News Release

Review of criminal justice system must take into account the social determinants of justice

October 11, 2018 Print

Montreal – As the federal government examines Canada’s criminal justice system, a new report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy proposes recommendations to guide the review.

The criminal justice system interacts in complex ways with many social systems, such as health, income support, child care and housing. The government’s review must consider this reality when weighing the options for reform in order to limit the potential for unintended and harmful outcomes for offenders, victims, their families and communities.

The report summarizes the main suggestions that emerged from a series of round tables organized and facilitated by the IRPP in April 2018, with the support of the Criminal Justice System Review Secretariat at the Department of Justice.  The round tables sought advice and input from experts and stakeholders on the interactions between the criminal justice system and other social systems, and how these interactions should shape the upcoming review.

“The clearest message coming from the round tables is that the criminal justice sys­tem needs fundamental reform. The review should identify reforms that can be implemented immediately in order to ease the burden on the criminal justice system and provide better support to individuals being served by it, as well as acknowledge that this is a long-term process. It should also identify the goal of the reforms and situate this first stage in that longer-term process,” says IRPP President and CEO Graham Fox.

Round table participants suggested that the review should include the following:

  • Articulate values and principles that should guide the criminal justice system in the 21st century, including how they relate to punishment and rehabilitation.
  • Acknowledge that individuals are a product of their surroundings and invest in preventive measures.
  • Acknowledge that the criminal justice system has a more negative impact on certain demographic groups and address the specific needs of those groups.
  • Acknowledge that systemic racism exists, and outline specific steps that can be taken to remedy it.
  • Consider increasing the use of alternative and restorative justice programs.
  • Reconsider the structure of the criminal justice system and the interactions of the many actors in the system by putting the individual at the centre.
  • Aim to make the criminal justice system “smaller” and create more space for social system interventions.
  • Develop and implement reforms in full collaboration with the provinces and territories, as well as Indigenous leaders and governments.
  • Include real public engagement to build trust in the criminal justice system and support for the reforms.

This consultation exercise was one of several conducted by the Department of Justice over the past two years. The other consultations were structured differently and reached out to experts in different fields, specifically law enforcement and the legal community, and focused on different dimensions of this complex issue. This report should therefore be viewed as one of many elements contributing to the criminal justice system review.

Rethinking Criminal Justice in Canada can be downloaded from the Institute’s website.


The Institute for Research on Public Policy is an independent, national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization based in Montreal. To receive updates from the IRPP, please subscribe to our e‑mail list.

Media contact:  Shirley Cardenas, tel. 514-594-6877  scardenas@nullirpp.org

Rethinking Criminal Justice in Canada

Rethinking Criminal Justice in Canada

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Media Contact

Shirley Cardenas
Communications Coordinator
Tel. 514-594-6877 • scardenas@irpp.org