Justice forum volunteers needed

  • Jul. 4, 2003 9:00 a.m.

Police are looking for islanders willing to be trained at the end of July as facilitators for community justice forums for youth involved in crime.
“I believe if weíre going to help the youth in our community, then we need adult involvement, and this is one way for adults to be meaningfully involved with youth,” said Sgt. Eric Stubbs of the Queen Charlotte RCMP detachment.
Community justice forums are an alternative to court for youth charged with a crime, as long as the crime isnít something really serious like murder or sexual assault, said Sgt. Stubbs. A facilitator, the offender and his or her parents, police and the victim meet, although the victim is not obligated to attend.
Shoplifting is an example of a crime that might be referred to a community justice forum, Sgt. Stubbs said. For instance, if police arrest a youth accused of shoplifting, and the youth admits to the crime and agrees to attend a forum, then police will call a facilitator to organize a meeting within two weeks. At the meeting, everyone has a chance to talk, and the group decides on appropriate consequences. Then a contract is made describing the consequences and the offender must sign it. Perhaps a letter of apology will be written, or community hours will be served by the youth. Whatever the consequences, they must be completed within three months or police can refer the matter to court.
Community justice forums are one type of restorative justice used in Canada. Restorative justice is an old concept, according to Dr. Liz Elliot of Simon Fraser University. Similar systems have been recorded in northern Europe and amongst North Americaís aboriginal people. Modern restorative justice began in Canada in 1974 after a Kitchener/Waterloo probation officer used it to resolve a vandalism incident involving a couple of youth.
“Restorative justice focuses on the harm done to a victim and to the perpetrator and how to right those wrongs. Right off the bat the process centres on the victim and the perpetrator,” Dr. Elliot said.
The new Youth Criminal Justice Act that replaced the old Young Offender Act in April of this year encourages communities to deal with minor youth crimes in a community justice forum, and requires police to create forums in their communities, Sgt. Stubbs explained.
A facilitator course is planned for the July 26-27 weekend in Masset, Sgt. Stubbs said, and he hopes community members from Tlell, Skidegate, Queen Charlotte and Sandspit will come forward for the training. He estimates that facilitators will put in about 30 hours a year, although that will vary depending on how many people chose to be trained and how many files police refer to the forums.
If you are interested in attending the training session, contact your local RCMP detachment. (559-4421 in Queen Charlotte, 626-3991 in Masset.)