Restorative Justice is a different way of justice that brings the victim, offender and community together to resolve the harms of crime and understand its impact on our lives. This is the fourth article in a series that looks at the people involved with restorative justice programs in Winnipeg.
Richard Kennett lights up when he talks about restorative justice.
“Restorative justice is so humane, it’s so respectful to people,” said Kennett. “It takes away the awful stigma we give to the offender – it allows the participants to see them as ordinary human beings who made a mistake, and in most cases they’ll never do it again.”
Kennett was trained by the RCMP and Winnipeg Police Service to mediate community justice forums, a kind of restorative justice that is one of the closest in similarity to victim-offender mediations. He was a vice-principal in the Winnipeg School Division, and was using the restorative justice practice with kids at his school.
“I was trained in 1997 to do that kind of facilitation because I was tired as a vice-principal of administering punishments to youngsters and infuriating everybody – all the players – by doing that. The offenders were outraged because it was too severe, the victim was outraged because it wasn’t severe enough, and then the parents of course were involved in that.”
Kennett has also been a volunteer mediator with Mediation Services since 2006, and has been on the board since 2002. He is trained in victim-offender mediation through Mediation Services. In his seven-year career as a volunteer mediator, he estimates that he’s facilitated nearly 60 community justice forums and almost 60 victim-offender mediations through the agency.
Victim-offender mediation is another way of resolving the charges against an offender outside of court. Victim-offender mediations usually have three to four people – the victim and the offender, and a support person for each, as well as the mediators.
If the offender completes the mediation process and accepts responsibility for their actions, their charges are typically stayed. However, if the offender can’t accept responsibility for their offence or if the victim doesn’t want the case to be taken care of through Mediation Services, the case will be returned to the court.
Mediation Services’ victim-offender mediation program is highly successful.
“Over 80 per cent of clients satisfy agreements. It’s not uncommon for victims and offenders to hug each other at the end of the two-hour mediation. They walk in strangers, and two hours later, they’re friends,” Kennett said. “It doesn’t always happen – but that’s a sign that you’ve achieved wonders. If they meet each other on the street in three days time, they’re going to say ‘Hi, how are you doing?’. You’ve brought about peace in the community, and you’ve achieved it in a matter of two hours.”
One or two trained volunteer mediators facilitate each conference, and the mediations are very structured. Mediators write and follow scripts to keep the mediation on track.
The victim-offender mediation model gives the victim and offender equal opportunity to express how the harms of the crime have impacted their lives, and both the victim and offender agree on how and when the conflict will be resolved. Many of the cases end with an agreement that the offender pays restitution to the victim.
“For the victim, all they often need to hear is ‘Mary now understands what the impact of what she did on me was, and it’s clear she’s sorry’. They don’t need anything else,” Kennett said. “They feel safe, and they know that if they come across Mary again she won’t hurt them. What she did was untrue to character – I don’t need any punishment.”
Jasmine Dyck, a volunteer mediator with Mediation Services for two-and-a-half years, agrees.
“You start out in life having made some mistakes – some bigger than others – but the majority of us haven’t been in trouble with the law,” said Dyck. “Meeting the different people that have (been in conflict with the law) – you realize that they’re normal people who made a stupid decision – and it could be your brother or sister, or it could have been you if you had made one different decision at one point,” she said. “It’s not necessarily a predictor of who you’ll be for the rest of your life, or who you really are as a person. Being a volunteer mediator has changed the way I look at people and how I look at myself.”
Mediators like Kennett and Dyck continue to mediate because they feel like they’re making a difference.
“I did a multi-party case with youth who were co-charged, and all of their parents came, so we had a full house,” said Dyck. “We had three youth, three sets of parents, the victim, and the victim’s parents in the room. The youth got a full sense of how the offence affected everyone. The parents said, ‘This is how I was disappointed, this is how I was affected, this is what I expect from you, this is why I believe in you’.”
Dyck added,”It’s so neat to be invited into somebody’s life and be part of that process – really, you’re being invited into their living room, into the intimate parts of their life to talk about something that most people are ashamed of, most embarrassed of. It’s cool to be a part of that transformational process and facilitate it – and help people understand each other.”
Victim-offender mediation is harder than many people think.
“I think that there’s a common conception out there that being tough on crime means lots of punishment, but the reality is that it takes a lot more guts to face the victim and to do something that will actually benefit them. I think if people realized that it’s so much harder to go through mediation and try to restore what you did wrong, there would be a lot more support,” said Dyck.
Mediation Services receives around 400 to 500 referrals from Manitoba Justice each year, and more than half of those cases will go through victim-offender mediation.
For more information about becoming a volunteer mediator or to apply, visit mediationserviceswpg.ca.
Other articles in this series: