Time to Connect with our Roots

These are interesting times in the BC justice sector. The BC Justice Review, led by Geoffrey Cowper Q.C., is continuing, the Ministry of Justice tabled Bill 44 (the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act) in early May and the criminal prosecutions from the Vancouver riot in June 2011 are crawling along through the system. It causes me to ponder the role of the Dispute Resolution (“DR”) community in all of this. How can we make a difference? How can we help to improve access to justice for BC citizens?

Mediate BC was asked to make a submission to the BC Justice Review, focusing on how dispute resolution (and mediation in particular) could assist the criminal justice system. This was a great opportunity to consider how skills and expertise developed mostly in a “civil” (i.e. non-criminal) context might be transferable to the criminal area. The February 2012 Green Paper emphasized the need to take a “systems” approach and to resist the temptation to restrict our worldview to our own silos.

The Vancouver riots of 2011 provide a great opportunity to think outside of the “silo”. What role could the DR community play to help achieve justice after the chaos of the riot? What other justice organizations had similar concerns? I decided to try to connect with members of the Restorative Justice (“RJ”) community in Vancouver and had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Evelyn Zellerer (Kwantlen University) and John DeHaas (Vancouver Association for Restorative Justice). They were already working diligently towards a different approach to dealing with this event than the publicized agenda of putting all of the rioters in jail. Dr. Zellerer’s inspirational article in the Georgia Straight last June poses hard questions and provides an intriguing alternative vision.

The RJ movement and the civil DR community come from common roots – they both seek peaceful solutions to sometimes intractable problems. Over time, RJ gravitated towards the criminal sphere (mostly) and dispute resolution mechanisms (facilitation, mediation, arbitration etc.) were the focus in the civil world. To the best of my knowledge, for some reason, the two communities have co-existed in BC without much interaction for decades. To my surprise, a search of the Mediate BC Civil Mediator Roster reveals that only six mediators list “restorative justice” as a practice area in their professional profiles.

Perhaps it is significant events like the riots of 2011 that create opportunities for us to rethink our justice systems, how they work and how we can work better collaboratively within and between them. I believe that the civil DR community has much to learn from the RJ community and the fascinating work they are doing in attending to the needs of victims, restoring relationships and achieving effective and proportional justice. I also hope that the DR community can offer some creative ideas that could lead to solutions in the criminal context.

Mediate BC’s submission to the BC Justice Review is here. I also urge you to read Dr. Zellerer’s passionate and informative submission here. Geoff Cowper posted two entries in his blog on the topic of restorative justice here and here. It is good that these approaches are being considered and we hope this leads to additional opportunities to explore the deep connection between the RJ and DR communities.

Your thoughts and comments would be most appreciated!

Thank you

Kari D. Boyle, Executive Director, Mediate BC Society

Photo by Drew Farwell on Unsplash