Restorative Justice program in Parksville Qualicum Beach — Thinking beyond incarceration

Arrowsmith Community Justice Society director Caryl Wylie has volunteered with the restorative justice program for years in an effort to lower crime in the area without going through the legal system.  - CANDACE WU PHOTO
Arrowsmith Community Justice Society director Caryl Wylie has volunteered with the restorative justice program for years in an effort to lower crime in the area without going through the legal system.
— image credit: CANDACE WU PHOTO


(Editor's note: For the purposes of protecting the young offender's identity in this story, we will refer to her as Jane.)

Twenty-three-year-old Jane doesn't look like the kind of girl you would expect to get mixed up with the law.

She is soft spoken, timid and remarkably on-time, considering she just arrived to this interview from school in Nanaimo.

But the young student had an altercation in a Parksville restaurant on Jan. 11 which she said "could have cost me my education, my career, everything."

Jane explains she was charged with mischief and assault for being intoxicated in the restaurant, where she got into a fight with a customer, physically harming both the customer and one of the store owners who tried to break up the fight. RCMP put Jane in the drunk tank for the night and the next morning, with the affects of alcohol waning, she had to deal with the repercussions of real life.

Enter restorative justice. A volunteer-based program which works to repair harm in a community, not by punishment but by forgiveness.  Restorative justice takes a unique approach to crime. Instead of punishing wrongdoers by sending them through the often abstract legal system, the program allows first-time offenders a second chance.

But offenders are not just let off the hook. Instead, they agree to a "community conference style" meeting with the victim, a facilitator, RCMP and support for both parties. The meeting addresses the incident and gives both the victim and the offender an opportunity to present their case, take responsibility, apologize and forgive. Additionally, some type of resolution is agreed upon by both parties.

“It’s really a beautiful process,” said Vera Moore, a volunteer facilitator with Arrowsmith Community Justice Program. “It is a way in which the offender can recognize the harm they have caused and provide some type of restitution, while the victim often gets some sense of closure.”

Jane said she was “nervous” before meeting the local store owner, whose business sustained broken windows and a smashed door because of her behaviour.

However, she said meeting the store owner face-to-face ultimately provided an unexpected sense of relief.

“It made me open my eyes to what I was doing at night,” she said. “I realized I couldn’t behave like that.”  So Jane paid for the damages and wrote a heartfelt letter of apology, which she admitted was “emotional” to read to the store owner. However, that was all the store owner needed to hear to recognize Jane’s honest remorse, Moore said about the meeting.

Restorative Justice is a non court alternative that handles RCMP-referred cases. In Parksville Qualicum Beach, the program is organized by Arrowsmith Community Justice in partnership with the Oceanside RCMP. It has been offered for 15 years in the area through volunteers. The program covers the area from Bowser to Nanoose Bay to Errington, including Parksville Qualicum Beach. It provides a way of dealing with minor offenses without going through the legal system and offenders avoid getting a criminal record. The conference is confidential and benefits the victim, offender and the community at large as the program works to lower the number of repeat offenses, said Moore.

“We’re lucky to have the restorative justice program offered here,” said RCMP Cpl. Jesse Foreman. “It has a high success rate and provides an alternative route for first-time offenders.”

For more information, contact Linda Cherewyk at 250-954-2968.

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