Homeinnovations in justiceJustice Innovation: An Introductory Post

He was “Mr. Innovation”

Blog icon-shaded blueSometime in 1997 a remarkable man explained to me how “Law and Treatment” could intersect to achieve the holistic rehabilitation of the individual. This encounter has taken me across the world in search of examples of innovative approaches to Justice.

It is entirely appropriate that the first post of this blog should be a reiteration and an excerpt of a tribute I paid him in 2013.


A perennial problem in our society is the drug addict who commits crimes to support their drug habit. It is apparent that arrest, conviction and incarceration, without treatment of the underlying addiction, have very little impact in deterring this criminal behavior. This results in the famous revolving door i.e. arrest, conviction, jail, release, return to crime, arrest and the cycle continues…..

The drain on health, law enforcement, criminal justice, corrections resources, on the family and on society is obvious.


In 1997, Justice Bentley talked about establishing a Canadian version of the American Drug Court. This Canadian version came to be known as a Drug Treatment Court. Some of us thought he was not serious.

In those days, the whole concept seemed risky; it was revolutionary in Canadian law and substance abuse treatment. It certainly seemed like a serious career limiting move for a then young prosecutor.

I kept thinking this is too risky!!!   What if it does not work? Justice Paul Bentley said “we will overcome the odds. We will get this done”.

In June 1997, Justice Bentley convened a large group of stakeholders which included City of Toronto, Toronto Public Health, Ontario Duty Counsel, Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the police, Criminal Lawyers Association, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and many others.


I watched Justice Bentley convince them that this idea was a good one. The idea…was the creation of a specialised court. This special court will combine substance abuse treatment with the court processes.

The aim is to achieve the holistic rehabilitation of the drug addict, who committed offences, in order to support his or he drug habit.

This was called “Drug Court” in the United States. All members of the planning committee were determined to develop a truly Canadian model suited to our Canadian systems and needs. So a special brand of Drug Court, called “Drug Treatment Court” was born.

As the months went by, it seemed that it would be impossible to obtain government funding for this Drug Treatment Court.

Undeterred and in his usual fashion, Justice Paul Bentley declared “we are starting the Court anyway”.

Fortunately, some funding was provided by the National Crime Prevention Centre and on December 1, 1998, in court room 114 of the Old City Hall courthouse, I stood before him and I heard him utter the words “welcome to the first sitting of the Drug Treatment Court”.

On December 1, 1998, history was made. Canada’s first Drug Treatment Court was born.


Today, drug treatment courts are part of Canada’s legislative framework; there are several drug treatment courts in Canada, with many more in the planning stages.

Many countries around the Globe are adopting modified forms of the Canadian Drug Treatment Court model, thousands of lives continue to be saved and many Drug Treatment Court practitioners continue to be inspired.

Paul Bentley has had a profound effect on my life and many other lives. He was a close friend and frankly something reminds me of him every day.

I miss him terribly; however, one thing he reminds me off is courage and a strong determination to overcome the odds. There were many, many obstacles, in the way of establishing and continuing the Toronto Drug Treatment Court, but he would not give up.


There were many who stood with him to make this special experience called the Drug Treatment Court a reality and to each and every one of them, we say thank you.

It is this same courage and determination to succeed, that every drug addict, who commits to participation in the drug treatment court program, or any program of recovery, demonstrates and exemplifies.

The triumph of drug treatment court participants, the triumph of drug treatment court alumni; even the failures of those who attempt but fail; those who continue to persevere even though they may stumble and fall; the dedication of all the drug treatment practitioners, in the legal and non-legal fields; are all a testament to the ability of the human spirit to triumph over adversity.


Kofi Barnes

November 6, 2013


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