The restorative justice system starts with agreeing to try to agree. People who have committed an offence, called the person who caused the harm, and the victim, called the person harmed, and support people for both, meet to talk about what happened and what could be done to put things right.
The process has been available to youth in the Vernon area for the past five years with referrals through schools and police. A variety of offences are eligible to be dealt with through restorative justice, including minor theft, mischief and assault. The person was harmed and the person who caused the harm must both agree to the process. If not, charges are laid and the case goes through the courts.
The newly formed Restorative Justice Society — North Okanagan was formerly known as the North Okanagan restorative justice program and the Lumby restorative justice program.
“I have worked with the program in the Lower Mainland and I’m a strong supporter. In the legal system there can be a loss of ownership for individuals for what they’ve done,” said Warren Smith, society president and community policing rural programs co-ordinator.
“When they get in touch with the people they’ve done harm to, it helps them to understand what they have done and how people were affected,” he said.
If the people involved decide on the restorative justice program, they meet individually with trained volunteers to prepare for a conference which brings everyone together to tell what happened and how it affected them.
“It’s amazing when you get to see people face to face,” said Margaret Clark, society executive director.
“It’s not that this is easier. It is harder to accept responsibility and be willing to make reparations. I’m the one who calls the youth’s parents and I get all kinds of reactions from gratitude to indignation. Parents are generally pleased that their child is not going to have a criminal record, that someone else will hold them accountable, and that the family is not dealing with this alone. It takes more courage to go through the Restorative Justice process. This applies to the people who have been harmed, as well.”
After everyone has had a chance to talk about what happened, they discuss the next step.
Most cases reach an agreement, but those who don’t go to court. The reparation can include apologies, writing letters of apology, doing community work, or, as was decided in one case, raising money for a charitable donation.
“It ends with a lot of hugging and crying and families and friendships repaired. There is a sense of being able to move one,” said Smith.
“Everyone is able to see how much work it took to make the process happen and that the community cares what happened to everyone involved.”
The new society is now able to accept cases from the whole North Okanagan and the board has members from the area. There is an advisory committee with representatives from the legal profession, victim’s assistance, probation, and the RCMP.
Restorative Justice Society services are also available to adults in some cases.
“We are going to keep on doing what we need to do to help people restore their lives. We have an amazing core group of volunteers. Restorative Justice is all building relationships and repairing relationships,” said Clark.
For more information about the society, contact 250-550-7846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.