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Diversion: What is it and when can I get it?

Diversion programs are an alternative to prosecution. It is recognition by the Crown that not all offences should be prosecuted, and that some form of community service may more properly offset the harm done to the community. Under a diversion program, minor criminal charges, such as certain thefts,  are resolved by diverting them out of the court process. In Ottawa it is called the Direct Accountability Program and is run by the Elizabeth Fry Society ('E-Fry'). In order to be eligible there are a number of preconditions that must be met: you must be 18 years or older, the charges must be minor in nature, you must accept responsibility for your offence(s), the Crown must screen you into the program and then the Community Justice Worker at E-Fry must find you appropriate for the program.

Under the program, eligible participants must meet with a Community Justice Worker who describes the program and ensures the program criteria are met. The Community Justice Worker will assign a community service or 'sanction' and a time limit to complete it within. Sanctions could include: paying restitution, writing an apology letter, completing community service, making a charitable donation, or attending and completing a program (theft prevention course, addictions counselling).

In some cases the Crown may have reviewed your file before your first court date and may offer diversion in the first instance. If they do not initially select your case for diversion, your lawyer may be able to provide the Crown with additional information showing how the program criteria are met and suggest diversion as an appropriate resolution.

There are a number of things to keep in mind. If your matter is referred to diversion it can be completed fairly quickly; however, in some case it can take a couple of months to complete the sanction. While in most cases the result of the program results in the charge(s) being withdrawn it is still required that you admit to committing the offence(s). If you do not complete the sanction, you will be required to deal with your charge(s) in the normal fashion.

It is important to meet with a lawyer in advance of participating in this program. A lawyer will review the disclosure (police reports, witness statements) with you and give you advice on the case. In addition, a lawyer will discuss your rights with you especially your right to a trial.

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