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This article was published 11/12/2011 (3409 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Not all conflicts need to go through the court system -- the victim and offender can work it out.
That's the idea behind the Restorative Action Centre, a program offered by Mediation Services.
The program brings together a victim and offender on the principles of restorative justice, taking into consideration who has been hurt and the needs of that person and deciding who is responsible for meeting those needs. Volunteers act as mediators during the meetings, helping the victim and offender to come to an understanding and decide upon an outcome.
Most cases taken on by the Restorative Action Centre are referred by the court system and involve offenders who are willing to accept responsibility for the harm they have caused and victims who are willing to meet with the offender.
Offences may range from an assault to a break and enter or graffiti.
Mediation Services executive director Lois Coleman Neufeld said they receive nearly 500 referrals per year from Manitoba Justice, with about 50 per cent of those going to mediation. She said the program has proven to be beneficial.
"The statistics show us that for people who have gone through processes like this, the recidivism rate is much lower than for those who go to prison," Neufeld said.
Most offenders who come through the process are first-time offenders.
"If you talk to offenders they'll say this process is a lot harder to go through than to go through the court. In the court system (they) never have to take responsibility for what they've done -- someone else assigns you guilty or not guilty," Neufeld said.
"In this process, you have to meet the person you've harmed and (decide) what are you going to do to make it right or what can be done to make it right," she said.
Michelle McDonald, a teacher at a North End school, has been a volunteer with the program for the past eight years. McDonald said she loves seeing the program working to bring people together.
"I get to see, at the end, the shift that people make. That can be very powerful to see that happen during the course of a few hours -- it's very rewarding that way. I think it helps people to leave here understanding not to fear conflict, but to think of it as an opportunity for a conversation and (a way) to clear up some understandings," McDonald said.
Candace Prejet, a volunteer who first came to the agency as a practicum student three years ago, said she believes that people are inherently good, but that sometimes they make bad choices.
"It's not bad people, bad actions. It's good people, bad choices. Being witness to people coming around to that and to understand that and not viewing the other as a bad person and being able to overcome that, is really powerful," Prejet said.
Volunteer Richard Kennett, a former teacher, school administrator and Manitoba Justice employee, agrees -- he believes the program enhances co-operation and fosters a sense of peace in the community. "When people have gone through the mediation process and it has been successful, if they bump into each other at Safeway the next day it's almost certain they will say 'Hi, how are you doing?' " Kennett explained.
"That would never happen with two people in conflict who have gone through the legal system. In fact they would do the opposite. They would run away from each other or give a scowling look.
"That's why the community becomes more peaceful when people have resolved their conflicts and have let them go," he said.
If you would like more information or would like to become a Mediation Services volunteer, please contact volunteer co-ordinator Nicole Robidoux at 204-925-3419.
You can also learn more about the Restorative Action Centre program and the other programs offered by Mediation Services online at www.mediationserviceswpg.ca.
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place, please contact Erin Madden at email@example.com.
The following is a list of volunteer opportunities advertised in the Winnipeg area. For more information about these listings, please contact the person/organization directly. You may also call (204) 477- 5180 ext. 230 to set up an appointment to see an interviewer at Volunteer Manitoba. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website: www.mbvolunteer.ca for other available volunteer opportunities.
Kidney Foundation of Canada Manitoba Branch needs a volunteer to produce graphic design of posters, brochures, fliers, and other printed materials, possible design of newsletter, form/document design/creation. Call Michael 989-0806 or email@example.com.
Community Living Winnipeg is looking for mentors for its Among Friends Program.Duties include but are not limited to individual outings, group outings, maintaining dignity of participants, personal care, cash management, set-up and tear-down of events, encouraging friendships. Information: Ryan 953-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spence Street Thrift Shop at 555 Spence St. requires volunteers to assist with driving and miscellaneous duties around the shop. This could include lifting boxes, outdoor maintenance, pricing and sorting items. One to two days per week. Call Carolyne 783-9281 or email@example.com.
Elizabeth Fry Society needs clothing depot workers to sign up for shifts to run its shop, held in a basement on Selkirk Avenue. The depot is here for women in the community as well as women who are released from Winnipeg Remand Centre, provincial or federal institutions. Call Dendra 589-7335 ext. 224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.