The Government of Alberta will no longer fund restorative justice programs across the province, CBC News has learned.
"It's pretty disheartening not to have that support," said Jan Moran, coordinator of the Alberta Restorative Justice Association.
"Not only the monetary support, but I think it also means that there's not the support of the solicitor general for the whole concept of restorative justice."
Restorative justice brings victims and criminals face-to-face with the goal of making amends.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General and Public Security spent $351,000 a year to fund a dozen non-profit groups that run restorative justice sessions.
In an e-mail to CBC News, the office of Solicitor General Frank Oberle said the decision was difficult but necessary in these "challenging economic times."
"All operations were carefully examined to ensure we are concentrating our use of taxpayer dollars on our core mandated programs," it stated.
Oberle was not available to clarify what Alberta’s commitment to restorative justice will be following the funding cut, but the statement went on to say that funding could be reinstated in the future, and that agencies can apply to the federal government or the province’s Community Initiative Program.
Cost savings ignored, say advocates
Advocates of restorative justice say the province is losing sight of the approach's long-term benefits and cost-saving potential.
"It's apparent that there are going to be some offenders who would be rehabilitated by this program and who would be less likely to re-offend," said D’Arcy DePoe, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association of Alberta.
"Re-offending costs the system resources. And if you look at the small resources put into a program like this, you can only conclude that it's money well spent."
Restorative justice grant recipients handled 218 criminal cases in 2009 — each costing around $3,000 — with 88 percent of offenders complying with conditions that were set, said the Alberta Restorative Justice Association.
However, there are no reliable statistics on how much the sessions save in court and jail costs, said Moran.
"In some of the cases, you don't have to go to court," she said. "You can save time in terms of the police service doing more work with [offenders]."
Program brings together victims, offenders
Many of the restorative justice cases in Alberta involve non-violent crime, such as shoplifting, theft and mischief, such as graffiti.
The approach has been used on occasion to bring offenders and victims together following serious crimes, such as the 2002 homicide of Edmonton school bus driver Robert Stanley and the 2007 death of Corey Colthorpe at the hands of a drunk driver.
Corey's father, Abby Colthorpe, is a strong believer in the restorative justice approach.
thought was to go up and take care of this guy and maybe leave him lying in a ditch and see how that would feel for him," said Colthorpe.
Instead, Colthorpe agreed to meet the drunk driver, Dwayne MacLean, with two facilitators present.
"He apologized and he did show remorse," said Colthorpe. "And it helped me see the human side of him."
Colthorpe said the encounter allowed him to forgive MacLean and heal from his loss.
Through regular contact with the offender, who is still serving time in a federal prison in Saskatchewan, Colthorpe understands MacLean has his addictions under control and participates fully in rehabilitation programs.
"It was really uplifting for me, knowing this wasn't in vain."
Agenices looking for alternatives
Restorative justice agencies whose funding has been cut are already looking for alternative sources — a prospect that worries Moran.
"Resources and time and energy that could be put into program-development will probably have to be put into fundraising," she said.
"So, rather than moving forward, it's sort of like — okay, we're standing still."
Moran's group plans to meet with Oberle to ask that funding be restored, possibly even increased.
Mary Bracken, coordinator of the Fairview Community Restorative Justice in Fairview, Alta., which received $25,000 from the grant program for 2010-2011, met with Oberle on Friday.
"There was a feeling of genuine sincerity regarding his support of restorative justice and our program," Bracken wrote in an e-mail to CBC News.
"Minister Oberle was able to point us in the direction of other funds and said that he will support our application for those funds."