For the past decade in Canada, the third week in November has been proclaimed as Restorative Justice Week.
Students in Jennie Barron’s Transformative Justice class at Selkirk College capitalized on the occasion by role-playing a mock scenario involving a case of fraud.
Restorative justice is an option within the Canadian criminal justice system. Restorative justice can happen when offenders are willing and prepared to take responsibility for their actions so they can address the harm they have caused.
“Restorative justice can happen when victims are willing and prepared to meet the offender, express the effects of the criminal activity and get answers to their questions,” says Barron, who teaches in the Peace Studies Program. “Trained facilitators guide the process that can also involve the arresting police officer as well as support parties for the victim and offender. Together they each state what happened, how the crime affected them and what needs to be done to begin to repair the harm the crime has caused.”
The Selkirk College students dealt with a fictitious scenario involving a 20-something grandson using his grandmother’s credit card for an expensive personal purchase. Each of the students played one of the characters involved in the conference that brought all of them together.
In character, each had a turn to explain the impact of the crime and its effect on them and others. The offender had to face the pain his actions caused others. All participants then worked together to create a plan for what the offender would do to address the harm he caused.
“The experience of participating in this role-play was transformative and had a ‘real life’ feeling,” says student Elizabeth Huether. “Playing the role of the affected person was profoundly moving and enlightening.”
After the role-play, students met again to debrief the scenario in which they participated. They shared how their character felt and their personal learning from this experience.
“There’s nothing like this actual experience in the role play to educate us about the complexities of human nature and what different perspectives and experiences each individual brings to the table. It’s work. It’s challenging,” says student Alison Talbot-Kelly. “And, the potential for growth and transformation is enormous.”
The role-playing exercise has become an important part of the course. “Year after year, students tell me that this role-play of a restorative justice conference is the highlight of the course for them,” says Barron. “They really get into their characters’ shoes and experience the emotional dynamics which makes for a very effective learning experience.”
Restorative justice can be a powerful tool when police are able and willing to refer files to trained volunteers who work with and prepare victims and offenders to meet one another to address the crime. Voices are heard, questions are answered and concerns are tackled.
Rather than judges and lawyers addressing criminal charges, the people personally involved and impacted by a crime come together in a safe and respectful setting to deal with the matter. This brings the community into the picture and provides a way to deal with its own issues. British Columbia Solicitor General Michael Farnworth is planning to expand the province’s restorative justice system.
“We have seen restorative justice work in community programs in B.C. and in other jurisdictions,” states Farnworth, who is also the Minister of Public Safety.
“There are 92 restorative justice programs in the province and 32 Aboriginal justice programs applying restorative justice principles.”
For inquiries and information on how to develop a restorative justice program for our Castlegar community, interested parties can contact Gerry Sobie at email@example.com.