Myths and Facts

Myth: Restorative justice = Indigenous Courts

FACT: Indigenous courts may involve a component of restorative justice (e.g., peacemaking, healing plan). However, Indigenous courts are narrower in scope and offer services for Indigenous offenders in bail and sentencing hearings only where such courts exist (currently in Calgary and Edmonton). Restorative justice is an alternative approach to dealing with crime at any stage of the process for all offenders of any background and geographical location and in any court in the province.

Myth: Restorative justice is soft on punishment

FACT: Offenders often report that facing their victims in a restorative justice process is harder than a traditional trial. They must answer hard questions and take full responsibility for their actions, taking into consideration the impacts on the victim, family, and the broader community. When combined with appropriate probationary conditions, restorative justice may “impose a greater burden on the offender than a custodial sentence” (R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688 at para 72).

The goal is to understand the root cause of the crime so that a judge is able to craft a sentence or outcome that more appropriately redresses the harm caused with the long-term view of reducing recidivism while restoring relationships. The outcome is often more meaningful to offenders as it is community-based and provides greater potential for personal rehabilitation and reintegration into the community than strictly a Court-based sanction. Victims report greater satisfaction and a sense of closure as they have a say in the outcome and they gain an understanding of the factors that led to the crime.

Myth: Restorative justice is a “get out of jail free card”

FACT: Restorative justice is not synonymous with diversion or a withdrawal of charges. The purpose of a restorative justice process is to redress the harm in a more meaningful manner, which allows all those affected to be heard. Its purpose is not intended to lead to a more lenient sentence. When restorative justice is used, the victim has more input in the outcomes than they would in the traditional court system, and more options from which to choose.

Myth: Restorative justice requires the victim to forgive the offender

FACT: Although forgiveness and reconciliation can be by-products of the process, they are never a goal or expectation. Victims choose all aspects of their involvement, and they are never required to meet with, befriend, or repair relations with their offenders.

Myth: Restorative justice is only appropriate for minor offences

FACT: Restorative justice can be used for any type of crime, and has been successful in cases of assault, sexual offenses, and murder. Research shows a decrease in recidivism is most pronounced when restorative justice is used for serious offences. The restorative justice process is led by professionals only in tandem with the mainstream justice system after the offender accepts responsibility, pleads guilty, or is found guilty. It can be part of or exclusive of sentencing, or even years after the court case is over. When restorative justice is used in more serious cases (e.g. sexualized violence), only highly trained practitioners should participate.

As with other programs where charges are diverted from the formal court process to specialized processes outside Court, participation in restorative justice requires offenders to accept responsibility for their offences. What this looks like depends on the stage at which the referral to restorative justice is made. In some cases, for example, where there is a pre-charge referral, the referral will proceed on the basis of an oral or written statement from the offender, acknowledging the offences and the harm caused. Once the restorative process has been concluded, the matter is at an end.

In other matters, such as those already before the court, a guilty plea or finding of guilt will be required. For these cases, the court process will be adjourned to allow time for the restorative justice process to take place. Once that concludes, the matter returns to court where a report is made to the judge about the outcome of the restorative justice process and the formal legal proceedings will be concluded.

Myth: Restorative justice is social work, not a justice system matter

FACT: This restorative justice project is a court-annexed program. The roster will include only government-funded service providers who report to their funders regularly and have a proven track-record for adhering to restorative justice principles and practices. While the Courts will not supervise the service providers nor dictate how the work will be performed, by only including agencies that meet certain criteria, quality assurance is expected. Service providers take direct referrals from the justice system for criminal matters and are accountable to various referring agencies through protocol and procedural agreements, for the outcomes of the process. This is well established in youth criminal justice matters. Specialized training in restorative justice and knowledge of the criminal justice system is necessary to provide this service.