“There’s a lot of problem solving that the law can’t really do anything about,” Bruer said. “It’s not a rules-based thing. This is an interest-based process. It accepts that the rules-based process exists but says that’s not enough…Then we do an interest-based process and that’s why it’s revolutionary in a way.”
“Community mediation addresses issues that have gone beyond civil but are not yet criminal,” Axford said.
Both Axford and Bruer say that from talking to the police, crown attorneys and lawyers over the years – many cases that make their way to the courts don’t belong there. And some police officers have admitted that they are expected to be social workers in certain situations.
Although The Neighbourhood Group already works with the Toronto Police Service, it would like to formalize the relationship so that police referrals would become part of the organization’s policy and procedure.
Bruer said one of TNG’s goals has always been to resolve conflicts through community mediation before getting the police involved. “Society has invested a lot of resources in policing and rights-based and rules-based stuff like jails and courts and probation, all the way down to bylaw infractions and fines for parking and so on. That’s been done for a lot of good reasons, but…we can’t just do that and maybe we’ve overdone that. We also need to invest in alternative dispute resolution processes like community mediation and restorative justice.”
Axford added, “For [the police] it would leave them more time and energy to be putting into the more serious kinds of crimes that are going on – things like gangs and guns, and drugs and more serious violence because we would free them up from having to keep getting called for some of the more petty kinds of things.”
She pointed to a 2021 report called Rethinking Community Safety – A Step Forward for Toronto, sponsored in partnership by several agencies including The Neighbourhood Group. It states that racialized people, especially Black and Indigenous people, are over-policed and says the role of the police should be redefined. The report also recommends that funds be diverted from the Toronto police and reallocated to “civilian interventions.”
Bruer said, “[The report] doesn’t say, we don’t need the police. It says we need to be thinking again about what we expect of the police and what we need to do that the police really shouldn’t be asked to do. It’s asking too much of them or it’s giving them too much power and yes both of those things happen.”
Along with the Toronto Police Service, Axford and Bruer hope that TNG could also develop a formal contract with Toronto Community Housing which they say would relieve the corporation from answering so many tenant to tenant conflicts; and the police wouldn’t have to be called in for what officers’ regard as nuisance calls.
For access to community mediation services, contact:
The Neighbourhood Group
North York / Rexdale
(416) 925-2103 ext. 1228
The Neighbourhood Group
Downtown / South Etobicoke
(416) 925-2103 ext. 1229
Warden Woods Community Centre
(416) 694-1138 ext. 127