Edmonton’s Indigenous Court, Mental Health Court and Drug Treatment Court Service use restorative justice principles in sentencing a person convicted of a criminal offence.
The Edmonton Indigenous Court, Edmonton Mental Health Court and Edmonton Drug Treatment Court are three specialized courts in the Provincial Court of Alberta. They use restorative justice as an approach to sentencing a person convicted of a criminal offence.
These specialized courts respond to crime in a holistic way by looking at and dealing with all the factors that led to the person committing the crime. The specialized courts understand the “traditional adversarial process is not necessarily the most appropriate for every process or for every population”. Unlike regular criminal court, they are therapeutic in their approach by going beyond punishment and including individualized and monitored corrective treatment. Before a criminal matter can be heard in one of these courts, the accused must take responsibility for their actions and agree to actively participate in their corrective healing journey.
Restorative justice is an alternative and holistic approach to the traditional sentencing of crimes. It addresses the underlying issues and circumstances that often play a part in the criminal offences. Restorative justice not only corrects the harm done but aims to prevent future harm by addressing underlying issues that can lead to repeat offences. Many laws and government policies allow for restorative justice, including the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Restorative justice involves everyone affected by the offence. It aims to repair harm “by providing an opportunity for those harmed and those who take responsibility for the harm to communicate about and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime.”
The Edmonton Indigenous Court
The Edmonton Indigenous Court (EIC) is held on Thursdays at 9:00 a.m. in courtroom 358. EIC uses Indigenous restorative justice principles and provides “a culturally relevant, restorative, and holistic system of justice for Indigenous individuals, including offenders, victims and the community harmed by an offender’s actions.” It “addresses the unique challenges and circumstances of the Indigenous People.”
Anyone who identifies as Indigenous can ask to have their criminal matter heard in this court. Participants can smudge before having to speak about their criminal matter. Participants also have the support of traditional knowledge keepers, Indigenous support counsellors, and Indigenous community support agencies. These supports work together to help the participant create and complete their healing plan. Successful acceptance into and completion of the program depends on the participant actively engaging in their healing plan.
The Edmonton Mental Health Court
The Edmonton Mental Health Court (EMHC) is held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in courtroom 357. EMHC focuses on the individual’s underlying mental health conditions that can lead to repeat criminal offences. A judge can refer a person to MHC if they believe the accused’s underlying mental health issue contributed to their offence. A lawyer can also recommend their client’s matter be heard in MHC.
MHC takes a collaborative approach to help participants, such as mental health workers, social workers, and psychiatrists. Success in this program requires an active and willing participant. See the MHC info and tip sheet to learn more about what matters can be heard, who is an eligible participant, and how the court operates.
The Edmonton Drug Treatment Court
The Edmonton Drug Treatment Court (DTC) is held on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. in courtroom 267. DTC focuses on helping an individual overcome the underlying drug dependency that is contributing to their criminal offences. It is a minimum one-year, court-supervised drug treatment program. The Court engages a multi-disciplinary team of judges, Crown prosecutors, duty counsel, social workers, police liaisons, probation officers, and a case management team. Participants have weekly supervised case management, frequent drug testing, support meetings, and court attendances to make sure they are doing well in the program.
An accused must plead guilty to a non-violent offence to participate in the program. They must also agree to participate, along with the Crown prosecutor and the Court. Anyone interested in participating in the program should contact their lawyer or probation officer for a referral.
An Effective Response
Restorative justice is an effective response to crime prevention as it considers the many people and factors involved in a crime. Through the process, individuals who have caused harm can grow through healing and take accountability for their actions in a more meaningful way. To learn more about restorative justice in the Canadian legal system, visit the Government of Canada’s website.
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DISCLAIMER The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.