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Public awareness key to program's success

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This week is Restorative Justice Week and Amanda Chartrand is hoping the publicity will help breathe new life into the program in the Parkland.
The area’s restorative justice co-ordinator for the John Howard Society of Brandon said while the program has been available in the Parkland for awhile, it has not been very active as of late.
“I have only been here for four months and it was very slow over the summer. Things are just starting to pick up now, so we will see how the next couple of months go,” Chartrand said adding the goal is for the Dauphin-based program to handle about 100 files per year.
“So that is about eight or so new referrals a month. Last month we were almost at that, but in the summer months we were sitting at four or five a month, a little bit under what we would hope to have.”
The key, Chartrand said is creating public awareness about the program and it services.
Restorative justice is an alternative to the court process. Instead of individuals going through trials and sentencing they have the opportunity to access services such as mediation, adult alternative measures or extra judicial sanctions.
The majority of referrals are made by either the RCMP or the Crown Attorney’s office, Chartrand said, if it is felt the accused is eligible.
“It depends on the individual, if they have been involved with the law before, or if they have had charges before, if they are willing to work with us and if the victim is willing to work with us,” she said.
“There is a lot of different factors that play into it.”
RCMP referrals are made prior to charges being levelled while diversions from the Crown are normally after charges have been laid.
Referrals can also come from schools, defence lawyers and judges.
“But most of them come from the Crowns themselves. So the Crown and defense lawyers have a discussion and talk about whether an individual is a good candidate for the program, and then they get referred over,” Chartrand said.
While most referrals are for relatively minor crimes such as mischief, minor assaults and minor thefts, the program is more about the people involved than the crime. Chartrand said her co-ordinator, with Westman Mediation Services, has done mediation between a person involved in a vehicular manslaughter and the victim’s family.
“We take a lot of different offenses. It depends a lot on the individual,” she said, adding the key is the accused has to take responsibility for their actions.
“We don’t want to work with someone who says, ‘I am not guilty. I didn’t do anything.’ Then they have to go through the other way because that is our main focus, that they take responsibility for those actions they did and they are trying to make amends for them.”
Surrendering to the process can pay dividends in the end for an offender, Chartrand said, adding if it is an instance where someone has been charged with a crime, those charges are normally stayed upon successful completion of the restorative justice program.
“So that is a huge benefit if they don’t want to have a record and they take part fully,” she said, adding the process can also help to restore a person’s standing in the community.
But the focus is not fully on the accused as restorative justice is mainly about the victim.
Too often, Chartrand said, the criminal justice system forgets about the victim and fails to keep them in formed throughout the process.
“In the (restorative justice) program victims are as involved as they would like to be,” she said.
“For mediation obviously they would have to take part in that. But for our adult aternative measures or extra judicial sanctions, victims can have as much or as little say as they would like. So I contact them and if they want to be directly involved they can. And if they want to be indirectly involved and say they want certain things like an apology letter or they want the individual to attend some sort of programming, they get to have a say in that. And then I update them on what is going on.”
Dauphin has had a community justice committee in place for several years although it has not been too active as of late.
That is something Chartrand hopes will change soon once referrals start picking up and the group can be utilized to help manage the case load.
But for now Chartrand is comfortable going it alone until more referrals come her way.
“It has been really difficult for the RCMP and the Crown. They are both short staffed and they do their best to send over to us what they feel is appropriate,” she said.
“If I find that there is (a case) that I think would be suitable for (the community justice committee) then I would definitely refer it to them.”