Vancouver Lawyers & Academics for Restorative Justice

After featuring the John Howard Society’s work in Kelowna in our last post, this post focuses on the Province’s most populous urban region: metro Vancouver. The reality is the vast majority of lawyers and legal practitioners in British Columbia are based in the Vancouver area. Given this concentration of legal talent, it should be no surprise that there are numerous restorative justice organizations in the lower mainland. These groups both advocate for and are pioneering the implementation of community-centered justice programs. Rather than featuring just one, we’d like to call attention to a number of organizations that are working hard in this area.

The first is the North Shore Restorative Justice Society. The NSRJS is focused on building up the North Shore’s capacity to provide restorative justice solutions that are consistent with the traditional values of the community’s elders, adults and youths. An active fundraising campaign is ongoing, aimed at increasing the resources available to this initiative.

On campus, the Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Restorative Justice leads the forefront of academic programs worldwide in the restorative justice field. Through a combination of practical applied experience and coursework, students can become educated and competent restorative justice practitioners. An active research programme accompanies the undergraduate curricula, attracting some top talent from around the world. Dr. Brenda Morrison and Dr. Brian Burch are both highly regarded, and head up the Centre’s deep pool of research and teaching talent.

Lawyers are also increasingly themselves becoming a part of the restorative justice community. The Vancouver-based firm Davidson Fraese Family Lawyers have been working on an initiative to divert family law disputes from the courtroom to a community-based mediation process. This idea follows on Susan Swaim Daicoff’s groundbreaking research on the use of the “circle process” in family law context.

Finally, we would be remiss not to mention the incredible work being done by the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society who have recently announced the appointment of Jenna Forbes as their new executive director.

Restorative Justice at the John Howard Society

Many RJ practitioners are based in the lower mainland. For example, the LSLAP program operating out of UBC offers free legal counsel in the Vancouver area with a strong basis in restorative justice thinking. Much good work in the restorative justice field continues to be done in and around the Province’s largest city.

However, interior B.C. is beginning to take a leading role in the restorative justice movement. The John Howard Society in particular has developed a very strong program in the Central Okanagan region. The program diverts criminal matters from the court system to a restorative justice forum:

The Restorative Justice program of the John Howard Society provides an alternative to the criminal justice system for individuals who have caused harm in their community. The program accomplishes this by providing a facilitated meeting where the person who caused harm and those impacted can meet and collaboratively create a contract, or resolution agreement, to repair the harm.

The program has posted good results but remains heavily dependent upon volunteers (both lawyers and members of the public). If you’re interested in making a difference or learning more about restorative justice, this would be a good place to start.

The John Howard program started in 2005 and, since opening, has been working to adapt a restorative approach focused on community healing, to the particular needs of the Central Okanagan community served by the program. The program now accepts referrals from the RCMP, ICBC, Community Corrections as well as individuals and leaders in the local community.

Volunteering with the John Howard Restorative Justice program is a chance to become part of the healing process, learn new skills and contribute back to a very strong legal community in the Kelowna area. Ongoing research is orientated towards community as well as individual outcomes and achieving measurable improvements over conventional approaches.