What We Do
ADVOCACY & PUBLIC
We’re committed to fundamentally transforming our criminal justice and education systems so that they meaningfully engage youth and make communities stronger.
Peacebuilders’ Advocacy and Public Legal Education program builds on the organization’s experience working in our justice and education systems to enhance youth access to justice and advocate for the needs and perspectives of young people. With the support of our front-line staff, a legal team and articling students, we conduct research on youth justice issues, create publicly-accessible legal education and information, and provide research and recommendations to assist advocates and policymakers in criminal justice and education reform. Our staff also conduct educational presentations for youth, families, students, teachers, legal professionals, front-line workers and community members every year.
Public Legal Education:
- We conduct legal research on access to justice issues that impact young people.
- We provide legal information to youth and families navigating the court process.
- We provide training for lawyers, justice professionals, front-line workers and trusted intermediaries on restorative justice and youth justice.
- We provide education to youth and support workers about the youth court process and youth justice system.
- We share publicly-accessible legal information.
Diversion programs first emerged in the 1970s as a way to keep young people out of the courts and support their rehabilitation. Since the introduction of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003, community-based diversion programs, through extrajudicial measures, have become widespread across Canada. However, diversion programs, policies and practices differ widely across the country, and even within the province.
Building on our experience running restorative court-diversion programs in Toronto, Peacebuilders is uniquely positioned to provide research and recommendations to policy-makers and diversion service providers on how diversion impacts youth in conflict with the law, and how our policies and practices can be improved to support young people’s rehabilitation.
- Extrajudicial Sanctions (EJS)
- Extrajudicial Measures (EJM) & Police Pre-Charge Diversion
Restorative justice is a way of addressing conflict that enables the individual who caused harm, the people who were affected by it, and the larger community to work together to create a meaningful resolution. Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Actincludes several provisions that are consistent with restorative justice principles and practices including Section 3 (Principles), Section 4 (Extrajudicial measures), Section 10 (Extrajudicial sanctions), Section 19 (Conferences), and Section 42 (Youth sentences).
We advocate for the use of restorative practices and principles in our justice and education systems. We also create materials and conduct presentations on restorative justice processes and methods.
For more information on restorative justice services in training, visit our Services and Training page.
In Canada, youth justice is a distinct area of law with its own legislation that recognizes young people’s heightened vulnerability, fundamental rights, special protections, and diminished moral blameworthiness. Young people have the right to a lawyer and full representation; they appear before judges in specialized youth courts. When young people are held accountable for their actions, the overarching goal is rehabilitation, not punishment.
In Ontario, youth justice is typically adjudicated by judges who preside predominantly in adult criminal court, but there are some notable exceptions. The Ontario Court of Justice at 311 Jarvis Street in Toronto brings together youth justice courts, family courts, and youth support services under one roof. This unique combination has fostered a child-centred approach to youth justice that aims to address the underlying factors that lead young people into conflict with the law. 311 Jarvis has pioneered significant improvements in youth justice that reflect the Youth Criminal Justice Act’s goals of rehabilitation and reintegration. Since 2010, Peacebuilders has operated its Restorative Justice programs out of 311 Jarvis Street.
We know that we can build on the 311 Jarvis model to ensure that at the front door of the justice system, youth and their families are provided with not only access to justice, but also access to social justice—the holistic and community-based supports that will allow young people to succeed and our communities to thrive.
A youth record is any document that connects a young person to a criminal case under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Youth records include all the information kept in police, court, government or non-government agency records about an individual’s involvement with the youth justice system. No one can look at a youth record after a certain period of time has passed. But having a youth record can prevent young people from travelling outside of Canada, studying at some universities, securing stable employment or meaningful volunteer opportunities.
We help young people understand the long-term implications of their records, and advocate to ensure that young people’s records remain confidential and do not prevent them from realizing their full potential.
The Youth Justice Transformation Lab
In Peacebuilders’ Building a Better Youth Court report (generously funded by Laidlaw Foundation), we put forth 42 recommendations for removing barriers to justice for young people.
