In her role as Program Coordinator, Victoria Restorative Justice Society (VRJS), I’ve observed her (I’m a VRJS member and ex-Board member) consistently reach out and connect people, and organizations, in the community. The context is always challenging; harm has been done, adversity must be dealt with, world-views clash. Yet, her way remains engaging, genuine, creative, pragmatic, and always focused on relationship-building.
On connecting youth and building trusting relationships
VRJS programs include: 1) helping the community come together to deal with a harmful event, via restorative justice processes (including community justice conferences, panels, victim-offender mediation, peace-making circles); 2) a girls circle, a support group for adolescent and teenage girls; and 3) working with partner organizations to develop a cohesive restorative justice advocacy community.
In this 2 1/2 minute video clip, Gillian talks about the Girl’s Circle program; an innovative program that brings girls facing adversity together, gets them talking, incorporates games and activities, group discussion, and extends the circle into the wider community. (video not displaying? click here)
Connecting justice systems
I find Gillian refreshing. Her enthusiasm and capacity for finding common ground solutions, and her we’re all-in-this-together attitude, is well suited to finding hybrid solutions that bridge the adversarial and non-adversarial justice systems. In this 3 minute clip, Gillian talks about listening, collaborating with police, crown, and judges, thinking creatively, the uniqueness of each case. Wise words. (video not displaying? click here)
Connecting + conversations = change
At the heart of restorative and community-oriented justice processes is conversation. Conversation between people connected by a trauma bond; people who may not have known each other before, yet are now connected with a traumatic experience. Their connection has a lot of negative energy about it. It’s through connecting, conversation, that relationship can be restored to a more positive frame. Conversation transforms us.
I asked Gillian how her work has impacted her. Her response, it caused her to: reconcile (and change) her value system to bring them into line with her restorative justice experiences, reinforced her love for the relational aspects of life; confirmed the words of restorative justice pioneer Kay Pranis, that community is in our DNA (we’ve evolved in community); and routinely reminds her of why connecting with someone on a personal level is important, both, in-the-moment, and for the future of the relationship.
More about Gillian’s journey
Gillian’s roots are in rural Alberta. Her family was very religious. As a young adult, Gillian pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, a time she labels her bad ass years. A chance meeting with an older woman, a mother in her 50’s, with a young family, led to friendship and mentorship, and a shift in Gillian’s take on personal responsibility, and accountability.
Increasingly, Gillian took an interest in alternative approaches to dealing with challenge and adversity. Conflict resolution training led to certification, then employment in the community / restorative justice field, in Edmonton. A move to Victoria, and studies at Royal Roads University, coincided with her involvement with VRJS, initially as a volunteer, and then her hiring as Program Coordinator.
Connect with Gillian and VRJS
If you’re in the Victoria area, I encourage you to connect with Gillian and the VRJS, and get involved with the restorative justice community. It’s an exciting model for connecting community, and responding as a community, when bad things happen.
How about you?
Been involved with a community response to harm? What was your experience, observations?