While there’s not such thing as a victimless crime, there are crimes that can, when dragged through the legal system, create more harm than the actual offense. However, a local group is doing what it can to restore justice for all parties involved through a process of active cooperation.
“What we do is take people who have committed lower-level crimes and we bring them together with their victims and oversee the process as the victim and the person responsible for the crime work out a legally binding agreement that will help fix the harm that was done,” explained Amanda Macpherson, executive director for the Chilliwack Restorative Justice and Youth Advocacy Association (CRJYAA).
Initially started in June 1998, CRJYAA has been working to better the community from within for two decades now, Macpherson says. And to honour the work of restorative justice organizations across the country, the Government of Canada has labelled November 18 to 25, 2018, as Restorative Justice Week, which comes with an annual theme: this year’s is Inspiring Innovation.
Since 1975, International Restorative Justice Week has been increasingly celebrated around the world, with more than 40 countries now participating: and in 1996, Canada expanded prisoner’s week into the Restorative Justice Week to give everyone involved in corrections the opportunity to promote the use of restorative justice within their community.
“When you go into the criminal justice system, it’s the offender versus the Province, and the victim is completely taking out of it,” said Macpherson. “But in certain cases, people want answers … that will help them recover faster from the crime (and possibly) return to a normal frame of mind a lot faster.”
Also, when it comes to restorative justice, Macpherson says the victim has more involvement than just submitting a victim impact statement.
“Restorative justice is a wholly different way of looking at criminal activity and its aftermath … (but) we don’t hand out slaps on the wrist.
“With restorative justice, (the victim) can sit down with (the offender)—they control it and have direct influence over their case from start to finish. They have a voice and a choice in how their cases are handled, which they don’t get in the traditional system,” explained the executive director.
And their efforts within the community are beginning to be really recognized. One of their employees, Mike Straiton, won the University of Fraser Valley’s Betty Urquhart Community Service Award this week, and the organization as a whole has also won the 2019 Project Change Foundation grant.
“The grant is $2,000, but they also provide in-kind help through their board of directors, who are all experts in their field,” said Macpherson.
CRJYAA’s win was “based on the strength of the work (we’re) doing for our community,” she added, “which was nice to hear because either people don’t know what we do, or they have serious misconceptions of what we do.
“Since we’re taking on more complex cases (and) getting referrals from the RCMP and Fraser Health Mental Health, (we’re going to use the grant to provide the) training needed to handle these sorts of cases … . and all the things to make sure we’re not hurting people further (because) the work (we do) is only going to get harder, not easier.”
Restorative justice breaks through age, race, and gender barriers, levels the playing field, and enables people to live better lives going forward, adds Macpherson.
“I’d like to see it become more of a common place occurrence. So many don’t know or think it doesn’t work, (so) I’d just like people to know what we do and how it actually works to benefit (everyone involved).”
To learn more about the Chilliwack Restorative Justice and Youth Advocacy Association, visit their website at RestoringJustice.ca.