How did we begin?
The Restorative Justice Society - North Okanagan (herein referred to as "Society") was incorporated in November 2011, although as a program, it has been receiving referrals since January 2006. A lot of work was carried out long before the first referral was received.
The true beginnings of this program were in Armstrong back in 1998, when several people came together and proposed a restorative justice program. At that time they were unsuccessful in obtaining referrals from the RCMP, so the idea was put on hold until 2003 when another pitch for a restorative justice program was made in Vernon. The approach gained momentum, and a Steering Committee was formed September 2003.
The community showed interest in alternatives to the court system for minor offences involving first time young offenders. Accordingly, a proposal was written and submitted to the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD): Youth Empowerment Strategies; which was declined. This did not deter the vision or the continued dedication of the Steering Committee.
A coordinator was hired, on a one (1) year contract in August 2004, and was overseen by the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club-Vernon through Human Resources and Skill Development Canada. By November 2004 a Community Justice Forum Facilitator Training was arranged for participants who wanted to be involved in the development and/or delivery of the program.
The Steering Committee made a decision to model the program primarily after the Central Okanagan Restorative Justice Program (CORJ) in Kelowna, which provided on-going support, forms and procedures from the CORJ, as well as a lot of research into other programs and conference models. With funding in place and the support of the community, the North Okanagan Restorative Justice (NORJ) Program was launched.
Initially, referrals were received from the Vernon RCMP Detachment and School District 22 for youth and students age 12-17. The delivery of the program and support for the volunteers was provided, from September 2005 - 2006, by the Vernon and Coldstream Community Policing Offices. Funding was secured, for a second coordinator, through the City of Vernon and District of Coldstream to begin in October 2006.
As we became more experienced, and gained the confidence of our referral sources, the program was re-located to the City of Vernon RCMP Safe Communities Unit in March 2009, where we continue to provide services to youth and expand the services for adults.
Where we are today?
There was a mandate, purposes and programs review through a strategic planning process in June 2009. The outcome was a decision to utilize the Chilliwack Restorative Action and Youth Advocacy Association Operational Manual as a format.
In the first meeting it was decided to structure the Constitution and Bylaws that will govern the Society; revising the mission statement, vision, objectives and purposes which will reflect the growth and proposed expansion of services the future Society.
The program worked very hard to become recognized in Vernon, Coldstream and the surrounding area. There were several presentations made to: Mayors and Councils, RCMP Watch Meetings, School Administrators, Teachers, Parent Advisory Committees; and community partners and organizations (Rotary Clubs, Retired Teachers Association, and First Nations in the area). As the program evolved and became more established, so the Steering Committee evolved into an Advisory Committee.
We are extremely fortunate to have a strong working relationship with Vernon City Council and the Vernon/ North Okanagan RCMP Detachment. Now, located at the Safe Communities Unit in Vernon, we have a designated RCMP School Liaison Officer on our Committee Advisory Committee.
The NORJ and CORJ have hosted Okanagan Regional Coordinator's meetings in Kelowna to bring together RJ Program Coordinators throughout the Okanagan Valley offering program information and coordinated support.
Currently, our Society uses two (2) different restorative practices: the Community Justice Forum (CJF) and the Community Accountability Panel (CAP) Conference models.
The CJF Conference is the RCMP endorsed conference model, and brings together the persons affected and/or in conflict with the law and their guardians/supporters, the community and the RJ Team. The RJ Teams are Practitioners of our Society and trained Facilitators, Co-facilitators and Mentors. In the Conference the RJ Team is responsible for ensuring that the needs and rights for confidentiality, safety, respect and care are addressed for all persons affected and/or in conflict with the law. The RJ Team also maintains the focus on the incident and ways to repair the harm, rather than on the person who caused harm (PWCH).
The CAP Conference is used when the person harmed (PH) agrees to the referral but chooses not to participate in a CJF Conference for a variety of reasons. This model involves the PWCH and their guardians/supporters, with a trained RJ team of three (3) people (within or outside the Society) who represent the PH and/or the community. The circumstances of the incident are discussed, as well as any other issues that come up. The CAP attempts to identify and address any underlying problems that may have contributed to the behaviour. If the PH submitted an Impact Statement a CAP member reads it.
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