice.

    Catherine Bargen, a restorative justice coordinator with the ministry, said the idea of the week is for people to learn more about restorative justice, which she said has "many misconceptions."

    "It's thought to let someone off the hook, or that it's something that is soft on crime," she told B.C. Almanac host Gloria Macarenko.

    Rather than having a victim and offender going through the court and prison systems, restorative justice brings together those involved in the crime — the offender, victim and others in the community.

    "Restorative justice is a philosophy that actually aims to hold people meaningfully accountable in the aftermath of a harm that has been committed, and ensure that restitution and reparation is made in a meaningful way," said Bargen.

    "It's a victim-focused process, so that victim's needs are met as well, in a way that often cannot be met through the court system."

    A 'powerful' experience

    Alex Zuur, program manager of the North Shore Restorative Justice Society, runs programs with the West Vancouver Police Department and the North Vancouver RCMP.

    She said the process starts with separate meetings with the offender, victim and other parties involved, and that leads to a face-to-face meeting, giving the victim an opportunity to have their questions answered directly by the offender.

    "It puts a person to the crime and it gives a context to something that otherwise for a victim can be quite an isolating experience.

    "They never have a chance to ask some of those questions [and] that can be often ongoing and more traumatizing than the event itself."

    Zuur said her organization accepts a "huge" range of referrals, including crimes of arson, theft, assault and property damage, but said they also take non-criminal referrals from community members.

    She said the process doesn't work in all situations, and the offender must be willing to accept responsibility for their actions for the process to go forward.

    Zuur doesn't believe it is an easy way out for offenders.

    "When people are having to sit across the room and look someone in the eye and give them a verbal apology for what they've done, that is — from my experience of witnessing it first hand — often a much, much more powerful experience and can actually often be quite difficult for some people to say those words of apology."

  6. Restorative Justice Gives Our Children Dignity in US Schools

    By Eisa Nefertari Ulen, Truthout | December 29, 2015

    The deadly attacks against Black bodies made by police officers in our communities are mirrored by physical attacks against Black bodies made by officers in our schools.

    The October 2015 physical assault of a Black student who refused to leave her desk in South Carolina's Spring Valley High School was a particularly acute example of this, but in reality a spectrum of related violence is directed at Black students every day.

    Black children are more likely to be physically disciplined in US schools than any other racial group. Black children are also more likely to be suspended than other children - even when the offense they commit is the same. That final detail is critical. It is difficult to imagine a blond girl of the same age and attitude flung about like a doll. It is hard to imagine white children forced into silent stillness, a kind of sublimation, as a classmate is body-slammed, lifted and then tossed across the room.

    The obvious normalization of aggressive law enforcement incursions into Spring Valley classrooms is further proven by the covert way other students recorded the incident. Children in fear remain rigidly in place when an adult muscles one of them onto the ground. Children for whom this level of violence is routine do not rise in panic as they bear witness. Children aware that they will be targeted for recording it all pull their phones back into their bags in fear. Yet some students bravely acted as allies and did in fact catch it all for the girl in their class.

    In their video, Richland County Deputy Ben Fields towers over her. He grabs her neck. He yanks her backward. He slams her on her back. She is still in her chair. He lifts her off the ground. He throws her several feet.

    She is a child. We do not see her face. We do not know her name. She is too young for that.

    She is not an anomaly. This is not some rare occurrence - and it is not limited to the actions of officers. Nineteen states still allow corporal punishment in schools. Twelve of those states were part of the Confederacy. Yet all evidence supports the idea that physical assaults against young people increase violence, decrease learning and disrupt school life.

    Experts believe that there are between 2 and 3 million cases of corporal punishment in US schools each year. Victims of corporal punishment are most often young Black boys who attend rural schools. Each year, 10,000 to 20,000 children who receive corporal punishment request medical treatment after the beatings occur. In his 2010 testimony before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities, Donald E. Greydanus, a pediatrician, professor of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University, and pediatrics program director at the MSU Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, concluded that:

    --There is no clear evidence that such punishment leads to improved control in the classroom.

    --Corporal punishment has major deleterious effects on the physical and mental health of students punished in this manner.

    --It severely reduces and does not enhance the academic success of students who are subjected to corporal punishment in schools.

    --The use of corporal punishment in schools reinforces physical aggression and promotes violence in society.

    continued below

  7. Fortunately, activists have long resisted the imposition of violent disciplinary systems on students of color - and some of them are doing so by providing creative and effective alternatives. Since 2005, Fania Davis has been providing tools for teachers to foster violence-free classrooms through her organization, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. The civil rights attorney and community activist, who earned a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Integral Studies, was inspired by the success of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa and restorative juvenile justice legislation in New Zealand.

    "In 1989," Davis told Truthout, "New Zealand passed national legislation that replaced their punitive juvenile justice system with a restorative one, following organizing and pressure by the Maori, an indigenous, oppressed group in that country. Within little more than 10 years in that country, youth incarceration became virtually obsolete - restorative strategies are being used, except for cases of homicide. We can learn a lot from the New Zealand experience."

    Rather than punitive forms of discipline, restorative justice (RJ) seeks a holistic approach to individuals that includes family and community, repairs harm, addresses causes of behavior and meets victims' needs, while promoting youth accountability and growth. In a case like the one at Spring Valley High School, Davis explains, an RJ approach would start with adults "trained to see the kind of behavior the student exhibited as a manifestation of trauma, rather than seeing the behavior as being disrespectful and defiant toward them personally as an authority figure." Adequate RJ training would lead staff to ask questions that reduce fear and help the child shift to a more "reflective state of relaxed alertness."

