Maple Ridge restorative justice program gets B.C. award

Ridge Meadows Youth Diversion Program received a Solicitor General Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award recently in Burnaby

From left

From left

It’s nice to get the nod of recognition from the Solicitor General – but some cold cash likely would do the staff and volunteers at the Ridge Meadows Youth and Justice Advocacy Association a bit more good.

The group runs the Ridge Meadows Youth Diversion Program, which diverts kids away from the court system and gives them options to jail time through restorative justice.

The association received a Solicitor General Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award recently in Burnaby.

It works with the community, RCMP and Crown prosecutors to help such kids recognize the harm of their actions, accept responsibility and accountability.

“Now if we could use that to get some funding, I’d be thrilled,” said program coordinator Ranjit Kingra.

The program limps along on a yearly contribution of $20,000 from Maple Ridge and $6,000 from Pitt Meadows, along with annual grants from the province.

But for years, the program’s existence has been threatened by not having that funding assured every year.

“We are the only program in the Lower Mainland that actually has to pay for rent.”

Similar programs are either housed in the RCMP or municipal buildings, Kingra pointed out.

Mission, Surrey and Burnaby municipalities all fully fund such programs.

“It’s a little disheartening at times.”

Lawyer Bart Findlay is on the justice advocacy association’s board and points out the Mission program dealt with 18 cases or referrals last year on a budget of $140,000.

The Maple Ridge program has a yearly budget of about $80,000 and has about 100 referrals a year.

“Mostly, it’s volunteers and some very good, hard-working staff.”

That funding shortfall worries Findlay more than the federal government’s Safe Streets and Communities Act, currently in the House of Commons and which seeks to seek jail more kids.

He also doesn’t like the new federal law, which he says will be a return to the 1990s, before the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which recognized restorative programs.

“The fact of the matter is, the program really works. Its success rate is wonderful.”

It’s also way more economical to spend money on that than police and prisons, he added.

Under the Safe Streets and Communities Act, “What I do foresee is, we will end up putting more young people in jail. And we know that specifically does not work with young people.”

In the association’s 17 years of service, it has received more than 1,900 referrals and was the first association of its kind to receive direct referral from Crown counsel.

“The fact of the matter, it really works,” Findlay said.

“What we really need is for the provincial government to step up and say this a priority and we’re going to fund it, or the two municipalities.”

The program has recently made a request for more money from both Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

MLA Marc Dalton said in a release he was “pleased to see the Ridge Meadows Youth and Justice Advocacy Association recognized for the work they’ve done in our community. They’ve given youth the tools to resolve conflict, take responsibility for their actions and understand bad decisions have consequences. Those are lessons they can use for the rest of their lives.”