Mediated circle StockphotoSidney Coles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The BC government is providing $3 million in funding to large restorative justice umbrella organizations across the province, including Restorative Justice Victoria (RJV), a community-based non-profit that provides restorative justice services in the CRD, which will get $550K over the next three years. 

Restorative justice is a relatively new phenomenon that is gaining traction across the province and Canada. While the criminal justice system deals with offenders, restorative justice addresses the needs of victims and the community, holding offenders accountable for the harm they cause.

Restorative justice programs in BC facilitate direct or indirect communication between victims and offenders in a collaborative way that can mend the harm that was done and address the causes of the offence. They often involve alternative-measures programs managed by a community corrections office.  

Alternative measures may include financial compensation for a loss or damage, a meaningful apology, or community service work. They can also be applied to civil or private cases where someone is suing somebody for something such as personal injury, contract disputes, libel, or slander. These alternative measures allow perpetrators to accept responsibility for their actions, participate in mutual healing, receive treatment, or provide financial restitution. Such restorative processes often involve third-party mediation, Peace Circles, group conferencing, or circle sentencing.

Peace circles have been a part of Indigenous knowledge and ways of being for millennia. In a non-Indigenous context, peace circles are led by a trained facilitator and can be implemented in workplaces, justice systems, schools, communities, and families as a way to resolve conflict, inform sentencing, and foster accountability.

Established in 2002, RJV works with youth and adults through referrals from local police, BC Crown Counsel, judges, probation authorities, schools, community organizations, and community members each year and is recognized nationally as a leader in its field.  

“The funding that we received will allow us to maintain our current staff and also hire a new staff member specifically to head up our Responding to Sexualized Violence Program (RSVP),” associate director Gillian Lindquist told Capital Daily.

“This is an initiative that we started last year in response to the increasing number of sexualized violence referrals that we are receiving.” 

Restorative Justice Victoria takes all kind of referrals

RJV uses a variety of restorative justice models and is one of the few programs in the province that accepts referrals at almost all stages of the criminal justice system. It does not accept referrals for matters that will result in a federal sentence. But as in the court system, the volume of need can overwhelm. “This work is complex and resource intensive. Hiring new staff means “ensuring we can offer these services in a good way to our community, as well as to provide support and care mechanisms for our personnel working on these files,” Lindquist said.

“I am pleased to support the vital work of these organizations in delivering restorative justice services to people throughout British Columbia,” Mike Farnworth, the province’s public safety minister and solicitor general, said at last week’s announcement. 

Restorative justice methodologies can be used in conjunction with the traditional justice system or outside of the traditional justice system. They can take the heat off case-loads at a time when provincial courts are still dealing with Covid-related backlogs, particularly for summary or what are called hybrid convictions.

​​A summary conviction is the least serious criminal offense under Canada’s Criminal Code. It is also known as a petty crime. An example is disturbing the peace or petty theft. Whereas the traditional, antagonistic, and punitive justice model offers offenders very little opportunity to provide input into the court processes, restorative justice programs offer the potential reintegration of youth and adults involved in the criminal justice system.

Victoria and Oak Bay police are on board

According to its website, VicPD has been working closely with Restorative Justice Victoria since 2007 “to achieve outcomes outside of the traditional court system, or in conjunction with that system.” It says on average, VicPD refers more than 60 files to Restorative Justice Victoria each year. “The most common files,” it says, “are theft under $5,000, mischief under $5,000, and assault.”

Peter Juk, BC’s  assistant deputy attorney general has said “The criminal justice system lacks the capacity, tools, and legal authority to remedy underlying social problems and fill all the gaps left by other sectors of society.” While restorative justice is not able to fill these gaps either, it affords an avenue to explore the roots of harm responsively. Restorative Justice Victoria has Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) to receive referrals not only from Victoria’s police department but also from Oak Bay’s.

It also has an agreement with the attorney general to receive Crown referrals from the Victoria and Colwood (for the entire Western Communities region) Crown offices. 

The new funding is expected to reduce court loads for cases referred to RJV in all of these jurisdictions and to create opportunities for mediated healing for offenders and those who have been harmed.

By Sidney Coles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 27, 2024 at 09:59

This item reprinted with permission from   Capital Daily   Victoria, British Columbia
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