Thursday, 21 November 2019
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Danny Cavanagh: No justice for restorative justice workers

Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – On November 2016, the Nova Scotia Department of Justice and the Schulich School of Law held their annual National Symposium on Restorative Justice in Nova Scotia. This was a national gathering bringing together many experts and stakeholders to discuss restorative justice.

The McNeil government stood proudly, telling everyone that our province is a leader in restorative justice and would be expanding the program to adults in Nova Scotia. We were pleased to hear this.

Two years later we are asking why the McNeil Government made this announcement not realizing the future workload, costs and resources that would need to be expanded to meet future expectations of an expanded program.

Imagine the nerve to brag about how great you are in rooms with national leaders and stakeholders, knowing you do not intend to properly resource and fund the expanded program.

Imagine announcing that we are a leading government in all of Canada on restorative justice, and not putting any resources behind the promise?

Now to August 2018, two years later and we have six restorative justice workers who have been on the picket lines for nearly two weeks now with no end in sight. These six workers, five of whom are women, are members of CUPE local 4764. They are the caseworkers employed by the Community Justice Society (CJS). These workers have been without a contract for two years. The government funding hasn’t changed for these workers and the program they offer since before the 2016.

When the Premier announced that the program would now take on adults into the restorative justice program, the files for these six workers increased by 149 per cent.

The workers’ wages have remained stagnant as has the funding, but the workload expanded from 248 files in 2016 to 617 files in 2017. Obviously more than these six union members must know that something needs to change.

Do the Premier, Minister, Deputy Minister and other staff in the Justice Department not believe funding must increase when they made such announcements? Sadly, it seems that if these six workers didn’t take job action not much was likely to change. It doesn’t matter how many experts and stakeholders were in the room in 2016 all clapping hands and high-fiving each other, if no one had their eye on the ball at the Department of Justice, it’s all for nothing.

The Nova Scotia Department of Justice is the sole funder for the restorative justice program, providing funds to a board the Community Justice Society (CJS) which employs the six workers. These six workers are funded 100 per cent by the government. This is not the fault of the CJS board, if they had the dollars they would do more. This lays directly in the hands of the Department of Justice and the Minister. They have an obligation to fund this expanded program. Those clients who came through the program and turned their life around are real success stories, stories that are positive and the success of each one is because of the restorative aspect of this program and the workers.

One must consider the cost of keeping an individual incarcerated and the savings we see because of the work these six workers do every day. This program seems to be a win, win for everyone, everyone except the six workers who now have little choice but to stand up for what they believe in. These six workers just want a living wage and to be treated with respect and fairness. These six workers want the expanded restorative justice program to work.

The savings they generate are well worth it for us all – the success of individuals in turning their life around is astounding.  The Minister needs to step up and fund this great work. If the government can make great sound bites in 2016, they now need to deliver and keep its word. In two years, the province renowned as a provincial leader with restorative justice in 2016 is quickly sinking into the back seat.

These six workers should not have to take to the streets to ensure the expanded system of restorative justice works properly. We need to see more than sound bites from the government.

The government should take its success stories of clients who went through the program and its other positive web site pages about how it supports restorative justice down. They are bragging about a system that is not working.

The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and our 90,000 members will ensure these workers get the justice they deserve. We will ensure they are not starved into submission, that restorative justice services remain intact and resourced properly as we stand shoulder to shoulder with the six workers and their union. We know that together we are stronger.

Danny Cavanagh is the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour.

 


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