Frequently Asked Questions
What is Restorative Justice?
- Focus on the harms of crime rather than the rules that have been broken.
- Show equal concern and commitment to victims and offenders, involving both in the process of justice.
- Work toward the restoration of victims, empowering them and responding to their needs as they see them.
- Support offenders while encouraging them to understand, accept and carry out their obligations.
- Recognize that while obligations may be difficult for offenders, they should not be intended as pain.
- Provide opportunities for dialogue, direct or indirect, between victim and offender, as appropriate.
- Involve and empower the affected community through the justice process, and increase its capacity to recognize and respond to community bases of crime.
- Encourage collaboration and reintegration, rather than coercion and isolation.
- Give attention to the unintended consequences of our actions and programs.
- Show respect to all parties, including victims, offenders and justice colleagues.
How widespread is the interest in restorative justice? What other jurisdictions have adopted restorative practices?
- The initial conceptualization of restorative justice began in the late 1970s, largely in North America. The oldest practice of restorative justice, victim-offender mediation, had its roots in the Kitchener-Waterloo area during this time.
- By 1990 a NATO-supported conference was held to examine growing interest in restorative justice.
- In 1996 New Zealand adopted legislation mandating the use of restorative practices in young offender cases.
- Many jurisdictions, including Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and European countries have adopted restorative justice programs.
- The United Nations Working Group on Restorative Justice is currently examining restorative processes, and is preparing a draft resolution for presentation at some point in the year 2000.
I have been referred to this program, what can I expect now?
- Once you have been referred by the police or another agency, you will be contacted by phone by one of our Facilitators.
- They will introduce themselves and work with you to find a time that is convenient for you to meet.
- During this initial meeting you are encouraged to bring a person or people to support you.
- During this meeting, you will be asked to talk about the incident and answer some questions.
- Facilitators will also explain our process and answer any questions you have in a caring and respectful way.
- All information shared in these meetings is completely confidential.
- The only reason that confidentiality would not be observed is if the Facilitators heard that someone planned to hurt themselves.
- Or someone else, or if a child (a person under 18) is being abused physically, emotionally, or sexually.
What happens when a face-to-face encounter is not desired or appropriate?
- A face-to-face meeting may not be appropriate for all situations. Here are some reasons why:
- A face-to-face meeting cannot investigate or establish the facts around the incident; that is the role of the police and the courts.
- A face-to-face meeting is not intended to condemn or humiliate those who have offended others; expression of disapproval focuses on harmful actions rather than condemning the individual person.
- A face-to-face meeting focuses on learning who has been harmed, what is the impact of the incident on those harmed, and how can the harm be repaired. It is a problem-solving approach that cannot put anyone at risk of experiencing further harm.
- If a face-to-face meeting is not appropriate or desired, Facilitators can work with all parties to communicate indirectly through the exchange of letters.
- This indirect communication is meant to increase understanding and help all parties work towards a resolution that is agreeable to everyone.
- If this is not possible, the case will be referred back to the police or other referring agency to be processed by them.
What happens if a case is sent back to the police?
- It is up to the police to decide whether to forward charges to Crown Counsel or to take no further action.
- If the case is sent to Crown Counsel, they will determine whether or not there is enough evidence and/or if it is in the public interest to lay a charge against the accused.
- You will be informed by the police what their next step is if the case is sent back because it is not appropriate for Restorative Justice.
Can the police refer someone who has had previous conflict with the law?
- Yes.We accept cases where the accused has had previous contact with the criminal justice system. Often a new approach to dealing with conflict can be the turning point for someone where the court system is not providing a deterrent effect.
Can police refer a case involving an assault or a violent offense?
- Yes to both. A restorative approach that holds preparation of participants and safety in the highest regard can be a meaningful and potentially healing experience for those involved in a physical altercation.
- It is not uncommon in these situations for both parties involved to feel as though they have been victimized.
- The opportunity to talk about what happened in a safe environment without the threat of violence could minimize the chance of further conflict.
- Further, a mechanism by which to resolve conflict peacefully can be a powerful experience for those who normally react to conflict with violence.
- Often in cases of severe violence, it does not make sense for victims to meet the person by whom they have been victimized for some time, or possibly not ever.
- For these instances, we would maintain a restorative approach which would not necessarily result in a face-to-face encounter.
What if the victim does not want to participate in a restorative justice process?
- Participation in the program is completely voluntary for all participants.
- One of the primary goals of the program is to increase victim satisfaction in the system by giving them an active role in the justice process. Every effort will therefore be made to provide the victim with the information, preparation and support they need in order to participate in a restorative justice process.
- It is recognized, however, that some victims may not want to participate in a restorative justice process. In such cases a restorative justice process could still be held, however, with others participating in the victim's place. For example, secondary victims, such as a family member, or a member of the community in which the harm took place, could participate to talk about the impact the crime has had on them.
How is "community" defined for the purposes of restorative justice?
- The term community, as used in restorative justice, does not specifically refer to any particular physical or geographical entity.
- For the purposes of a restorative justice process, community is defined as the "community of the incident": family members, key support people, and significant others for each party who have been impacted by the offence.
- The community members in a restorative justice process will therefore be specific to that particular case
How do we deal with family and societal problems identified during the restorative justice process?
- Restorative justice focuses on identifying causes which may have led to the commission of the offence.
- Identifying key support people during the restorative justice process will assist the offender in addressing some of the personal issues which led to the offence. Community members are also given insight into the conditions in their community which may have caused the offence, and are given an opportunity to take action to remedy those conditions.
- The Alternative Measures agencies which will be facilitating the restorative justice process will also be able to refer the offender and victim to appropriate community resources to deal with identified issues.
- Although it will not happen overnight, restorative justice provides an opportunity for the justice system to start working more collaboratively with other service providers, such as schools, heath organizations, child protection agencies, and other social service agencies in an effort to address the underlying causes of the crime.