by Joellen McHard

A few days ago the Lanark County Community Justice Program was the proud recipient of the 2013 Victim Services Award of Distinction.  The Lanark County Community Justice Program is a restorative justice initiative that offers community-based court diversion services to youth and adults. The Award was presented to Christine Peringer (Board Chair), Sheri Halladay (Program Coordinator) and Joellen McHard (Executive Director). The three were invited by the Minister of the Attorney General to attend the ceremony at Queen’s Park and receive the award on behalf of the organization.

left to right:  John Gerretson (Min Attorney General), Kathleen Wynn (Premier of Ontario), Christine Peringer (Board Chair), Sheri Halladay (Program Coordinator) & Joellen McHard (Executive Director).
left to right: John Gerretson (Min Attorney General), Kathleen Wynn (Premier of Ontario), Christine Peringer (Board Chair), Sheri Halladay (Program Coordinator) & Joellen McHard (Executive Director).

The Attorney General’s Victim Services Awards of Distinction program was started in 2006. “These extraordinary individuals and organizations help victims of crime rebuild their lives. They are a credit to the victim services community across Ontario, and I am proud to recognize them for their tremendous work.” said John Gerretsen, Attorney General.

Ms. McHard shared that “Our program facilitates face-to-face forums where people directly involved and affected by an incident come together with the help of trained volunteer facilitators to discuss what happened, listen to what others have to say, and reach a decision about how to make things right.” Ms. McHard added that “It is important that victims get a chance to voice their concerns, obtain insight about the incident, and have input into how the offender will make amends.”  Accused persons have an opportunity to take steps toward repairing the harm.  Another important outcome is steering the offenders toward community services which might help them to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. The justice system benefits by a reduction in expensive court costs, in line with the values of the provincial “Justice on Target” initiative.  The police benefit by being able to refer cases that meet their community policing mandate.  And of course, the community as a whole benefits when problems are resolved in a positive way by the people most affected and because of the low incidence of repeat offences by those who participate in the program.

The program deals with minor criminal offences and most of our clients are youth in trouble with the law for the first time. To qualify, they must be willing to take responsibility for their actions.  Some people think the restorative approach is “soft on crime” – but our clients tell us that it is a lot harder to look your victim in the eye and hear about how their lives were negatively affected by your actions, than to sit in a courtroom and say nothing as your lawyer speaks on your behalf.  The victim reports leaving the forum with a greater understanding of the incident and a huge sense of relief that they have been heard and have been given the opportunity to share the impact the crime has had on their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

“It is wonderful to see the contribution that the Lanark Community Justice Program provides is being acknowledged in this way. The dedication provided by their team of volunteers and professionals to restorative community justice is a true testimony to the value of commitment and hard work. It is a model that other communities would be wise to emulate” said Randy Hillier, MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington.  These awards recognize victims of crime whose courage and dedication have raised awareness of victims’ issues in Ontario, and organizations, professionals and volunteers that advocate on their behalf. Ruth Campbell, Chair of the Office for Victims of Crime stated that “This year’s recipients are proof that courage, compassion and dedication can truly make a difference. The Office for Victims of Crime is proud to participate in this awards program to help raise awareness of victims’ issues in Ontario.”

LCCJP is funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General, the United Way of Lanark County and donations.