Deepening Community Mediation in Peterborough

‘We need to get the message out about this, to get more people interested and involved and trying it:’ Mike Davidson

Photo: Russ Duncan

The pieces are in place for a new-to-Peterborough community mediation initiative to make a real difference in how neighbourhood disputes get addressed — and ultimately to set a new tone in the city.

Community mediation may be described as a facilitated conversation. Trained volunteers support those in dispute to work through their differences and identify a solution both parties are willing to own.

Mike Davidson is among those volunteering as a community mediator. Already involved with the Ontario Community Mediation Coalition for years, Mike has long been wanting to see Peterborough adopt community mediation.

The longest-running community mediation program exists in Kitchener-Waterloo. In Mississauga, community mediation has become a city-funded offering. There, community mediation is considered a first recourse when issues are brought forward to the bylaw department.

To date, several mediations have taken place in Peterborough. All resulted in agreements that the involved parties identified themselves.

While a Peterborough group attempted to introduce community mediation about 15 years ago, Mike says this time around the program is well set to flourish given the backing of funding and partners. The current initiative has received funding from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The Peterborough Police Service, John Howard Society and Peterborough Housing Corporation are all involved as partners.

Difficult First Few Cases

Since the initiative’s introduction in Peterborough late last year, there have been a number of referrals, including from the police, as well as a significant number of case development meetings. The case development meetings are intended to identify if a scenario is suitable for community mediation. Community mediation isn’t possible if one of the parties is unwilling to participate, for example.

To date, several mediations have taken place in Peterborough. All resulted in agreements that the involved parties identified themselves.

“In one of the cases, it kept the parties from taking legal action against each other,” Mike says. “In the other we’ve probably reduced the likelihood that either party will call the police on the other anymore.”

In both cases, the parties extended apologies to each other.

While the outcomes were positive, Mike says he was struck by the difficulty of working these first few cases. “There were moments where I thought this might not work; these people are so dug in their holes as to what they want to do and what they want to say that it may not work.”  He suggests part of the issue could be the newness of the approach.

Creating a Groundswell

A big next step is to spread the word about community mediation, Mike says.

“The key thing is to get the message out, because people don’t know what this thing is, so we need to get more people interested and involved and trying it.

“We need more people knowing about it and people (having the experience) and saying, ‘Well, I did that and it worked and it really saved us a lot of money and time and frustration and things are better now’.”

Why Community Mediation

“We tell people, ‘It’s fine if you don’t want to go to mediation, but understand that if you don’t… someone else is going to decide who wins and who loses’.”
— Mike Davidson

One of the “selling features,” as Mike calls it, of community mediation is that it’s essentially the last chance for the parties involved in a dispute to own the solution.

“We tell people, ‘It’s fine if you don’t want to go to mediation, but understand that if you don’t, the bylaw officer is going to make a decision or the city is going to make a decision (for you) — someone else is going to decide who wins and who loses’.”

Community mediation offers the benefit of third-party listening and reflecting back to those in dispute. This can be especially valuable when emotions are flaring and the parties find themselves unable to listen to each other.

“Most of the listening tends to happen when the mediators are summarizing what they have heard,” Mike says. “Then the process works through, we hope, to the point where (the people in conflict) listen to each other — not necessarily agree, — but just understand what the other person said.

“Once they’ve done that, and they have a common understanding of each other’s positions, then they start brainstorming an agreement that they can live with.”

The kind of mediation practiced is called transformative mediation. “The goal of transformative mediation is to not just help the parties reach an agreement but to also improve the relationship between the parties moving forward,” Mike says.

Community Mediation as Part of a Larger Shift in Peterborough

The picture of Peterborough as The City that Listens, first introduced by resident Mary Gordon at a gathering last year, has caught the imaginations of many local residents.

In addition to community mediation, a number of methodologies and initiatives are cropping up in Peterborough that are creating ways for people to listen to each other, see each other’s humanity and to satisfy fundamental human needs. Examples include the Peterborough Dialogues, Sidewalk Talks (Click here to learn more about a March 5 opportunity) and Listening Circles.

“I’m more hopeful because I’m seeing more people saying yes to (this kind of the approach).”
— Dougal Woodcox

Dougal Woodcox, who is also volunteering as a community mediator, says he joined because he sees it as another hope-filled way to shift the huge constructs, internal and external, that are thwarting.

“I tried to do listening circles for years and then kind of gave up because people just weren’t showing up,” he admits.

But now with the community mediation as well as these other new initiatives, he feels hopeful about what might be possible in terms of Peterborough becoming more skilled and practised at citizen-based constructive dialogue.

“I’m more hopeful because I’m seeing more people saying yes to (this kind of the approach),” Dougal says.

“The more opportunity each community member has to see something modelled, the better. So when I deal with my neighbour or the guy that’s fixing my furnace (through that different lens), every time I do that I feel like I’m seeding the community I want to live in.”

  • More to Come

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