Building safe and resilient communities with restorative justice

To the teenagers who did it, it seemed like a harmless prank: lighting some firecrackers and placing them in the mailbox of a randomly-chosen house, ringing the doorbell, then running and hiding across the way to watch what happened next.

What the boys who planted the firecrackers didn’t know at the time is the house they chose belonged to an elderly couple, and that the man had heart problems that could have been triggered by the sudden explosions outside their front door.

The boys also didn’t know – until they met with the victims through a restorative justice program administered by the Medicine Hat John Howard Society – that the elderly couple had also been living in fear, thinking they had been targeted for some reason.

The Medicine Hat Police Service had initially charged the boys with mischief, but the case was diverted to the local youth justice committee instead of going to court. By taking part in the restorative justice process, the boys realized the harm they had caused after the victims had a chance to tell their story. The victims came away reassured, after learning from the boys that they weren’t targeted.

“The kids experienced remorse, but more importantly, the elderly couple regained their sense of safety,” said Gary Straub, executive director of the Medicine Hat John Howard Society.

The Medicine Hat John Howard Society is one of many organizations in the province that receive funding from Alberta Justice and Solicitor General to deliver restorative justice programs. Restorative justice holds offenders accountable for their actions while at the same time giving victims and the community a voice in the criminal justice process.

“There are two things I often hear from victims: They want to know, ‘Why me?’ The second is that they want an apology. In the traditional justice system, there’s little opportunity for a victim to speak with an offender, not at an offender.”

Restorative justice principles are enshrined in Canada’s youth justice system. The Youth Criminal Justice Act authorizes the establishment of youth justice committees comprised of community members as an alternative to youth court. To be eligible the young person must accept responsibility for the offence and the Crown prosecutor has to agree the accused can be held properly accountable for their actions through an extrajudicial sanction.

In Medicine Hat, more than 1,000 youths have been referred to the Restorative Justice Project since its inception in 2006.

“Very few have been referred a second time,” said Straub, touching on one of the key impacts of the restorative justice processes:  they aim to prevent young people from re-offending.

Referring cases to youth justice committees also eases the burden on the justice system by diverting cases that don’t necessarily need to be heard in court and don’t require a court-imposed sentence. Youth justice committees have the flexibility to apply a wide range of sanctions tailored to helping a young person recognize the harm they’ve caused, while holding them accountable for their actions.

“The goal was to be able to have some latitude, to think outside the usual processes and strive to achieve meaningful consequences,” Straub said.

Sanction options available to the committee include community service, completing a written assignment or interview related to the offence, participating in community-based activities and taking classes.

Programs and classes give youths a positive alternative to the activities that landed them in trouble, while community service can strengthen their sense of empathy. Gaining a better understanding of how others feel, said Straub, is a big step toward preventing young people from reoffending.

“Sometimes the exercise is trying to plant that seed: to engage that young person in pro-social citizenry,” he said.

“These are beautiful, wonderful people who do good things, when given the opportunity to do good things.”

Communities across Canada and around the world are marking Restorative Justice Week from November 20 to 27.

 

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Grande Cache celebrates efforts of local fish and wildlife officer

October 16th was one of the most memorable days of district fish and wildlife officer Shane Ramstead’s career.

He was invited to attend the Grande Cache Tourism and Interpretive Centre’s 20th anniversary commemoration event, but little did he know he would be receiving honours from the Town of Grande Cache and the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. With 60 people in attendance, the mayor of Grande Cache as well as the director of the centre presented district officer Ramstead and several others with certificates of appreciation.

shaneramstead

Back in the early 90’s, as a member of the founding committee, he worked hard for three years to bring the centre to life. Specifically, his role involved putting together all of the centre’s wildlife and fishery displays and educational components about the province’s natural resources.

“It was lot of work, but as you can see, this centre is still a gem and something to be proud of,” said district officer Ramstead.

The displays help visitors learn how to avoid encounters with dangerous wildlife. They also inform people about which species in the area are most vulnerable and the laws that protect them. For example, there are displays about cougar awareness and how to be BearSmart as well as one about Alberta’s official fish, the bull trout, which is classified as a sensitive species needing special management. Visitors to the centre can also find information on the history of the region and its reliance on the fur trade. District officer Ramstead and staff at the local fish and wildlife district office continue to provide the centre with guides to hunting and fishing regulations and any other literature they can.

Thousands of tourists go through the centre every year, and visitors from as far as eastern Europe have left enthusiastic comments and compliments. In fact, staff at the centre are liable to tell you that even the nearby national parks are impressed by (if not slightly envious of) the centre.

