Exploring the Impact of COVID‑19 on Restorative Justice Programs in Canada: A Comparative Analysis in Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan
COVID‑19 has created an unprecedented shift in many aspects of our lives, including in Canada’s justice system. The pandemic seems to have influenced Canadians’ perceptions of public safety, with reported changes in the frequency and types of crimes committed as well as changes in how justice institutions are operating. Organizations that offer restorative justice (RJ) have also been seriously affected. The impact of COVID‑19 on RJ programs is enormous due to the shutdown of offices, programs and prison visits. Referrals have plummeted, raising major concerns for the future of many restorative justice programs across Canada. Despite the massive impact on RJ programs, academic study of this impact is almost non-existent. We have found no published peer-reviewed articles describing the impact of COVID‑19 on restorative justice in Canada other than our own preliminary literature review (Asadullah and Tomporowski, 2020).
The proposed study will directly address some of these research gaps. The primary objectives of the study are: 1) To explore the impact of COVID‑19 on restorative justice practices in Alberta (AB), British Columbia (BC), and Saskatchewan (SK); 2) To examine the evolution of virtual and blended practices; and 3) To formulate policy recommendations for justice stakeholders and restorative justice practitioners. Existing social capital, ongoing research project Indigenous Justice and Restorative Justice in British Columbia and Saskatchewan” will support the proposed research. Further, partners such as the Alberta Restorative Justice Association, the BC Restorative Justice Association and the Saskatchewan Restorative Justice Network will add a community focus to the research project.
Employing mixed methodsqualitative and quantitative data collection and analysisthis RJ study will be unique in its use of decolonizing methodology. Some distinct features of this decolonizing research method include formation of community advisory committees and co-authorship with the entire research team, including research assistants and research participants, in the final publication. The data in this two-year project will be derived from 60 in-depth qualitative interviews, along with surveys and input from participants in nine video-conference town-hall gatherings. To improve the credibility and community relevance of findings, a written summary of the data compiled will be circulated to all key informants for their review. The authors will then incorporate feedback from that review into the findings.
The potential contribution of this research to the future practice of Restorative Justice is far reaching. Documenting the impact of COVID‑19 on RJ from the lenses of resilience and creativity will be instrumental. The findings on blended (live/virtual) and purely virtual restorative justice practices will provide guidance to politicians and policy makers in AB, BC, & SK and possibly elsewhere so they can be responsive to the justice needs of their communities. The findings will be published & disseminated through seminar and conference presentations. Given that this is the first research of it’s kind in Canada, the findings and recommendations will be useful for government agencies and justice stakeholders who are interested to be responsive to community’s justice needs.