09/12/2012 03:54 EDT | Updated 11/12/2012 05:12 EST

Dalhousie offers restorative justice option for students

Dalhousie University students who end up in trouble with the law now have a way to try to right the wrong without having to go to court.

The University, police and the province's Justice Department have set up a restorative justice program just for students of the school. It's the first program of its kind for university students in Canada.

The idea is when students commit a minor crime, they will have the option of having their file handled by a university staffer rather than the court system.

"We have a lot of people coming here that are spreading their wings for the first time," said Deputy Chief Bill Moore, of the Halifax Regional Police. "Their mistakes impact their community. This is, we're hoping to see a change in behavior."

Moore said since the start of the school year, his officers have dealt with 70 students who all violated drinking laws. 50 of those have agreed to try this new process.

"We're hoping to give them an opportunity to right the wrong that they did. But at the same time maybe get an understanding of the impact that they've had on the community that they're in."

Avoids criminal record

Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University, said the administrator of the program will work with the student and any victim to try to work out an appropriate way to resolve the issue.

He said the program will be used for smaller crimes, such as intoxicated students who disturb neighbours.

"These are important issues, they have to be addressed," he said. "On the other hand, I'm not sure that a fine to somebody who can easily afford the fine is a significant punishment. I'm not sure that going through the jail system is necessarily an appropriate reaction in those kinds of cases."

Potential resolutions could include counselling, repairing damage or simply an apology. If a student accepts responsiblity and completes the program, they will have no criminal record of conviction.

Serious property crimes, assaults or offenses that are sexual in nature will continue to be handled by the courts.