“I am really appreciative of this recognition. I am proud of this initiative, and I am truly happy if my efforts helped make a difference,” said district officer Ramstead.

In 2014, district officer Ramstead also received a prestigious award from the Aseniwuche Winewak First Nation, which you can read about here.

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Diversity Leadership Award of Distinction

Every year the Diversity Leadership Award of Distinction, sponsored by the Alberta Human Rights Commission, goes to an organization that embraces diversity in its workforce.

ahrccLogoAward winners are leaders in integrating diversity and human rights practices throughout their organization so that employees, clients, customers and others are respected and included. In other words, organizations that are diversity leaders cultivate a human rights culture and foster a work environment where all different kinds of people are respected and given the opportunity to contribute to the best of their abilities.

If this sounds like your organization, don’t miss your chance to be recognized. Fill out the form on this web page to apply before November 14.

To be eligible, your organization must:

  • have operated in Alberta for a minimum of three years;
  • be operating in Alberta and continue to do so at the time of the awards presentation;
  • employ Albertans to produce goods and/or provide services;
  • not have won in the same category in the past three years; and
  • not have anyone in your management, on your board, or in your employ serving on the Alberta Business Awards of Distinction judging committee for this category.

More information

The Diversity Leadership Award is one of 11 categories in the Alberta Business Awards of Distinction.

Here is a description of last year’s winners.

Visit the Alberta Human Rights Commission website to learn more about:

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Helping keep Alberta’s neighbourhoods safe and secure

scannoticeSolving complex or persistent problems often requires approaching them from more than one angle.

That’s why the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) unit can be a valuable tool in combatting illegal activity and keeping communities safe and secure.

A recent case on Edmonton’s north side showed how measures used by SCAN, in concert with police, helped break the cycle of drug trafficking at a problem property in the neighbourhood.

After investigations confirmed drug activity at the north Edmonton property, SCAN investigators used their evidence to obtain a Community Safety Order (CSO) which gave them the authority to evict tenants from the property and ban any new occupants for two years.

“The residents of this neighbourhood have endured the negative impact that a property entrenched in the drug subculture brings,” SCAN investigator Paul Hennig said.

“The community can now breathe easier, knowing that the people responsible for making them feel unsafe and preventing them from enjoying their own property won’t be allowed back.”

In December 2015, SCAN investigators engaged the Edmonton Police Service for assistance, and police officers arrested two people. Criminal charges were laid and officers seized a quantity of cocaine from both of them.

The CSO obtained by SCAN, which went into effect September 19, shut down the drug activity by forcing out the problem tenants, while allowing the landlord to remain in the home.

The Safer Neighbourhood and Communities Act gives SCAN the authority to close problem properties by boarding them up and fencing them off. However, many complaints are resolved informally or with less serious measures, as was the case with this property. Last year, SCAN received 626 complaints and resolved the majority of them through informal means such as warning letters. Only eight cases resulted in CSOs.

Albertans who suspect illegal activity is occurring at a property in their neighbourhood can contact SCAN online or toll-free at 1-866-960-SCAN (7226). All complaints are confidential. Residents are reminded to never investigate suspected problem properties on their own.

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Fish and Wildlife Officers warn of potential for increased bear activity

foraging-bearFall is a time when bears are on the move. Their goal is to eat as much as they can to fatten up before they hibernate for the winter. This means they will eat the first food they chance upon, even if it is in your backyard.

By following these simple steps, you can greatly reduce the chances of a bear being attracted to your property:

  • Store garbage inside, and put it out the morning of pickup rather than the night before. If possible, use bear-proof containers.
  • Remove bird feeders from April until late October. Bears will eat birdseed too!
  • Store any food, barbecues and other items that could attract bears in an odour-proof container or bear-proof building. Do not leave them out in your yard.
  • Bring pet food and feeding dishes inside overnight.
  • Practice “BearSmart” gardening and landscaping. Bears are attracted to fruit trees and shrubs, including ornamentals. Pick ripening fruit as soon as possible.

At this time of the year, Fish and Wildlife officers are busy responding to incidents where bears have gotten into unnatural food sources left out in urban or residential areas. For your safety as well as your neighbours, and to help keep bears in the wild, please ensure your yard is free of items that would attract a bear to the area. For more information about BearSmart tips, please visit www.bearsmart.alberta.ca

If a bear persistently returns to your yard or community, thereby causing a public safety concern, promptly call your local Fish and Wildlife office (toll free by dialing 310-0000 first) or the 24-hour Report A Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800.

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