The Nova Scotia government has tasked a committee with determining how to increase usage of the adult restorative justice program that expanded across the province last November.

Don Spicer, director of public safety and security for the Department of Justice, says the program is about providing better access to better justice, but admits putting more adults through it would also help alleviate an overburdened court system.

"If, for instance, we take a thousand cases out of the mainstream court system, put them through an off-ramp, which is restorative justice, and they have good outcomes, then that's a thousand less cases that are before those courts," Spicer says.

Don Spicer, Director of Public Safety & Security, NS Justice Department

Don Spicer, director of public safety and security for the Department of Justice, says restorative justice provides better access to better justice. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Last November, the adult restorative justice program was expanded from the Halifax area, Cape Breton and municipalities of East Hants and Colchester to the whole province.

In its first six months, 614 cases were referred to the program.

Not always easier

Restorative justice often means offenders meet with their victims, accept responsibility for their actions and avoid jail time, but Spicer, a former police officer, is quick to point out it's not necessarily easier.

"I know from my previous experience that some youth would say, 'No, I want to go to court because that's too tough. I have to sit there and face my accuser and admit to what it is that I've done.'"

Committee meeting every two weeks

Jennifer Llewellyn, a Dalhousie University law professor and expert in restorative justice, co-chairs the interim governance and management committee for Nova Scotia restorative justice, which was created in June and is now meeting every two weeks.

"I don't have any sense that the real push has been about lowering cost and efficiencies of the system as the overriding reason that they're looking to restorative justice," she says.  

Jennifer Llewellyn

Jennifer Llewellyn, a Dalhousie University law professor and expert in restorative justice, co-chairs the interim governance and management committee for Nova Scotia restorative justice, which was created in June. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Llewellyn says she often hears from victims that the traditional methods for access to justice can be unsatisfactory.

"They don't address victims' needs. They don't make us safer. They're not rehabilitating in the ways in which we would expect for our societies to be safe."

Spicer says the government is not looking to expand eligibility criteria for the program, but rather increase awareness of it in an attempt to get more offenders involved.

Referral methods

He says referrals can come in four ways:  

  • Through police and prosecutors
  • Through a request from defence lawyers
  • Directly from the court
  • Through corrections after an offender has been sentenced, in the case of more serious offences

Nova Scotia's restorative justice program for youth has been in place since 1999.