Restorative justice: in the shoes of a mediator


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Two hands, one orange and one purple reaching out. On the left side is written: Restorative Justice and on the right side: Justice réparatrice

“Restorative justice enables people to talk about an event or events that have occurred, so that they can feel that the wrongs done have been righted,” said Correctional Service Canada (CSC) mediator Chantal Chicoine. 

Restorative justice exists at every level of the justice system in Canada. It enables dialogue to address the harm caused by a crime. It places those involved, the perpetrator and the victims, at the centre of the process. 

Chantal Chicoine
Chantal Chicoine has been a proud member of the restorative justice program for 11 years.

CSC has been advocating this approach for decades, and has been studying it since the late 1980s. CSC's Restorative Justice Division was created in 1996, and its Restorative Justice Opportunities program will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2024.

Chantal Chicoine has been a proud member of the restorative justice program for 11 years. She is one of 20 mediators across the country working for CSC. The program offers mediation services to victims and federal offenders who wish to engage in a restorative justice process, and establishes a voluntary and safe dialogue with those involved.

Every year, experts, representatives of community organizations, and decision-makers gather for Restorative Justice Week, celebrated during the third week of November. A National Symposium on Restorative Justice is held to discuss innovative approaches to restorative justice in conflict and crime.

Chantal is one of the mediators who participated and organised the event. Like other mediators in the program, she is also a mediator for Équijustice, a community organization working in the field of restorative justice. Équijustice is a long-standing partner of CSC. Chantal provides citizen mediation services in conflict situations and provincial court cases.

Each case is personal and unique, and the methods used are adapted to the needs of the participants.

“For the victim of a crime, or for the perpetrator, reparation can mean many things, including obtaining explanations or answers to questions. Some participants want to be heard, others want to regain power over their lives," Chantal said.

Communication between a victim and an offender can take place in person or by correspondence. For some, the process can lead to a sense of responsibility and acknowledgement of the harm done.

Over the past five years, an average of 139 requests have been received annually. Between 1992 and 2022, a total of 296 offenders participated in face-to-face meetings. Of these, 51% had been sentenced for murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder, and 26% for offences of sexual nature.

A rigorous process

Chantal emphasized that ensuring the psychological, emotional, and physical safety of participants is the ultimate priority of CSC's restorative justice program. The process can be long and rigorous, ranging from a few months to several years.

An offender can apply for participation through their referral agent. To ensure that their expectations match the program's objectives, a preliminary assessment is conducted. Restorative Justice Division staff, mediators and CSC staff members work closely together to determine whether the offender's approach is appropriate and sincere.

"The mediator's role is to meet and talk with the people who have committed the crime, to discuss the motivations behind the request, to understand the program framework, to answer questions and to make a thorough assessment of the request,” said Chantal. “Sometimes, people ask, "Is he doing it for the right reasons? That's what we're trying to determine. You have to take the time to find out who the person is and why this is so important in their life. You also have to look at yourself: how can this person be supported?"

Chantal made it clear that this ‘very personal’ process has no impact on the length of a prisoner's sentence.

CSC’s Victim Services, which works with victims to ensure they exercise their rights in the correctional and conditional release process, provides the necessary information to the victims concerned. Victims then make their own decision as to whether or not to contact the program mediator.

Unlike offenders, victims can contact the Restorative Justice Division directly and start the process. Mediators discuss expectations and options with victims, and help them prepare. Safety is at the heart of the process, and a dialogue between the two parties can take place as long as everyone is in agreement.

Data that speaks for itself

According to CSC’s most recent Correctional Results for Face-to-Face Meetings report, from 1992 to 2022, 60% of requests for face-to-face meetings were made by offenders, while 33% of requests came from victims. This can be attributed to greater awareness of the restorative justice program in institutions thanks to parole officers, chaplains, and community restorative justice groups.

While it's difficult to conclude that an offender's participation in a face-to-face meeting has a direct impact on recidivism rates, the CSC noted that 10 years after an initial meeting, 90% of inmates who participated in mediation and were released, had not reoffended.

Restorative justice has been attracting greater public interest in recent years. Chantal believes we must continue to inform and educate people to break down the perception that this is a marginal approach to justice. Yet, research confirms that it has many benefits. 

"There may be fears in the community, but we hear that the recidivism rate is low and that the process is raising awareness. There's still a long way to go,” said Chantal.

Chantal Chicoine makes no secret of the fact that her work is complex, and that restorative justice practitioners are doing their best to meet demand.

"I think the important thing is that it's accessible, that it exists. If someone, at some point, feels this need, they know that they can knock on CSC's door and that there will be an answer."

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