Bringing healing to our communities

Restorative justice is a holistic process of dialogue and group sharing of experiences that allows people affected by violence, including victims, people who have harmed, and communities, to find paths of pacification and reconciliation together. Restorative justice is about repairing and reconciling broken relationships within society, with accountability and a focus on addressing the root causes of violence, in order to bring positive change.

However, most programs and funding through the Canadian government focus primarily on the criminal justice and prison systems – essentially a punitive approach. Accountability for offences is essential, but a purely punitive system falls short in addressing the full needs of victims and addressing the root causes of violent crime and abuse, including preventing recidivism.

A group of approximately ten people sit in a circle facing each other.

The Restorative Justice Committee in Dorchester Penitentiary, Minimum Security Institution in Dorchester, New Brunkswick, is run by the John Howard Society of South East New Brunswick, an MCC partner. The group of offenders and local volunteers meets every month to discuss different topics on restorative justice and how they can learn to live more restoratively. (MCC Photo/Shane Yuhas, 2014)

Walking with victims of violence and/or abuse

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and with the increase in intimate partner and sexual violence across Canada during the pandemic, MCC is committed to reducing and eliminating intimate partner and sexual violence. Sexual assault and abuse are significantly underreported, and when cases are reported it’s highly unlikely they will lead to a conviction. While restorative justice interventions are somewhat complex in cases of sexual violence, their goal is to bring change to society for the better, both for victims and offenders and to build a peaceful and accountable society. 

According to the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, “…every victim has the right, on request, to information about…the services and programs available to them as a victim, including restorative justice programs.”  However, not everyone has access to restorative justice programming. There is a need to create additional alternative means and parallel options for victims to seek justice and healing and also for offenders to make reparation and journey toward healing.  In the case of victims, in particular, providing them with a restorative justice option – for example, so that when they make a police report, they can specify that they don’t want the case to go to court – will make space for potentially less personally harmful means of seeking justice.

Addressing the root cause of violence and abuse, working with people who have harmed

As part of MCC’s restorative justice perspective, we also seek to address the root causes of violence to bring societal change. This means working with men at risk, and communities at risk in general, including Indigenous communities, to help stop cycles of violence. MCC believes in a restorative justice approach that includes supporting government and communities working together in programs that support mental health and addictions, shelters and housing, and other programs that walk alongside men at risk.

In addition, women from vulnerable communities, including Indigenous communities are vastly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Indigenous women make up 42% of the population of women in federal prisons. This is especially disturbing as Indigenous women make up only 4%  of the total number of women in Canada.  The Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action lists almost 20 recommendations of reforms within the justice system, including the over-representation of Indigenous people within federal and provincial prisons.

Faith-based groups have an important role in supporting alliances with individuals and connecting to government and community-based programs. As part of MCC’s abuse response & prevention programs, we are working to change attitudes and behaviours towards a healthier understanding of masculinity.  This translates into fewer girls who are raised to expect and tolerate violence, and fewer boys who are raised with the assumption that acting out violently is a normal part of being male. 

In addition to greater support for victims, there are many opportunities for the government to implement more preventative and restorative justice approaches. For example, on June 29, 2021, Private Members Bill C-228 – the Reduction of Recidivism Framework Act – received Royal Ascent. This is a great opportunity to implement a more holistic approach.

We have the opportunity to ask our leaders their perspectives about how Canada can use restorative justice approaches to ensure a society that values all of its members.

 

Sample Questions to MPs:

  • Restorative justice is a whole-of-society approach that addresses both the needs of victims, focuses on accountability for those who have harmed and seeks to address root causes of violence and abuse. How does your party plan to advocate for, and support, more restorative justice initiatives within Federal agencies such as Correctional Services Canada and the Justice Department?  

 

  • How does your party plan to make the judicial process easier for a victim of sexual abuse or intimate partner violence?

 

 

  • How will you address the over-representation of Indigenous women (42%) in federal prisons in Canada?

 

  • How does your party plan to ensure that social housing is sustainable, especially for Indigenous people who disproportionately make up the populations of those most in need of safe and affordable housing: women victims of abuse, ex-inmates, and those experiencing homelessness?   

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