Her first file with the Restorative Justice Society — North Okanagan (RJS-NO) was a bullying file for current executive director Margaret Clark.
That was in 2006, slightly more than 12 years ago.
“That file was an uphill learning curve, to keep the focus on what’s the best interest of the person harmed, what it is they want to see,” said Clark, the second executive director in the local program, which is getting ready to focus on National Restorative Justice Week starting Sunday.
“One of the big benefits of restorative justice is it gives a voice and a say to people directly involved in an incident; what do they want to see as an outcome. We work on a consensus basis. We want everybody to be in agreement with the outcome and feel the outcome is fair and reasonable and restorative. My first case was resolved. The victim wanted the person to do community service hours, write a letter of apology and to not do that kind of behaviour again.”
Everyone’s journey to justice is different and complex, said Clark. Restorative justice can be used at any stage of the criminal justice system; pre-charge, pre-/post-sentence and pre-/post-release.
The local society is a non-profit and a non-court alternative that provides a voice and role for the person harmed (victim of crime and other affected persons), the person who caused the harm (offender) plus guardians and supporters in determining the outcomes to repair the harm.
RSJ-NO received its 296th referral this month.
“It’s a small program so it’s a good number,” said Clark. “This year, we’ll probably reach more than 30 files for the year, which is good for us.”
RJS-NO provides restorative justice services within the Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP detachment area. In 2018, the organization has seen a spike of theft under $5,000 files (89 per cent). Four per cent of the files are mischief related and there have been 11 per cent other charges.
Typically the theft under is one of the files RJS-NO gets on a fairly regular basis. Other serious offences — including this year — include theft from a vehicle, cocaine possession and assault of a peace officer.
Not every file culminates in a conference, where Clark would bring person harmed, the person who caused the harm and guardians together in a room.
“Sometimes people don’t want to meet face to face although they’re willing to tell us what they need to see happen to repair the harm,” said Clark. “On occasion, we do what’s called a community accountability panel where there would be volunteers from our program sit and represent the victim (person harmed) and they would know what that person wants.
“We’ve resolved files where nobody meets face to face. We go between all parties until we reach a verbal agreement and the resolved agreement is with our society.”
Clark, a former corrections and addictions worker in B.C., the Northwest and Yukon Territories, has moms and dads stopping her on the street to talk and thank her for the restorative justice service program being in the North Okanagan.
“They tell me it was a great opportunity for their young person, son or daughter, and it made a difference,” she said. “It makes me feel good but it’s kind of overwhelming at times, too “We get so focused on delivering the service we sometimes forget about that ripple effect about what happens after we’re involved with somebody.”
Clark expects RJS-NO to be around another 12 years and beyond.
“Although people think restorative justice is something new, the idea of people in the community responding to harm or crime is not new,” she said. “The community justice forum model the RCMP use is based on teaching from a Maori tribe. This model has been around for centuries.”
There are currently 12 volunteers with the RJS-NO. Anybody who would like to volunteer should call Clark at 250-540-7846 or get more information from www.restorativejusticesociety.ca.