In 2021 the restorative justice program in Williams Lake had received 20 referrals as of Nov. 19.
The program provides an alternative measure to the justice system and can deal with files from the RCMP, Crown, Conservation Officer Service, Fish and Wildlife and community groups, said co-chair Deborah Pickering.
At a recent three-day training session held in November, several participants learned how the program works and it is hoped some of them will pursue becoming part of the program.
Typical files include shoplifting, vandalism, graffiti, break and enter and sometimes assaults, depending on the circumstances.
Pickering said there is ample preparation work in advance of a restorative justice circle.
“We will interview all the parties so that everybody gets to tell their story and how they were affected.”
Everyone who participates in the circle decides on what the offender is going to do to repair the harm. The offender might do some community service hours, write a letter of apology, and if First Nations perhaps work for elders by chopping wood.
Pickering said the circles can be very intense because of emotions and by the end there is always a sense of relief.
“Ideas are suggested and the groups decides if any of them are a good idea. We try to have the hours completed in a month and whatever is decided has to be achievable. We do not want to set the offender up for failure,” Pickering said.
Volunteers attend court for first appearances to see if there might be files that would be suitable to go through the restorative justice program.
“The judge and lawyers can decide and if it goes ahead the offender has to sign an agreement to attend,” she said.
National Restorative Justice Week is Nov. 21 to 28.
New Zealand was the first place to introduce restorative processes in law when dealing with youth.
The first victim-offender mediation took place in Canada in 1974 with two offenders charged with vandalism.
In Williams Lake there has been a restorative program since 1996. There have been as many as 50 volunteers and presently there are about 20.
“Restorative justice is becoming more of a choice as an alternative form of justice,” Pickering said, noting the program always needs new volunteers.