Restorative Justice to Unclog Courts

By May, Katie | Winnipeg Free Press, November 18, 2015 | Go to article overview

Restorative Justice to Unclog Courts


May, Katie, Winnipeg Free Press


Community-based approach to offenders takes effect today

New legislation promoting restorative justice in Manitoba should give police more authority to refer offenders to community-based programs rather than lay criminal charges for minor crimes, advocates say.

The Restorative Justice Act, to be proclaimed in force today, is first-of-its-kind legislation in Canada that defines restorative justice and requires the provincial government to set up policies for its use in Manitoba.

It's a move aimed at relieving pressure on a clogged criminal-court system, especially in cases involving mental-health or addictions issues, in a province with the highest incarceration rates in Canada.

The act also establishes an advisory council that will give recommendations on the delivery of restorative-justice programs in the province, and it opens the door to the province's upcoming five-year plan for restorative justice.

The legislation is being lauded by community groups that hope it will change the face of the traditional justice system as well as public attitudes about restorative justice, which is a more individualized way for offenders (who are often youths or first-time offenders) to take responsibility for their actions, usually by reconciling with victims, performing community service and working toward their rehabilitation.

Kate Kehler, a member of the pilot committee behind a soon-to-be formed Manitoba restorative-justice association, considers the new legislation a "backbone" police and Crown prosecutors can use to divert criminal cases to restorative-justice programs instead.

"It's been a long time coming. So if there's an interest from the government, I think the community does need to step up and support the government in this," Kehler said. "People seem to think that restorative justice is soft on crime, but oddly enough, when people are incarcerated and they come back out and they don't make it, nobody seems to blame the incarceration system for not having done its job. …

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