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Province opens door to out-of-court resolutions, offers $1.2M in funding

Minister of Justice Mickey Amery held a media roundtable on Feb. 5 to announce a $1.2 million Alberta Community Justice Grant. The funds will be directed towards organizations that can aid in resolving family, criminal and civil matters outside of the courtroom. The provincial government wants to support the “exploration and development of innovative, community-based justice initiatives,” Amery said. “This grant represents an investment in the proficiency and efficacy of community-based organizations.”

A Jan. 30 press release said the grant funding aims to “engage community members in decision-making and encourage collaborative problem-solving.” The initiative is meant to address the root causes of conflict through mediation and peacemaking while opening the door to prevention programs and alternative approaches to justice. Concepts like ‘restorative justice’ are increasingly utilized, both for the well-being of those caught up in the legal system and for the relief it can offer to crowded courtrooms.

“Justice is not a one-size fits all. The court system doesn’t need to address every situation; there are other ways we can do this,” Amery said, and he seemed open-minded to finding creative solutions to various legal complications. “The eligibility criteria are incredibly broad. It was done on purpose to ensure this grant reaches the greatest number of people and encourages the greatest number of applications.”

When asked for examples of what the grant money might look like in action, Amery leaned on his experience practicing family law to explain. “Without limiting applications in any way, we’ve seen success in our family justice strategy. One of those examples is the idea of implementing a mediation or alternative dispute resolution process. If we can get a family into informal mediation, I am very confident that with the right mediator and the right organization we can address a number of issues before they ever land in court.” He believes the grant money can empower organizations to develop and activate strategies that improve the process as a whole.

Organizations that can demonstrate the initiative and capacity to deliver community justice programs may apply for a one-time grant between $5,000 to $25,000 to support current programs or create innovative alternatives to the formal court system. The application period is now open and closes on Feb. 29.

The minister said that the values and needs of Albertans are a top priority in the administration of justice, and those needs are multifaceted for both perpetrators and victims. “Justice comes in many different forms,” Amery said. “It can be delivered not just through courts but through organizations, Indigenous groups, and not-for-profits.” By allowing community groups to implement some of their own ideas into the process, he foresees a change in the perception of justice as it becomes more “proactive, culturally sensitive and trauma informed.”

The ministry’s press release said that applicants must be based in Alberta and be from one of the following groups:

-registered not-for-profit organizations and/or registered charities in good standing

-a First Nation, Métis Nation of Alberta or Metis Settlements

-municipalities

-community groups with a designated fiscal agent

Individuals, academic institutions, for-profit organizations, Crown corporations, police services and publicly funded institutions are not eligible.

Cal Braid, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, The Taber Times