Restorative justice in Nova Scotia

NOTE: The following is a June 28 op-ed piece from the Honourable Diana Whalen, Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

Today, June 28, Halifax is hosting day two of the International Restorative Justice Conference. This conference brings together more than 400 experts and opinion leaders in restorative justice from around the world and provides a platform to share experiences and knowledge.

This is a tremendous opportunity for Nova Scotia's justice system to share our successes and learn from leaders from other countries.

Our Restorative Justice Program is one of the oldest and most comprehensive in Canada. First established in 1999, this program has had a tremendous impact on our communities and has earned us global recognition in restorative practices.

Restorative justice emphasizes community.

It focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community. It empowers the victim to be heard and play an active role in their situation. It allows the offender to take responsibility on a more emotionally engaging level as they hear how their actions impacted their victims and their communities.

This inclusive approach gives communities a voice and a way to engage in the healing process. It allows the victim, the offender, and the community to work together to address the harm that has been done.

For example, applying a restorative approach in more than 120 of our schools has led to a significant reduction in suspensions, improved academic achievement and increased feelings of attachment to the school.

By applying the restorative approach to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, issues are being resolved in significantly less time and we have also seen an increase of confidence and satisfaction from those involved in the system.

Seeing the difference that a restorative approach could make, we wanted to integrate these values further into the justice system. As a result, the province has developed specialty courts for mental health, domestic violence, and drug treatment. It is also being used as the basis of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry underway in our province.

We have seen tremendous benefits from our Youth Restorative Justice Program and we believe it can do the same for adults. In 2011 the province established two pilot sites for adult restorative justice, one in Cape Breton and the other in Colchester County.

The intention of the pilot projects was to better support victims, reduce court load, impact positively on offenders, reduce repeat offenses, and enhance public confidence in the justice system.

After careful evaluation it is clear that all these objectives have been met. Based on these positive results and our success in youth restorative justice, Nova Scotia will soon see an expansion of the program.

We are working toward making restorative justice available to adults across the province, with a target date of Nov. 1. I look forward to sharing more details about this initiative in the fall.

All Nova Scotians should be proud their province is seen as a world leader in restorative justice. The success of our efforts are thanks to the support of so many dedicated people across the province including the Criminal Justice Transformation Group. We are all harmed by crime in our community and it is up to us all to repair the damage together.