A human rights expert says Ontario's Human Rights system should embrace restorative justice — an approach that focuses on healing relationships rather than on punishment.

Dave Shannon, a Thunder Bay lawyer and director of the Nova Scotia Human Rights commission, said the present system is adversarial.  He said human rights should be about restoring dignity, not tearing it down.  

"Restorative justice is a great option to make people feel and talk about what happened," Shannon said. "How they were made to feel in the process … in other words … to restore their relationships."

He said a restorative justice process has been working well in Nova Scotia and he hopes it will be an important part of the Ontario Human Rights review when it's completed later this spring.

The concept was endorsed Wednesday by several participants at a human rights review in Thunder Bay.

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Rene Boucher

This is welcome news for Rene Boucher, an advocate for people who live with HIV and AIDS in Thunder Bay. Boucher said he feels restorative justice would be embraced by his community of First Nations people.

"[It would] heal the relationship and … return [it] to what it was prior to whatever," Boucher said. "There’s no winner and no loser … rather it's two people working together."

Shannon noted the model is "very straightforward. It's simply a matter of adopting the model. The procedure is already there."

After filing their application or complaint to the human rights tribunal, people can be immediately called into a room so they can begin talking.

"Rather than getting bogged down in documents going back and forth, or letters from lawyer to lawyer," Shannon said. "[The process gets] people in a room so they can begin talking."

Shannon noted the restorative justice model exists across the world.

"The more people are learning about this approach, the more they are engaged and the higher the success rate," he said.