Increasing the Use of Restorative Justice in Criminal Matters in Canada - Baseline Report

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Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group on Restorative Justice

Acknowledgements:

The Working Group thanks all the ministries and jurisdictions that provided data, as well as the Research Subcommittee members for their help and advice.

Federal/Provincial/Territorial Partners

Synopsis

The Research Subcommittee of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Working Group (WG) on Restorative Justice (RJ) conducted a survey to gather baseline data on the use of RJ processes in the Canadian criminal justice sector. Survey respondents included ministries and departments who are members of the WG. They reported data on RJ referrals, processes, and participants regarding the RJ programs they fund or provide. The purpose of this report is to better understand national RJ caseloads and, with data collection repeated annually for the next 5 years, begin to track changes in caseloads over time.

In November 2018, FPT Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety released a target to increase the use of RJ by a minimum of 5%, if possible. Ministries were encouraged to consider how they would make progress toward the target over the next three years, and what kinds of strategies they would use to increase referrals and the number of victims and offenders who participate.

Eighteen (18) ministries reported supporting 240 programs and 242 agencies delivering RJ services in Canada. In total, 22,576 referrals were received by these RJ programs and agencies in the reference period. The responses indicate that considerable progress is occurring. As described in Appendix A, every jurisdiction has taken concrete steps to increase the use of RJ. For example, all respondents indicated that they had plans to increase awareness/education for criminal justice system professionals. Other common strategies include more training for RJ programs/practitioners and developing collaborative partnerships between RJ agencies, justice sector organizations, and other groups to increase referrals and participation in cases facilitated with RJ. Other steps included holding events, hiring additional staff, and creation of new programs/projects/policies.

Background

In June 2017, FPT Deputy Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety directed the FPT WG on RJ to gather baseline data on the use of RJ processes in the Canadian criminal justice sector. In November 2018, “Ministers agreed to increase the use of restorative justice processes by a minimum target of 5% per jurisdiction, where possible, over the next 3 years.”Footnote 1 To measure the progress towards the approved minimum target, the FPT WG conducted a survey that gathered baseline data for the 2017-18 fiscal year on the use of RJ processes in the Canadian criminal justice sector.

Methodology

In order to gather the required baseline data, reporting jurisdictions completed a survey. FPT ministries and departments were asked to provide statistical information on the RJ programs or services they funded or provided, as well as information about concrete action taken to increase RJ. Every jurisdiction provided information about concrete actions taken, and thirteen (13) were able to provide statistical information.

This survey focused on ministry- or department-level data, rather than jurisdictional, program-level, or agency-level data. This was because many jurisdictions have multiple ministries or departments supporting RJ, each of which might collect their own data. This method was also intended to reduce the reporting burden on community-based agencies, particularly since some jurisdictions already collect information from RJ programs. Data was collected between January 11 and January 31, 2019 regarding referrals and processes that took place in 2017-18.

The results were aggregated to provide information about RJ in each jurisdiction. The data was compiled and analyzed by Public Safety Canada’s Research Division and members of the Research Subcommittee, which includes officials from Public Safety Canada, Statistics Canada, Justice Canada, Correctional Service of Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Nova Scotia Department of Justice, and Saskatchewan Integrated Justice Services. 

Cautions and Limitations

The data collected should not be interpreted as national comprehensive coverage. As the different approaches that FPT jurisdictions use for data collection and storageFootnote 2 limited some jurisdictions’ ability to submit comprehensive data, the FPT WG on RJ continues its work with FPT jurisdictions towards more comprehensive data collection in the future. This could include the development of National Standards for RJ Data Collection so that definitions are consistent across the country and that every program is encouraged to collect the same information.

While the WG was interested in gathering wide-ranging data on many aspects regarding the use of RJ (i.e. referrals, participants, processes and outcomes), resource limitations made it necessary to focus on a smaller, more manageable amount of data. The FPT WG on RJ is working towards going beyond the initial indicators, providing more extensive data about RJ in Canada.

Results

All FPT jurisdictions responded to the survey. Fourteen (14) provided information about the concrete actions taken, while thirteen (13) provided statistical data. They cumulatively reported funding/providing 240 programs and funding 242 agencies, which reported receiving a total of 22,576 referrals. Of the 22,576 referrals, at least 16,155 offenders and 10,107 victims were acceptedFootnote 3 into a RJ process (See Figure 1 below)Footnote 4. Each jurisdiction is responsible for achieving their target of a 5% increase in RJ referrals. Should each jurisdiction be successful, this would mean that collectively the number of reported referrals would increase from 22,576 in 2017-18 to 23,705 in 2020-21. The number of reported participating offenders and victims would rise from 16,155 and 10,107 respectively in 2017-18 to 16,963 and 10,612 in 2020-21.

