Restorative justice is commonly defined as an approach to justice that focuses on addressing the harm caused by crime while holding the offender responsible for their actions, by providing an opportunity for the parties directly affected by the crime – victims, offenders and communities – to identify and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime.
Restorative justice is based on an understanding that crime is a violation of people and relationships. The principles of restorative justice are based on respect, compassion and inclusivity. Restorative justice encourages meaningful engagement and accountability and provides an opportunity for healing, reparation and reintegration. Restorative justice processes take various forms and may take place at all stages of the criminal justice system. (www.justice.gc.ca)
In short, Restorative Justice helps build a stronger community. Victims of crime are supported. Offenders have the opportunity to atone. The community has an active role in restoring a sense of safety and cooperation.
History of Restorative Justice Abroad and on Pender Island Originating in the 1970s as mediation between victims and offenders, in the 1990s restorative justice broadened to include communities of care as well, with victims’ and offenders’ families and friends participating in collaborative processes called “conferences” and “circles.”
Public interest in restorative justice practices is growing and governments are the world increasingly acknowledging its potential benefits and significance. In 2001 the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice drafted the “Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters” which urged national governments to establish principles for restorative justice practices. The Canadian Federal Department of Justice followed this recommendation with a set of principles and procedural guidelines. The Canadian Youth Criminal Justice Act, passed in 2002, makes provisions for restorative justice alternatives. The BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General has a Community Safety and Crime Prevention Branch and provides funding for many of the over 70 restorative justice programs in BC.
Restorative Justice programs have been operating on Pender and the Outer Gulf Islands since 2001. The current incarnation, the SGI Community Justice Program, formed as a program under the Southern Gulf Islands Community Resource Centre in 2018. Our steering committee is currently focusing on providing Restorative Justice facilitator training. All volunteers receive basic training and are expected to participate in advanced training and workshops to increase their skills. Cases are referred to the Program by the RCMP and consist of mainly first time young offenders who have admitted to committing minor offences such as theft and vandalism. The program uses conference circles where the victim and the offender, with their supporters, are provided with a safe environment to deal with the harm that has been done and the offender signs a formal contract to make amends. Our program volunteers act as neutral facilitators in the circle and mentors to the offender.
Growing our Mission
The program intends to expand its mission to include activities and practices that build on our restorative justice training and methodology. These activities are becoming known as restorative practices, and include conflict resolution, peacemaking circles, and facilitating challenging discussions.
Restorative practice is an emerging field that enables people to restore and build community in an increasingly disconnected world. It offers a common thread to tie together theory, research and practice in seemingly disparate fields, such as education, counseling, criminal justice, social work and organizational management.
In short, expanding the scope of our work to include a broader range of restorative practices will allow us to become more relevant and a more proactive advocate and example of peace within our island communities.
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The following links provide more information on Restorative Justice:
BC Government: Crime Reduction Through Restorative Justice
Canadian Government: Department of Justice