Many of us know the value of a second chance. I know I do. As a young man, I was fortunate to meet a willing neighbour who became a valued mentor.
Without his guidance, my life may have taken a different turn and I may not be in the position that I am today.
Later, during my 32-year career as an RCMP officer, I was reminded time and again that crime isn’t just about an offender breaking laws. Crime affects victims and relationships, and can impact entire communities.
Restorative justice is more than a second chance. It holds offenders meaningfully accountable for their actions. It offers victims the opportunity to meet offenders in person, a process many describe as transformative. Each year, Crown counsel, schools and police refer more than 1,400 files to more than 40 RJ programs throughout the province. Volunteers and staff devote more than 70,000 hours to these cases.
A common misconception is that RJ is only for minor crimes, first-time offenders and youth. In fact, this approach can be applied at many different stages – from school responses to conflict to various stages of the criminal justice system – pre-charge, with Crown counsel through to post-sentencing.
It can be especially effective when there is a victim who can speak personally to harm that was caused. One such story involves a couple whose 27-year-old son Graeme was abducted, held captive for six days and succumbed to his injuries after being released. Devastated, the couple contacted a restorative justice program and learned why it’s important to meet the offenders face-to-face to share stories about their son, providing the key players in the kidnapping and murder with a complete picture of Graeme’s life. The parents also needed to learn about the offenders’ lives.
They visited the offenders in a federal institution and urged them to dig deep, take responsibility for their roles. At least two of them turned their lives around. As for Graeme’s parents, this allowed their healing process to begin.
During a visit to Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association, I heard from a teacher who participated in the RJ process as a victim, due to an inappropriate action directed at her by one of her students. They took part in a reintegration circle; a sincere apology was made and a sense of community was restored. She described the experience as powerful and transformative.
The Province and the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General support this work in a number of ways. Since 2012, $621,316 in civil forfeiture grant funding has been invested in RJ programs. As well, more than $330,000 in community gaming grants funding went to restorative justice organizations in 2015-16. My ministry is also supporting 10 projects that are increasing the number of complex and diverse cases that can be referred to RJ.
I encourage all British Columbians to be open to the idea that there is more than one way to achieve justice. Restorative justice provides an opportunity to help transform the lives of victims, offenders and even communities.
– Mike Morris is B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.