What We Do



We use restorative practices to keep young people out of the justice system and help them work towards a more positive future.

Research has overwhelmingly shown the harmful effects of charging and punishing youth. Young people who are charged are less likely to succeed in school or find stable employment and are more likely to reoffend. Our responses to adolescent misbehaviour must meet the needs of young people, support their development, and empower them to build on their strengths and capabilities.

Peacebuilders’ Restorative Justice programs provide young people with access to justice and diverting them out of the courts before trial. Since 2004, Peacebuilders has run a restorative court-diversion program for youth between the ages of 12 and 18 charged with criminal offences. Our Restorative Justice programs are designed to help young people overcome conflict and reach their full potential.


Youth Justice

Advances in neuroscience and research on youth development confirm what we all know: young people are different from adults. The part of the brain responsible for reason and decision-making is not fully developed until one’s mid-twenties, and as a result, young people are more likely to engage in risky behaviours. Most adults admit to engaging  in activities as teens that could have led to arrest—activities they avoid as adults. Even in serious cases, such as robbery or assault, most young people can be safely supported to find a path to a positive future if they are given the right support.

Both Canadian and international law recognize that young people should be treated differently than adults. 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.

Despite these special protections, too many young people are charged with criminal offences when the circumstances don’t warrant it. Many of those who are charged have difficulty obtaining good legal representation and finding programs that support their rehabilitation. At Peacebuiders, we’re committed to using the criminal justice system as a last resort; we’re dedicated to fundamentally transforming the youth justice system so that it gives young people an opportunity to take responsibility for their actions, work through conflict and repair harm.

This work begins by meeting kids where they’re at and providing services that wrap around the individual and adapt to their needs. It means understanding who they are and how to best support them to make decisions that lead to a positive future—and keeping them out of the criminal justice system.

Restorative Youth Circles

Peacebuilders’ Restorative Youth Circles (RYC) program is a restorative court-diversion program for young people between the ages of 12 and 18. RYC invites youth in conflict with the law, and when appropriate, their families, community members, and other individuals impacted by the conflict to participate in a restorative justice process. RYC is designed to determine the underlying factors that led to the conflict, the extent of the young person’s responsibility, and help the young person develop resolutions to make amends and work towards a more positive future.

Our Restorative Youth Circles program has been evaluated by Dr. Scot Wortley, Professor; Acting Director of the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies; Graduate Coordinator at the University of Toronto. A video of his findings may be viewed here. This evaluation was made possible by generous funding from the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.


How It Works

1. Intake Interview &
Needs Assessment

  • 45 min – 1hr 
  • Location: 311 Jarvis Street, Youth Court, Room 150 
  • Parents/supportive individuals are encouraged to attend
  • The interview is confidential 
  • Required documents: police synopsis and bail conditions
2. Peer Circles (6 sessions)

  • Weekly after school sessions 
  • Location: MLSE Launchpad at 259 Jarvis Street 
  • Peer-led conversations about Circle Values facilitated by
    RYC staff 
  • Recreational activities supported by the
    MLSE Launchpad
  • Dinner and tokens provided 
3. Individual Circles (6 sessions)
& Personal Reflection

  • Weekly after school sessions 
  • Location: Various locations around downtown Toronto
  • 2 Circle Keepers assigned to each case 
  • The young person reflects on the conflict in a safe and supportive environment
  • The young person prepares a personal reflection for the court
4. Report to the Court

  • Justice Program Manager and Circle Keepers prepare a report outlining the young person’s progress and relevant circumstances 
  • Staff and Circle Keepers accompany the youth to the final court date 
  • Report and personal reflection are shared with the court, including  defence counsel, Crown attorney and referral source 

Who Is Eligible

RYC works with court-involved youth between the ages of 12 and 18. We provide assistance to youth who are required to appear at the following court locations:

  • 311 Jarvis Street
  • 2201 Finch Avenue West
  • 1911 Eglinton Avenue East


Youth can be referred to our program in the following ways:

  • Informal Diversion: Includes self-referral and referrals from lawyers, Crown, judge, police, teachers, family, community organizations etc.
  • EJS (Extrajudicial Sanctions): Referred by Crown and probation.

For further program information, referrals and intake, please contact:

Lorna Richards, Restorative Justice Programs Manager
(647) 338-6777 | lrichards@peacebuilders.ca

Restoring Hope: An Evaluation of the Restorative Youth Circles Program

In 2021, a comprehensive evaluation of Peacebuilders’ Restorative Justice Programs was conducted by Scot Wortley, Professor of Criminology at University of Toronto, revealing an amazingly positive impact that the program has had on youth participants.  Click here to read the Executive Summary.

Leaders of Tomorrow

Leaders of Tomorrow is a weekly program for youth between the ages of 12 and 18, based at the MLSE LaunchPad. Each week, youth come together in peer-led Peacebuilding Circles to engage in conversations about values such as respect, empathy, responsibility, and courage. These circles encourage positive communication, decision-making and peer-mentorship skills. Most importantly, the circles provide young people with a safe space to explore their thoughts and feelings.

The MLSE LaunchPad, located in Moss Park, is an ambitious ‘living lab’ designed to explore and measure how sport can help improve the lives of youth. The 42,000 square foot space is an incubator for collaboration. In addition to sports programs developed by MLSE’s team of coaches, the LaunchPad hosts expert partners who deliver best-in-class programming that support the MLSE LaunchPad’s four pillars: Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Ready for School, and Ready for Work.

Court Support

Our court support workers are trained in the youth court process and have many years of experience working with court personnel.

Our staff:

  • Give you and your family clear information about the court process, the many services at the court, legal aid and how to find a lawyer;
  • Go with you through the court process, including court sessions and meetings to help you understand court proceedings and plan your next steps; and
  • Help connect you with community services and supports, such as education, housing, counselling, and employment.

Steps to Justice has a new interactive illustration of a criminal courtroom. This illustration gives you an idea of what a typical criminal courtroom looks like. You can click on the pop-up buttons to get more information about who the key players are and their roles.

Credit: Steps to Justice, Community Legal Education Ontario

“Peacebuilders was an opportunity for a new start.”

– RYC Youth Participant, 15-years-old

“Peacebuilders taught me different ways to resolve a situation and how to deal with a situation in a proper manner. I learned not to keep all your anger in and to start talking to either family or friends, or even someone who is a professional. Peacebuilders taught me talking to someone will help me from not letting me take all my anger out on one person and letting people know how I feel about a situation. Overall I think this program was an amazing experience and also working with my two Circle Keepers was amazing and I would love to do Peacebuilders all over again.”

– RYC Youth Participant, 16-years-old

“The Restorative Youth Circles program provides a valuable tool to help troubled youth resolve conflicts without court action. It provides ways for them to confront their problems non-violently…to make peace with themselves and others…”

– The Honourable Roy McMurtry, Former Chief Justice of Ontario

Thank you to our partners and supporters

Children's Aid Foundation of Canada