SASKATOON — What does it mean to call someone home? This was the key question posed by Bishop Gary Gordon of the Diocese of Victoria at the Restorative Justice: Building a Culture of Hope Conference held at Queen’s House and St. Thomas More College Oct. 1 - 3.
Restorative justice, Gordon said, is about asking different questions than those posed by our current retributive criminal justice system. Rather than asking “What law is broken? Who broke it? How shall the state punish that person?” restorative justice focuses on the persons and relationships that are harmed when a crime is committed.
Restorative justice holds the person responsible for that harm to account and, ultimately, seeks to bring healing to the broken fabric of our communities. It is about giving people the possibility of coming home to themselves and to their communities.
Gordon addressed a diverse crowd at two public lectures. The first lecture focused on the theme of the conference and explored what is needed to build a culture of hope.
The second lecture went further to suggest that there is something beyond justice: mercy. Mercy is only made possible through divine grace that allows us to break the cycle of violence that a retributive model of justice only serves to fuel, said Gordon.
Other speakers at the event included Rev. Brian Rude who serves as a Lutheran minister and practices restorative justice in El Salvador, and Justice Steven Point, who spoke about restorative justice from an Indigenous perspective.
Workshops on the foundations and practice of restorative justice were also led by the members of STR8 UP (on leaving gangs and joining the community), Moira Brownlee (on the media’s role in promoting or preventing restorative justice), Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz (on putting the victims of crime into the equation), David Feick (on prison visitation) and Chris Hrynkow (on finding a socially just alternative to a broken system).
A panel discussion explored the topic, When those we Love Go Missing, Are Harmed, and are Found Murdered. The most poignant moments of the conference occurred when Carole Wolfe made her presentation, telling her own story of her search for her missing daughter.
Similarly, Adam Gervais gave a presentation about his own experience of being harmed in an unprovoked assault in 2006.
Giving voice to those directly harmed by crime is a key element of restorative justice, bringing people, rather than simply the law, into the centre of the equation.
The restorative justice conference was a joint initiative of the Micah Mission, St. Thomas More College, the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Lutheran Synod and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.