Canada's First High School Peer Mediation Program
“If we wish to have peace in our world, we must begin with our children.”
So replied Charlotte Lemieux, Ottawa Board of Education Director, in 1987 when approached about introducing a Student Peer Mediation Program into Ottawa high schools.
In my heart I knew we had to work with students to give the next generation knowledge of the choices they have to prevent, manage and resolve conflict. I had left a lucrative 10-year practice as an Ontario barrister and solicitor and was working with a group who shared an interest in alternative dispute resolution (ADR). We believed ADR was a trend, not a fad. We set up the Dispute Resolution Center of Ottawa-Carleton.
Our early ADR research revealed that a U.S. organization, the National Association for Mediation in Education, was introducing mediation skills to U.S. schools. Our goal was to establish a similar program in Ottawa. School peer mediation programs did not exist in Canada. So, selling our vision would be an uphill challenge. Director Lemieux notified me that only one Principal Christine Hubbard at Woodroffe high school was interested. A small beginning!
That fall, conflict resolution trainer Cheryl Picard and I met with Principal Hubbard and two Vice Principals (VP). Ivan Roy, one VP, was a skeptic. He feared a student peer mediation program could erode the school's authority to discipline. Principal Hubbard accepted that students needed exposure to alternative ways to resolve conflict.
After a series of presentations to teachers and students, we reached an agreement. Sixteen students were selected for three days of training that winter. We launched Canada’s first Student Peer Mediation Program in March 1988, at Woodroffe High School.
In early 1989, Cole Harbour District High School in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, gained national media attention after some 50 students were involved in a major brawl requiring police intervention. Soon after, Woodroffe administrators braced for a similar situation upon learning students from another school were on their way over for a fight.
About 40 students met in confrontation in the schoolyard. The older brother of one student arrived carrying a baseball bat. Police arrived. One Woodroffe administrator proposed peer mediation to the combatant students. They agreed. The dispute settled peacefully. Police did not get involved.
In another student conflict, peer mediation achieved remarkable results. The conflict began between two students in elementary school, escalating in high school with an argument over a girlfriend. Several peer mediation sessions ensued--tensions were defused and friendships restored.
Inspired by the students and the accomplishments, I contacted several national media outlets to share how the Program had prevented such violence and arrests as had resulted in Nova Scotia. Alas, stories without conflict or visuals were not of interest. Students asked me why they had to do bad things to get in the news. The saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads”. Only two local news organizations reported: Ottawa Citizen’s Dave Brown and CBC Ottawa. Student mediators experienced the power of mediation and peer interventions continued.
From an Acorn does an Oak Tree grow! Ivan Roy, the skeptic VP who initially questioned the program, was so convinced by his experience that he left his job to dedicate himself to teaching mediation and conflict resolution in other Canadian schools, including Ridgemont High School in Ottawa.
We are indebted to the late Charlotte Lemieux for her vision and her wise words which bear repeating: “If we wish to have peace in our world, we must begin with our children.
By: Ernest G. Tannis, President, Global ADR Strategies (GADRS), with Ivan Roy. Editor: Doreen Kahalé.