Looking to take a more healing based approach to the justice system, the Nicola Valley Community Justice Services Society (NVCJSS) provides the resources and support required to move through some of life’s more difficult moments. Being the victim of a crime is never an easy thing, and the NVCJSS looks to ease the hurt and bring accountability to the forefront. 

Restorative Justice Week has been recognized in Canada since 1996, when it was declared that every third week of November would raise awareness of a new type of justice. Restorative justice, opposed to the criminal justice system, is victim centered, highlights collaboration and healing, and puts power into the hands of the person affected by the crime. The Herald sat down with representatives of the NVCJSS and the Merritt RCMP’s Victim Services Unit to discuss the merits of restorative justice and its relevance in the Nicola Valley.

“The Restorative Justice Program provides individuals and families in the Nicola Valley with the opportunity to develop and participate in restorative justice processes when dealing with criminal matters,” said Christopher Stokes, restorative justice coordinator with NVCJSS. 

“That involves working with the victim, offender, and community members in resolving crime in a more proactive and moral way. It offers rehabilitation and healing over more punitive measures, like what a court might do.” 

Both offenders and victims of crime in the Nicola Valley can be referred to both the NVCJSS and Victims Services at the local detachment by RCMP officers involved, Crown Council, and community referral. The two organizations often work hand in hand, offering support and resources throughout the entire justice process. The two often collaborate on healing circles, where victims and perpetrators meet with support staff to discuss the impacts of the crime and circumstances around it. The NVCJSS also offers low risk probation supervision for Indigenous offenders, who their services are mainly targeted towards. Indigenous cultural knowledge and practices inform restorative justice processes. 

The NVCJSS also has its Advocacy Centre component, which provides access to resources such as legal aid, offers family mediation and legal services, and provides support for those going through the Indigenous Court process. The Nicola Valley Indigenous Court is a sentencing court where local Elders sit together with a Judge to provide a holistic and restorative perspective, as well as build a healing plan. The RCMP’s Victim Services unit is often involved in these plans.

“We work with the victims of crime. In partnership with the Restorative Justice Society, we have been asked to come in for healing circles to be the victim’s voice, when sometimes it’s not possible for the victim to be there,” said a representative of the Merritt RCMP’s Victim Services Unit.

“At Victim’s Services, we provide information, support, and referral services to victims of crime. The information pieces can be anything regarding the criminal justice system. We can also provide information on domestic violence, and anything to do with the crimes themselves.”

The NVCJSS and Victim Services both provide support to an array of individuals and families, using their connections and resources to guide those impacted by crime. Stokes added that seeing clients’ needs met and watching true healing and accountability in action is a rewarding part of his job, while the Victim Services representative added that facilitating connections and support for those impacted by crime brings satisfaction.

“In terms of support, we’re not counselors, but we’re here to listen. We can have conversations with folks and just be a safe place for them. With the referral piece, we can always refer to other organizations in the community for additional support,” added the Victim’s Services representative.

For more information on the Nicola Valley Community Justice Services Society, visit www.nvcjss.com. The Merritt RCMP’s Victim Services unit can be reached at 250-378-5699.