Building community for victims and offenders
Whether she’s advocating for victims of crime in Canada, East Africa or Jamaica, Anna Squier sees more similarities than differences.
“When you’re working with a victim, no matter where you are, you’re dealing with emotions and someone’s state of being that has been changed. You’re trying to help that person move back towards a positive state of being,” says Squier, a 2011 graduate of the MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding program. She adds that what does differ between countries and communities are the tools used to address violence.
An important tool in every community is a team of volunteers to support victims and offenders, says Squier, national volunteer program, policy and development adviser in the Victim Support Unit (VSU) with the Government of Jamaica’s Ministry of Justice. Her job, a placement through Cuso, involves establishing the VSU’s national volunteer program through writing policy, standardizing operations and eventually doing some training. She spent the past couple of months visiting 12 parishes (the provinces of Jamaica) to assess where the program is at and how it can be improved for the communities.
Although Kingston, Jamaica is the most dangerous place Squier has worked (the capital is still recovering from the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion that killed 73), she says it’s also very exciting and progressive. It’s one of the only countries other than Australia and New Zealand that has restorative justice mandated within the government.
“That’s a really, really big stepping stone to be at this point where you admit that the criminal justice system isn’t working the way you want it to work and there has to be another avenue for offenders and for victims,” Squier says. “The justice system here is at the point where they are looking at how to make it stronger, how to make it better, how to make it really meet the needs of the people and the country.”
Before getting into the field of victim support, Squier worked in restorative justice with the Grassroots Reconciliation Group in Gulu, Uganda and with Salt Spring Community Justice on Salt Spring Island, B.C. She says restorative justice and victim support go hand-in-hand as far as victim-offender mediation, and supporting victims and offenders through the criminal process with community support. To be able to do that, Squier says, a volunteer program is crucial.
“You have to have people in the community to support these people and to show the rest of the community that there is support for people that are dealing with crime,” she says. “And to show the criminals that there are people watching that are not going to allow that crime to continue.”
While at Royal Roads, Squier also explored restorative justice through her research on the Gacaca Courts reconciliation process in Rwanda and on the reintegration of returnees in Northern Uganda. The Gacaca Courts process was established in 2001 as a community justice system in response to the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
“Anna’s work on restorative justice in Rwanda is reflective of the type of person she is,” says Ken Christie, head of the Human Security and Peacebuilding program. “Her sense of empathy and commitment to working with those in unfortunate circumstances is a highly developed one. The world needs more committed practitioners like Anna.”
“Being at Royal Roads and having the opportunity to do research internationally really allowed me to be very comfortable adapting to a new environment and working with people who may not work the way I work and how to do that in a positive and respectful way,” Squier says. “Another big thing I took away from Royal Roads is if you want something to succeed and you’re working in another country, you have to be willing to work with the people who are there to make it succeed. If they aren’t buying into it, it’s never going to get off the ground.”