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Posted November 8, 2013

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November 17 - 24, 2013

Inspiring Innovation – that’s the theme of this year’s Restorative Justice Week

Kitchener - What most KW residents don’t know is that the worldwide movement in restorative justice started right here in Waterloo Region!

“The Elmira Story”
In 1974, two intoxicated teenagers embarked on a destructive rampage by damaging numerous properties in the quiet town of Elmira, Ontario. Ordinarily, the prospect of prison lay ahead. But a pair of young probation officers, Mark Yantzi and Dave Worth, had other ideas. Rather than prison, what if the youths actually met their victims face to face, they asked the presiding judge? This, they suggested, would allow the youths to apologize directly to the victims and pay for damages. The judge agreed, the subsequent meetings profoundly impacted both the teenagers and their victims, and Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) was born.

Although aboriginal cultures have long used similar conflict resolution practices, this broke new ground within our established Canadian Justice system. Restorative Justice views crime and conflict in terms of harm done to people and relationships. It is a non-adversarial and non-retributive approach to crime and conflict that seeks healing in victims, accountability in offenders and involvement by citizens to create a safer community.

Community Justice Initiatives (CJI) was founded to boldly apply such restorative justice principles in response to all kinds of crime and conflict. Since CJI’s advent in 1974 a Restorative Justice movement has spread to more than 50 countries. CJI continues to lead the way, with its cornerstone Restorative Justice philosophy inspiring a host of pioneer programs and applications.

CJI envisions connected, peaceful communities where all conflict is resolved in a restorative way, helping people find peace and reconciliation in thousands of conflict situations. CJI dares to believe that restorative justice should be the first response when responding to individual, community, family and institutional conflict. By applying restorative justice responses we can address root causes of conflict in our community, creating a lasting, positive impact as people move forward with their lives and relationships.

Today, CJI offers 12 unique programs and services. The Elmira Story serendipitously started an agency that has fostered significant social change, helped individuals and families develop new ways to handle conflict while gradually dispelling misconceptions about the people it serves. In addition to VORP, which brings victims and offenders with volunteer mediators to address the harm caused by certain types of crimes, CJI also mediates community, school and workplace disputes. It also applies restorative justice principles in working with federally incarcerated women, in-custody and troubled youths, families in the child protection system, survivors of sexual abuse and men who have offended sexually. Particularly unique is that CJI, with a staff of 20, support and equips trained and supervised community volunteers to provide the frontline work. There are countless stories of CJI’s restorative practices at work impacting individual, families and neighborhoods, fostering engaged, accountable and healthy communities.

Even though the Elmira Story is renowned worldwide for the origination of Restorative Justice (RJ), many Region of Waterloo residents remain unaware of its existence. Yet, CJI has had many visits from international educators, RJ practitioners, policy makers and is referenced in numerous text books and articles. We’ve even had a TV crew document it from Korea. People from around the globe take our Transformative Mediation training offered as part of Conrad Grebel’s Peace and Conflict Studies Certificate. The Region of Waterloo has a reputation throughout Canada for being a hotbed for grass roots community development initiatives.

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