Figure 1. RJ referrals in 2017/2018, by offender and victim participation in a RJ process

Image description

The graph illustrates the total number of referrals indicated by reporting ministries, as well as the total number of participants (offenders and victims) accepted into restorative justice processes for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. In total, there were 22, 576 referrals reported with at least 16,155 offenders and 10,107 victims participating in restorative justice processes across Canada.

Victim Involvement in RJ Processes

Of the cases that involved victim participation, type of victim participation was available for 2,831 (28.2%) of processes. While this information only pertains to over a quarter of the cases, it is informative that slightly more than a third of these (37.2%) involved a face-to-face meeting between the victim and the offender, whereas almost half (46.1%) included victim participation without contact with the offender. Given that victims are key participants in RJ processes, efforts should continue to be made to increase the participation of victims in these processes if they wish to do so.

Progress Toward the 5% Target

To assess how jurisdictions intend to achieve this 5% increase, they were asked about their plans to increase referrals and number of participants (victims and offenders) involved in RJ within the three-year timeline. Jurisdictions were asked to comment on their progress, concrete steps taken, future steps, challenges and lessons learned, pertaining to each relevant strategy. Overall, jurisdictions reported progress as evidenced through various concrete steps, including: holding events (conferences, symposiums, meetings, and training); hiring additional staff; the creation of new programs, projects and/or policies; mandatory training of Crown prosecutors and/or other criminal justice professionals; investing in and/or conducting research; and investing in better data reporting. Many jurisdictions reported limited resources (such as lack of funding, capacity, and staff member turnover) as a challenge in implementing their strategies. Moving forward, jurisdictions expressed the importance of government and community partnerships as well as multi-year funding agreements to increase referrals and accepted cases. For further information on the concrete steps made by each jurisdiction, please see Appendix A.

Jurisdictions were also asked to report on lessons learned and best practices that they could offer. Many indicated the following best practices/lessons learned: the importance of strong government/community/justice agency partnerships, increased training in both the community and the criminal justice system, and multi-year funding for continuous support. Additionally, they noted that successful initiatives take time to create. Consequently, it is important to recognize that fruitful initiatives require much effort and time to implement.

Jurisdictions also reported on potential next steps such as developing best practices regarding victim involvement; developing National Standards for RJ Data Collection; and discussing a “Roadmap Project” about data collection and data storage practices in community-based RJ agencies and supporting organizations across Canada. It is clear that better data management is required and, ideally, a centralized system that holds RJ program information would be available in each jurisdiction.

Recommendations

Jurisdictions provided recommendations to increase the use of RJ in criminal matters:

  1. Ministries continue implementing their plans/strategies to increase referrals and cases.
  2. Continue efforts to involve victims, increase victim awareness of RJ processes, and share best practices on victim engagement and participation.
  3. Ministries evaluate administrative procedures and data collection processes to better identify participants in a RJ process (offender, victim, community) as well as to capture more data on these participants (e.g., ethnicity, age, and gender).
  4. The FPT WG on RJ continue its work with FPT jurisdictions towards more comprehensive data collection in the future. This could include the development of National Standards for RJ Data Collection.
  5. Establish a national dialogue on best practices and standardization, where possible, regarding data collection.
  6. Dedicate research activities to examine the impacts of the different types of RJ processes on participants and how to increase the participation of Indigenous and minority populations.

Conclusion

Clear progress has been made towards increasing the use of RJ and data collection. In order to gather this baseline data, the WG developed data collection definitions, created surveys to collect national data, and identified data challenges and gaps. Every jurisdiction has taken concrete steps to support RJ, and jurisdictions have made progress on several fronts toward the target. These vital steps will help FPT jurisdictions with increasing the use of RJ processes in Canada and supporting the efforts of communities and community-based organizations to use RJ.

Appendix A: Concrete Steps Made Towards Achieving Target, by JurisdictionFootnote 5

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland and Labrador

Nova Scotia

Nunavut

Northwest Territories

Ontario

Prince Edward Island

Quebec

Saskatchewan

Yukon

Federal

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