New restorative justice organizations unite across B.C.

Lillooet helps make it happen

DENNIS STRANACK

There are big developments afoot in the restorative justice community in B.C., and the Lillooet Restorative Justice Society is right in the middle of it.

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Programs across the region and the province have had a loose affiliation for years, local program coordinator Sarah Chandler said, but that has tightened up into two formal organizations that she said will be beneficial those who deliver the service, those who benefit from it, and government and affiliated agencies they interact with.

Restorative justice is a voluntary, community-based process that focusses on accountability for harmful behavious and seeks resolution through repairing damage done rather than through punishment.

The Lillooet program was started in 2003 at the request of the RCMP. The force had recently sent representatives to Australia where the system–called the Wagga Wagga model there–had been used for some time. They studied the model and then came back to Canada and began training members as well as community facilitators.

“The call went out and the Lillooet Learning Community Society stepped up to the plate to umbrella such a program and develop it,” Chandler said.

Initially that development was intended to include evolving int a separate society, but as understanding of the process grew, it was determined that Lillooet Learns was a good fit to continue with the project.

There are two levels at which restorative justice can be accessed in response to criminal charges: pre-charge, which is instigated at the discretion of the police and is a diversion away from the court system; and post-charge, where Crown counsel can decide to assign a case to a community program or probation officer.

“Our filtre was: was harm done? Was somebody responsible for it? Are they willing to be accountable for it? Does the person harmed wish to engage in the process?” Chandler said of the society’s criteria for assessing files.

“If those things are met then we can go forward.”

She noted that if a case is diverted in this fashion and it doesn’t end up going to restorative justice, or the process isn’t successful, it can’t go back to the court because the person has already admitted responsibility.

The Lillooet program can mediate any level of criminal act that they have the training to handle safely and well, with the exception of what are called power-based crimes, which include sexual assault, assault with a weapon and murder.

Files don’t just come from the RCMP, they can originate from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Conservation Officer Service, the school district and even from individuals.

All that work has been supported regionally over the years by an informal network of program operators from the St’at’imc Nation, Lytton, Merritt, Kamloops, Clinton and Logan Lake.

That affiliation drifted apart over the years but it’s back now, stronger than ever, in the first of two recent organizing efforts that are coming to fruition.

“Now some folks in Kamloops have pulled together the network again and the decision has been made to formalize the network, and we’re calling it the Interior Restorative Justice Hub,” Chandler said.

“The hub asked the Lillooet Community Learning Society if they would be the umbrella for this new organization. So, this is new and Lillooet Learns agreed to be the umbrella organization, and I just think that’s important, both for everybody in the region that we have such a hub, and for Lillooet Learns that it’s housed here.”

That’s at the regional level but there are big changes provincially as well, and the Lillooet group is again playing a big role.

Restorative justice organizations in B.C. have been inching for the past five years toward establishing a provincial body to represent them.

“It started at two levels; one was a group of practitioners who felt that there had to be some kind of voluntary body to support programs in B.C. and to be a voice for those programs to government,” Chandler said.

“And the other was coming from government saying ‘we need a body we can talk to, we need a body we can plan with, we need a body we can set standards with.’”

It was decided a steering committee was needed to move forward with establishing such an entity and the word went out for volunteers. Chandler volunteered for that committee and was involved in three years of planning and preparation.

“By January this year we had set up a society with a mission and a vision and a constitution and an interim board of three people, we’ve gotten funding from Justice Canada to hire an administrator and get things going and in April we had our first Restorative Justice Association of B.C. AGM,” she said.

“It’s in place. It’s super exciting, it really is. I think it will be good for government, it will be good for all of us.”

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