The Golden Community Restorative Justice Program held a Community Conversation event last week in an effort to show the town the benefits of the program.
Restorative justice involves a referral (usually from the police), individual sessions with the victim and offender, and finally a joint session where the two parties meet and, ideally, the offender offers a sincere apology for their actions.
The program is run by volunteers and is provincially funded. It has settled 40 cases in the last three years.
Last week’s forum included speeches from Sergeant Troy Durand, Justice Grant Sheard and Mayor Christina Benty.
Justice Sheard, based out of Cranbrook, spoke to the benefits of the program from his perspective.
One of the important aspects he touched on was the limitation of the court system when it comes to its impact on offenders.
“They never really have to face the music, they don’t have to deal with what they’ve done and face the person that they’ve harmed and hurt,” Justice Sheard said.
“I think that’s a big part of the reason for the success of the (restorative justice) process…I don’t think that any of the (offenders) would find it to be an easy thing…My understanding is often that’s a very emotional process.”
He went on to say that the victim can also receive a positive experience through the process and that a positive feeling can then be extracted from an otherwise negative ordeal.
One of the other clear advantages that restorative justice has, according to Justice Sheard, is its timeliness compared to the traditional court system.
“Unfortunately the courts can be very slow…when dealing with problems,” Justice Sheard said.
“(In general) I think people benefit from something happening a lot quicker and closer to the incident…that’s a big advantage of restorative justice as well.”
Sgt. Durand spoke about the criteria that police use when choosing a case for restorative justice.
“The accused has to take responsibility for what they have done and with that we will look at the accused and basically decide if this person is going to get anything out of restorative justice,” he said.
“Is this a person that is going to go through this process and become a working member of society?”
Sgt. Durand stressed that restorative justice has to be a community owned program and commended the volunteers who have worked hard to get the program to where it is today.
Justice Sheard also expressed his opinion that restorative justice can be a big benefit for any community.
“It builds a sense of community, rather than often isolating an offender, it shows them that people do care and it can help to build relationships with other people.”