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Making amends

Arrière-plan

November 14, 2022 Laws and Rights

Parents

Par Michael Gouin

Psychosocial worker

We've arrived: Restorative Justice Week! This week highlights an approach to justice that we use every day at Mesures alternatives jeunesse de Laval (MAJL). The purpose of this article is to provide information on restorative justice and describe how this approach can benefit both victims and offenders. 

Justice is not always restorative 

It would be logical to think that all justice is restorative. And while that’s not wrong, according to the definition provided by the Government of Canada, it is “an approach to justice that aims to repair the harm done by giving those harmed and those who bear responsibility for the harm done the opportunity to communicate and address their respective needs in the aftermath of a crime.” 

Simply put, it is an approach that allows offenders to make amends for their actions. This approach is used with adults and young people, like the ones we work with at MAJL, who are between the ages of 12 and 17 and were caught committing a crime. 

What about the victims?

When we think of the criminal justice system in Canada, we might think of the presumption of innocence. This concept means that any accused person is initially presumed innocent until proven guilty. This system has many advantages, but according to some studies, it can also have a negative effect on the role that victims then have to play during the trial. 

The victims are present more as witnesses than active participants in the trial. These same studies show that conceptions of the victim's role have evolved other time. Victims may feel a sense of unfairness about their place within the traditional criminal justice system. 

Restorative justice 

Restorative justice is intended to be an alternative to the traditional justice system, allowing victims to be heard and to be an integral part of the rehabilitation of young offenders! Young people are assessed according to a hierarchy that aims, first and foremost and when possible, to offer reparation directly to the victim. This may include criminal mediation, financial compensation, or a letter to the victim. 

Given that the goal is to listen and attempt to respond to victims' needs, they can always decide to simply let justice take its course without being involved, which is perfectly reasonable. The restorative justice approach is not there to force a direct remedy between offender and victim, but to open the possibility, if the harmed party so desires. 

What about offenders? 

The offenders we meet at MAJL all have one thing in common: they are young. Young people between the ages of 12 and 17 can indeed be considered offenders, but studies also show that they may also be victims of their own environment. They are therefore both offenders and victims of their own actions. For this reason, the restorative principle may be relevant to a young offender who, like the victim, has unmet needs that led to their criminal action and legal consequences. 

Just as some victims prefer not to be involved in the restorative process, some offenders may also prefer to make amends indirectly by doing community service or other work. In all cases, restorative justice is there to make room for victims, but also to take into consideration the needs of offenders. 

In conclusion... 

In the end, restorative justice may not be suitable for everyone, but it at least offers the opportunity for victims, and offenders, to have their needs acknowledged and to feel heard. Their active involvement in the legal process thus allows for the creation of a legal consequence to repair, directly or symbolically, a criminal act. It is important to remember that if you are a victim, or in the entourage of a victim, of a crime committed by a young person, restorative justice is there to ensure that you are listened to and respected. 

And if we are close to a young person who commits an offence, remember that they are not defined only by their actions. They are still a person with needs that must be addressed. The tag of offender is attached to an action taken in the past and should not taint their future. Helping our young people to repair the damage they have done is the only way to build a brighter future. 


References (in French)

Gouvernement du Canada, La justice réparatrice
Cairn.info, Le modèle québécois des rencontres détenus-victimes
Erudit, Cinquante ans de victimologie. Quelle place pour les victimes d’actes criminels dans la revue Criminologie de 1968 à aujourd’hui ?  
Papyrus, La victime d’acte criminel : L’injustice d’une partie évincée du procès.
Gouvernement du Canada, Justice réparatrice dans le secteur de la justice pénale au Canada
Erudit, Le jeune contrevenant, victime ou accusé ?