    "The restorative conversation in the classroom would lead to a deeper conversation with the child and other adults who care about her in which her backstory would have surfaced," Davis added. "An RJ circle to bring together everyone impacted to share stories and feelings, talk from the heart and with respect about what happened, how it impacted everyone, and come up with a plan to address needs and responsibilities and to heal the harm to the degree possible. In this case the circle would have been called with the student, the teacher and adult family members or caregivers of the child. Apologies might be made, and ideally, everyone would feel heard and seen and have their needs addressed."

    continued below

  8. RJ is enabling schools to begin to create spaces where our children can heal rather than experience further harm, as the Spring Valley student did when she was arrested after the physical assault in her classroom occurred. Indeed, at a school that embraced RJ, the assault likely would never have taken place at all, as the security officer would not have been called in to manage something as simple as a child's grip on her cell phone. Davis notes that in schools structured around restorative justice principles, 88 percent of teachers reported that implementation of RJ helped them manage difficult classroom behaviors.

    The benefits of RJ implementation extend far beyond improved classroom management. Davis cites a 2015 study that compared academic and social outcomes of RJ versus non-RJ schools over a period of three years that found an increase in graduation rates of 60 percent and an increase of reading scores of 128 percent. Meanwhile, chronic absence decreased by 24 percent and four-year dropout rates decreased by 56 percent.

    The shift from punitive to restorative institutions requires the buy-in and full-on participation of the entire community. In schools, that includes cafeteria workers and maintenance staff as well as school administrators, teachers, and other professionals and paraprofessionals. One full-time member of the school personnel must be adequately trained and experienced to spearhead RJ initiatives on-site and enable effective implementation of schoolwide buy-in, according to Davis.

    Investment of resources, financial and otherwise, is crucial to liberate youth from the dangers of punitive strategies. And right now is a vital time to push for these shifts in both resources and mentalities.

    "Timing for rapid change couldn't be better, given the dramatic rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the resulting unprecedented national conversation about race, the racialized school-to-prison pipeline and mass incarceration strategies," Davis said.

    It's time to build momentum in the wake of videotaped incidents like the one at Spring Valley High. Schools throughout the Bay Area have begun to implement RJ, as have schools in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado, Maine, Montana and many other states. Certainly, all our children deserve implementation of RJ in every school - and other institutions serving youth - everywhere, nationwide. It's time to build rather than debase.

  9. Residential school survivor says Indigenous Court in Prince George, B.C., marks turning point for justice

    Indigenous sentencing program works with elders to develop healing plans for offenders to re-enter society

    by Andrew Kurjata · CBC News · March 23, 2018

    A residential school survivor says the opening of a new Indigenous Court in Prince George, B.C., marks a turning point for reconciliation in the Canadian justice system.

    Ray Izony is a member of the Prince George Elders Justice Council, which will help sentence offenders selected to take part in the province's sixth Indigenous Court, and first in the north.

    Indigenous Courts (previously referred to as First Nations Courts) work within the existing criminal justice system with offenders who have already admitted their guilt.

    Judges work with lawyers, community elders and often victims to come up with a "healing plan" for the offender that is aimed at rehabilitating them back into society while they serve their sentence.

    Izony and other members of the Elders Justice Council have been trained in how to take part in this system and will develop healing plans for offenders to follow in conjunction with the rest of their sentence.

    "It's very encouraging," Izony said of the grand opening ceremony for the court, held Friday.

    "For the first time, I think, First Nations are going to be up there recognized in the justice system... That means healing for our people."

    Izony, a member of the Tsay Keh'nay First Nation who attended the Lejac residential school as a child, is one of five members of the council which includes elders from the Lhedili T'enneh, Nisga'a, and Gitksan/Tsimshian nations.

    The council worked alongside the Prince George RCMP, Prince George Urban Aboriginal Justice Society and city of Prince George to help bring the court to the city, which has an Indigenous population of over 12,000 people.

    Prince George RCMP Supt. Warren Brown said it's long been a goal of his to establish an Indigenous court in Prince George in order to address systemic problems rather than simply having offenders go in and out of jail.

    Christina Draegen, who is the northern regional manager of the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of B.C. and lead of the push to bring the Indigenous court system to Prince George, said she was "overwhelmed" to finally see the work come to fruition.

    "For a long time, there's been many tears of frustration thinking that this day would never happen," she said. "And here we are."

    The court begins operations April 1.

    By the numbers
    In 2016, Canada's prison ombudsman provided numbers outlining the overrepresentation of Indigenous people incarcerated in Canada to the federal government. Some of those findings were relayed by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in remarks she made favouring restorative justice. They included:

    In 2016, Indigenous people represented more than 25 per cent of inmates while making up just 4.3 per cent of the overall population.

    Between 2005 and 2015, the Indigenous inmate population grew by 50 per cent compared to the overall growth rate of 10 per cent.

    Indigenous women comprise 37 per cent of all women serving a sentence of more than two years.

    Incarceration rates for Indigenous people in some parts of Canada are up to 33 times higher than for non-Indigenous peoples.

    With files from Audrey McKinnon and Nicole Oud.