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Moving to a healing form of justice

Smokey and Eddy looking at ipad together

The third week of November is circled on calendars around the world over to celebrate Restorative Justice Week. Canadians will observe this important week from November 17 to 24.

The modern idea of restorative justice arose in the 1970s. Since then, it has gained popularity because of its advantages over the two most common forms of justice: “retributive justice,” which is based on punishing offenders; and “distributive justice,” with its focus on treating offenders.

Restorative justice is non-adversarial, nor does it seek to punish. It sees crime as harm done to people and relationships. It encourages communication between all affected – victims, offenders, the community – and tries to move towards mutual understanding and accountability, as well as feelings of satisfaction, safety, healing and closure.

Restorative justice is often known as “circle justice,” because it better reflects traditional paths of healing used in Indigenous communities. Moving towards a restorative justice system could, in some small way, chip away at the colonial attitudes towards justice that have led to the over-representation of Indigenous communities in the criminal justice system.”

Restorative justice may also go some way towards easing the crisis in Ontario corrections. Our correctional institutions are overcrowded. Ontarians are spending vast sums of money housing inmates who could otherwise be contributing to their communities. A small investment in enlightened justice could have a big payoff in terms of better spending scarce tax dollars.

In justice, as in virtually everything else, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s time governments looked outside the box to a system of justice that fully protects society, while discouraging repeat offences through healing and reconciliation. By trying to understand and address the circumstances which led to the crime, we are better able to repair the harm – and avoid more harm in the future.

The old ways and beliefs have not solved the problem. Let’s take a look at a better way of administering justice – for the improved security and well-being of all.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida,  First Vice-President/Treasurer