We all have our passions or causes in which we strongly believe. For area resident David Farrell that passion is justice. Not the punitive, adversarial justice with which we are all too familiar – the type that extracts a price or imposes a penalty on the guilty. Farrell seeks “restorative justice”.
Farrell is a relative newcomer to our area, arriving just over a year ago. He became a member of St. Elizabeth Parish and Fr. Dan Dubroy invited him to speak to parishioners one weekend about this new approach to justice.
“Restorative justice is not another program such as alternatives to prison or mediation. Nor is it a new way to save money in the criminal justice system. (It) is a fresh way of thinking about crime and conflict,” he explained. “It is not soft on crime. It is smart on crime.”
Drawing on the favourable response Farrell received from parishioners, he approached Fr. Dubroy with an idea of holding an information evening for the broader community. A date was set for June 10.
Titled “Seeking God's Justice”, the program brought together about 75 people – a mix of those involved in the program, and those interested in learning more about the topic. Rev. Jamie Scott, coordinator of the Collaborative Justice Project at the Ottawa Court House, presented some real life stories of restorative justice at work in Ottawa.
Understanding the difference
A restorative approach to criminal justice puts the emphasis on safety, healing, accountability and reparation. While the approach requires a rethinking of the present system, it still retains many aspects, such as the presumption of innocence and the protection of basic human and legal rights.
One of the leaders of restorative justice in Canada is Nova Scotia, which has embarked on a province-wide program to shift its entire approach to criminal justice. Farrell, a retired federal Justice Department employee, is working in both Quebec and Ontario to bring restorative justice into their criminal justice systems.
He explains, “A number of different programs can be brought together to fit under the umbrella of restorative justice. Some of these programs are already well known, such as circle sentencing, family group counselling, mediation, alternatives to prison, crime prevention, restitution, conditional sentencing and community service. What is needed, far more than a group of programs is a basic change in how we think about criminal justice.”
True story example
Recently, a woman in Montreal was given a chance to try an alternative approach to sentencing which focused on teaching her accountability for the crime she committed. Farrell picks up the story:
“This young mother was charged with shoplifting. She faced the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence because of previous serious convictions for shoplifting,” he said. “A social service agency helper her to work out a suspended sentence with the court by enroling her in a program that teaches accountability, self-control and the social and economic impact of shoplifting.
“While in the program the woman learned about a food bank in her area and was deeply moved by meeting a woman who had been in a similar situation to her own. This creative, restorative approach not only avoided time in prison and away from her children, but also taught responsibility and accountability. It also afforded the victimized shopkeeper the satisfaction that the offender was being taught accountability and a good chance of not offending again.”
For more information on restorative justice, David Farrell can be reached at 723-5912.