Crime and Restorative Justice

The church believes in the protection and dignity of all human beings and supports restorative justice principles that consider the needs and wellbeing of the whole community, as well as both victims and offenders of crime. The church calls for fair laws justly administered and courts and correction institutions that are just and humane. Church statements about crime have said that treatment is preferable to punishment for those struggling with addictions and that firearms should be strictly regulated. The church is opposed to capital punishment.

This section contains information about:

Principles regarding people affected by criminal activity endorsed by General Assembly:

  • Our ultimate goal after a crime must be the reconciliation of those caught in the conflict as well as reconciliation within the community as a whole. (A&P 1984, pp. 367-368, 46)
  • Victims, offenders and people that work in the system all have needs that the church should address. (A&P 1984, pp. 367-368, 46)
  • The state should provide adequate compensation to victims of violent crime or their survivors. (A&P 1973, pp. 278-279, 283, 40)
  • A supportive program of treatment for people with addictions to drugs is preferable to punishment. (A&P 1964, pp. 354-355, 358, 96)
  • Presbyterian congregations should encourage acceptance of people who have been incarcerated through support marked by realism and warmth, compassion and practical help. (A&P 1962, pp. 299-300, 302, 36)
  • The church encourages non-discriminatory personnel practices in regard to employing people who have been incarcerated. (A&P 1962, pp. 299-300, 302, 36)

Select actions of The Presbyterian Church regarding people affected by criminal activity

2011: General Assembly raised concerns with the Minister of Justice that directing public funds to build more federal prisons may not adequately address challenges in the Canadian justice and correctional system which include:

  • the need for more resources to treat mental illness and substance addictions.
  • a disproportionate number of people who are incarcerated are racially and/or economically marginalized.
  • inadequate funding for training programs that support the development of vocational and life skills resulting in fewer opportunities for people who have completed their sentences and returned to the community.

The church also communicated that the Government of Canada has the responsibility to protect the public and to ensure that funds allocated to public safety are wisely spent.

1984: General Assembly approved bringing concern for ministry to the victims of crime to the attention of the church and encouraged congregations to become involved in this ministry in every way possible including support systems, prayer, and pastoral services. The Board of Congregational Life (now the Life and Mission Agency) was asked to develop resources on the criminal justice system to sensitize congregations to the need of those involved at all levels in the system, but particularly the victims, so as to restore their spiritual wholeness. (A&P 1984, pp. 367-368, 46)

1978: General Assembly re-affirmed support for the work of the Church Council on Justice and Corrections (of which the church is a member). (A&P 1978, pp. 207, 52)

1973: General Assembly approved several reforms which the Government of Canada introduced to the criminal justice code (including legal aid and the abolition of corporal punishment). General Assembly asked that victims of crime be provided adequate compensation by the state and expressed concern for public safety in cases of temporary release, day parole, and parole. (A&P 1973, pp. 278-279, 283, 40)

1962: General Assembly encouraged acceptance of people who have been incarcerated through the support of groups working with people who are re-entering public life after a period of incarceration, non-discriminatory personnel practices and an outreach policy marked by both realism and warmth. (A&P 1962, pp. 299-300, 302, 36)

1952: General Assembly informed the Government of Canada of its willingness to recommend ministers to be appointed as prison chaplains. (A&P 1952, pp. 186-187, 16, 92)

Principles on Gun Control endorsed by General Assembly

  • The sale of firearms should be strictly regulated. (A&P 1973, pp. 278–279, 283, 40)
  • Owners of firearms should be licensed and should be obliged to take training in the safe use of firearms before a license is granted. (A&P 1976, pp. 436, 470, 60)
  • International criteria and controls should be established to reduce the impact of small arms trade to fueling and prolonging conflict. A&P 2006, pp. 286, 21).

Select actions of The Presbyterian Church in Canada regarding gun control, gun-related violence and community wellness

2021: Recognizing the ways that misogyny, racism and economic insecurity intersect and contribute to gun violence, and to the wider community trauma inflicted on all people when gun violence occurs, the church encouraged the Government of Canada to prioritize funding for social programs aimed at ending racism, misogyny, social and economic marginalization and poverty in order to proactively improve safety and wellness in communities.

Studies show disproportionate use of force and levels of violence in encounters between policing agencies and Black and Indigenous people, but this information is difficult to access, and isn’t always available. The church wrote to the Government of Canada advocating for a centralized race-based data collection for encounters with police in order to adequately track and, in turn, fight, systemic racism.

Up to 70% of people who died in encounters with the police suffered from mental health or substance use problems. The church wrote to provinces and territories advocating that funding for wellness-checks is reallocated from police to community and healthcare based crisis intervention workers, including pathways for people to access health-care lead interventions through 911 services that do not necessitate the involvement of police as first responders in mental health crises. (A&P 2021, LMA)

2020: The church published a statement regarding violent encounters between police and Indigenous people emphasizing the need to combat systemic racism that targets Indigenous peoples for violence.

2013: General Assembly affirmed the principles of the Arms Trade Treaty which sets universal regulations for the cross-border transfer of weapons, and prevents the export of any weapons, including small arms, to countries with gross human rights violations. The church urged the Government of Canada to sign and ratify the treaty (advocating over several years) for the adoption of the treaty (which Canada did adopt in 2019, though full ratification remains elusive). (A&P 2013, pp. 289-290, 24)

2006: General Assembly affirmed that international criteria should be established to reduce the contribution of trade in small arms (which include handguns and assault-type rifles) to fueling and prolonging conflict, international criteria should be established in which nations:

  • adopt global transfer principles or criteria that would prevent the shipment of small arms to countries at war or where there are serious human rights violations, or to countries in which such arms are likely to undermine security and development efforts.
  • agree to strengthen and harmonize national regulations on small arms that would include prohibiting possession of semi-automatic and automatic rifles, machine guns and all light weapons by those other than authorized entities.
  • include small arms as part of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms to promote greater transparency. (A&P 2006, pp. 286, 21).

1976: General Assembly supported the government of Canada’s proposed gun control bill and asked as well for obligatory training in the safe use of firearms before a license was granted. (A&P 1976, pp. 436, 470, 60)

1973: General Assembly called on the Government of Canada for much more strict regulations and control of firearms. (A&P 1973, pp. 278-279, 283, 40)

Capital Punishment

The last use of capital punishment in Canada was in 1962. It was abolished in 1976 (except for certain offenses under the National Defence Act which was amended to remove the death penalty entirely in 1998). General Assembly expressed support for the abolition of the death penalty in 1967 (a statement made after years of consideration and expressed without prejudice to a 1954 statement which affirmed the state’s right to use capital punishment).

Select actions of The Presbyterian Church in Canada regarding capital punishment:

1987: General Assembly communicated to every federal Member of Parliament that it is opposed to the re-institution of the death penalty. (Background information: In 1987 there was a Parliamentary vote on whether to re-institute the death penalty. It was defeated. Pervious General Assemblies in the 1980s, and prior to 1987, had encouraged the church to study the question of capital punishment.) (A&P 1987, pp. 36, 66)

1975: The 1974 General Assembly referred a study document on capital punishment to congregations and presbyteries. Responses to the document lead the church to communicate to the Government of Canada in 1975, a re-affirmation of the 1967 statement supporting the abolition of capital punishment. (A&P 1975, p. 375)

1967: Following several overtures and years of study, the General Assembly adopted this statement: “without prejudice to the statement of 1954, this Assembly favour[s] the abolition of capital punishment.” (A&P 1967, pp. 324, 71, 81-82)