British Columbia

B.C. Solicitor General vows to expand restorative justice

The B.C. government’s new Solicitor General is planning to expand the province’s restorative-justice system.

'We have seen restorative justice work in community programs in B.C. and in other jurisdictions'

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, in a 2015 file photo, has vowed to expand B.C.'s restorative justice program. (CBC)

The B.C. government's new Solicitor General is planning to expand the province's restorative-justice system.

The process is often used for less serious offences, such as theft and vandalism, and allows the offender and victim to meet face-to-face and determine the appropriate consequence for the offender.

Rather than go through the court, offenders may perform community service, for instance, or write a letter of apology.

"We have seen restorative justice work in community programs in B.C. and in other jurisdictions," Mike Farnworth, who is also the minister of public safety, said in a statement.

There are currently 92 restorative justice programs in the province and 32 Aboriginal justice programs applying restorative justice principles.

The B.C. NDP had pledged in its election platform to expand the use of restorative justice.

The B.C. Green Party, too, had committed $50 million in its platform toward restorative justice and alternatives in the criminal justice system.

'We'd like to see some action'

Michael Welsh, president of the Canadian Bar Association's B.C. chapter, is buoyed by the government's vow.

"We'd like to see some action," Welsh said.  

A Feb. 2017 report by the Canadian Bar Association said that restorative justice programs have remained "on the fringes of the criminal justice system."

It called for a "robust" provincial program with the resources to accept all referrals by police forces and Crown counsel.

Some of those programs — known as Community Accountability Programs — each get a "minimal" $2,500 fund from the province, Welsh said.

The rest of their funding is left up to them.

"We'd like to see additional funding and training … so that there's a uniform level of training across the province," Welsh said.

Expanding program a priority

Farnworth said it's too early to disclose a timeline or how much funding will be offered. But expanding the program province-wide will be a priority, he said.

The Canadian Bar Association has also asked the federal government to designate restorative justice as an alternative measure under the Criminal Code. 

That would allow for a wider system of supports beyond corrections programs and probation officers, Welsh said.

"A lot of times, those people have never been put in a situation where they have to take some personal responsibility for what they've done," he said.

"And when they do, it's found that they tend to make a big difference in terms of whether they re-offend in the future or not."

With files from CBC's The Early Edition