Restorative justice at TRU

Symposium to be held at university starting Nov. 15

Organizers of the Nov. 15 Restorative Justice Symposium at TRU say the technique could even benefit how TRU handles its own internal conflicts.

Criminologist and TRU professor Camilla Sears said that the university has recently shown interest in restorative justice, including discussions between TRU Student Services and Alana Abramson, who taught TRU’s first course on restorative justice this summer, on how the method could be integrated into TRU.

“They’ve had some really great meetings to talk about how restorative justice could be put into practice on campus and thinking about how it could provide an avenue to deal with non-academic student misconduct,” Sears said.

She added that restorative justice could be used to train those who often deal with student conflict such as resident advisors, security staff, faculty and counselling staff.

Restorative justice is traditionally an alternative to the criminal justice system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Usually used to deal with minor offences like vandalism, shoplifting, breaking and entering or minor assaults, restorative justice involves both the offender and the victim and often includes community or family members.

Proponents of the method point out that the process is often faster and less expensive than court proceedings, allows both victim and offender to feel like they have a say in the restitution plan, and fosters a reconnection between the offender and the community, making it less likely he or she will re-offend. As restitution plans are tailored for each offender, advocates also point out that restorative justice can better take into account things like mental or learning disabilities or addictions.

“We want for them to own their behaviour and their actions and try and get them the help that they need,” said Edith Fortier, restorative justice co-ordinator with the Secwepemc Community Justice Program and one of the guest speakers for the Nov. 15 symposium.

Rehabilitation can include an apology, community service, addictions counseling, financial repayment, a curfew, or specific conditions, such as avoiding certain places.

Fortier said that 95 per cent of people who go through her program do not re-offend.

In order to be referred to the Secwepemc Community Justice Program, an offender must have already convinced the RCMP or Crown that they want to be rehabilitated. Fortier also said the process can be emotional and, in some ways, more difficult for those involved than a court proceeding, since they are required to speak for themselves rather than be represented by a lawyer.

The symposium is part of a national awareness week starting Nov. 16. Events include a panel with special guests from restorative justice programs, government departments, RCMP, and a former restorative justice program participant. The day will also include a Q&A on how restorative justice is applicable to post-secondary institutions.

Organizers will also facilitate a talking circle, a common tool in restorative justice where each participant is given a chance to express their perspective without interruption.

“It’s a very emotional process, but it allows [participants] to get everything out…to hear exactly how the other feels and so, we can come up with that healing together,” said Brittany Walker, one of the students on the symposium’s planning committee.

Symposium tickets can be purchased on TRU’s website.