To best prioritize and strategize these recommendations, Peacebuilders founded the Youth Justice Transformation Lab. The Youth Justice Transformation Lab (“Lab”) brings together Toronto-based community organizations, young people with experience in the justice system, justice professionals and grassroots community advocates, to develop strategies to address the challenges and barriers that Black and racialized youth face in Toronto’s justice system and work to implement the recommendations identified.
Through networking, knowledge sharing, improving access to culturally relevant programming, and advocacy, the Lab hopes that “By 2026, the Toronto Youth Justice System will provide a transformative justice experience for 50% of justice-involved youth.” With this intention, the Youth Justice Transformation Lab has the capacity to support an average of 1100 to 1700 youth annually.
To learn more about our partners, please click on the logos below.
This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada and Youth CI
Ce projet est financé en partie par le gouvernement du Canada.
The Adolescence Project
The Adolescent Transformative Justice Project, or “Adolescence Project”, is Peacebuilders’ important new initiative focused upon improving access to justice for adolescents, young people between the ages of 18-25, who are involved in, or at risk of becoming involved in, the criminal justice system.
Through the Adolescence Project, Peacebuilders seeks to develop a model to provide additional, appropriate alternatives to adolescents by improving diversion options and increasing access to culturally responsive community supports and wrap around services. By creating a less punitive and more developmentally appropriate approach to adolescent conflict, Peacebuilders is moving toward fulfilling the Catalyst 2030 goals with respect to the advancement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #16: Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions.
The Adolescence Project is supported by an Advisory Committee comprised of a collaborative of experts who want to improve the ways adolescent conflict is resolved. The Committee first met in February 2022 to begin discussing their opinions and recommendations for the Project’s implementation. Currently, the Advisory Committee is comprised of the following members:
- Justice Brian Weagant, Ontario Court of Justice
- Justice Brian Scully, Ontario Court of Justice
- Dr. Kim Varma, Associate Professor – Dept of Criminology, Ryerson University
- Dr. Ashley Vandermorris, Dept of Adolescent Medicine – Toronto Sick Kids Hospital
- Jeffrey Leon, Partner – Bennett Jones
- Dr. Kathy Bickmore, Professor of Curriculum & Pedagogy – University of Toronto
- Mary Lee, ADR Coordinator & Professor – Faculty of Business, Humber College
- Marsha Rampersaud, Queen’s University PhD Candidate
- Jack Galligan, Program Evaluator
- Stephanie DiGiuseppe, Partner – Ruby Shiller Enenajor DiGiuseppe, Barristers
- Mark Wright, President and Producer – Prismalight Productions
- Erica Proctor, Ryerson University
Our new initiative: The Adolescence Project
It is important to understand the real challenges that our youth face and there needs to be a better understanding of the significant brain growth and development happening throughout adolescence as evidenced by emerging science. Tailoring our approach to youth during these critical years, focussing on restorative justice practices, and providing positive opportunities will lead to much brighter futures.
Restorative Justice: How it can be translated into modern institutions
Reflections by Barry Stuart in conversation with Eva Marszewski, from Catalysing Change Week 2021. From writing the constitution of Papua New Guinea to sitting as the Chief Justice of the Territorial Court of Canada’s Yukon – from criminal justice to restorative and community justice – our urgent challenges call for a better way.
Our articling program provides students with a genuine interest in youth justice, restorative justice, and social justice with an opportunity to work on effecting systemic change in the youth justice and education systems. Our students gain exposure to both the formal youth justice system and access to justice initiatives in the not-for-profit world. Peacebuilders takes a collaborative approach to articling, providing students with the opportunity to work closely with staff and volunteers, while being given the freedom to take their own initiative. We strive to maintain a healthy balance between theoretical and practice experience.
Our students become trained Circle Keepers and facilitate Peacebuilding Circles in our Restorative Justice and Restorative Schools programs, fully support our advocacy and public legal education initiatives, and assist the Youth Justice and Advocacy Lawyer with in-house legal matters.
Peacebuilders follows the recruitment guidelines set out by Law Society by Ontario.
Current and Former Articling Student:
2022 – 2023
2021 – 2022