A recent restorative justice forum in the Cowichan Valley related to tagging and graffiti, had three boys meet with affected community members, accept responsibility for their actions, and listen to the concerns about how their choices impacted the community. In this case, the three boys wrote letters of apology to the affected people.
This alternative to the traditional court and jail approach to justice can be beneficial to everyone involved, from offender to victim.
Sometimes people think that calling the police and having someone go to jail or to court is the only option when they feel victimized. The Warmland Restorative Justice Society, though, provides an opportunity for empowerment and allows those who have been impacted by crime to have their voices heard. WRJS, which works on referrals from the police or the community, offers a forum for discussion, where all parties involved can talk about how an action impacted them and decide on restitution that fits with the offending action.
North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP and the Warmland Restorative Justice Society (WRJS) want the Cowichan Valley community to be aware of the non-judicial services available through restorative justice.
Denise McArthur is the president of WRJS, which is not associated with Warmland House shelter. She feels that the organization can make a positive contribution to healing in the community.
“Restorative justice is about empowering the victim rather than punishing the offender,” says McArthur. “We want affected parties to realize that they have a choice in the outcome, and to help responsible parties be accountable and responsible for their actions. Our volunteers can help repair damage done by mistrust and misunderstandings, and provide opportunities for healing.”
The restorative justice process can be used for a variety of issues and will see different outcomes for different offences. It is often a quicker process than the criminal justice system, and is more likely to see immediate and substantial restitution, like payment for damages or changes in behaviour. Restorative justice can also lead to an appropriate outcome for theft or shoplifting, school fights or cyber bullying, and neighbour disputes or dogs in hot cars.
Though frontline officers at the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP will continue to send appropriate information to the courts for prosecution, Operations NCO Staff Sgt. Chris Swain says that referrals to the restorative justice process give victims a voice.
“Our partnerships with organizations like Warmland Restorative Justice Society help to make us a better resource in the community,” says Staff Sgt. Swain. “The police in the our detachment appreciate when we can call on partners to provide a new perspective to a file we are investigating and lead to an outcome that works for everyone.”
Warmland Restorative Justice Society accept referrals from police, but McArthur encourages community members to reach out to them directly as well. There is no cost for participants to engage in the process, as the program is run by volunteers and receives grants from a variety of community partners.
More information about the Warmland Restorative Justice Society is available on their website: warmlandrestorativejustice.org