SASKATOON — Church and indigenous leaders speaking during a restorative justice conference held recently in Saskatoon called for a vision of justice that is genuinely transformative.
Harry Lafond of the Treaty Commissioners’ Office and Victoria Bishop Gary Gordon, Correctional Ministry Liaison for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), gave a joint statement Oct. 2 at Queen’s House, urging a more effective solution than a simplistic “tough on crime” response.
“True restorative justice means effective intervention, restitution, and rehabilitation that heals individuals, families and communities and must include both those who have been harmed and those who have inflicted the harm,” said Lafond, one of the panelists at a media event held in conjunction with a Building a Culture of Hope Conference on restorative justice Oct. 1-3 at Queen’s House and St. Thomas More College (see related article).
“We invite the people of our communities to place hope at the centre of our conversations about justice and promote a vision of justice that is genuinely transformative,” added Lafond.
He also disputed the belief that putting people in jail and keeping them there longer, “out of sight and out of mind,” will create safer communities. “This is a simplistic response to broken social, economic and cultural conditions,” Lafond said. “Perhaps no other group in our country has experienced this sad reality more than our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.”
The rate of incarceration of Aboriginal Canadians is seven times the national average, pointed out Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen, the chair of the CCCB national justice and peace commission, who attended the public event in Saskatoon along with visiting Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi.
“When it comes to restorative justice, when it comes to our prisons, in this country we have a problem — and within this province we have a problem,” asserted Bolen.
Bonazzi said society must work to bring healing rather than punishment. “Society must be prepared to take care of a person who suffers, who is in difficulty,” he said. “We always consider that redemption, restoration is possible.”
Among the many tools that bring about rehabilitation is love, said the nuncio. “We grow and we become more mature as humans . . . not because we do not have moments of failure, but because we learn to transform our defeat into occasions to build up a more human society.”
“Creating a vision of restorative justice is challenging work,” said Lafond. “It invites dialogue that pursues fundamental questions of safety, freedom and cultural security.”
Gordon, who was one of the keynote speakers at the conference, noted that when prisoners are simply pushed “out of sight and out of mind,” no one asks the questions that will bring about real change for individuals and for suffering communities.
“Our cultural landscape and economic direction continue to be dominated by a ‘throw-away’ mentality, which is sometimes justified by arguments of personal freedom and security, rather than inclusion, protection, and the inherent value of every person, family and community,” said Gordon.
“Many church and Aboriginal leaders are demonstrating the way the wisdom of the elders and traditional cultural interventions can be used to create restorative justice processes to heal the effects of crime,” Gordon added.
“As leaders, we endorse dialogue with out governments and the courts so that these processes can be more widely adopted, and our communities can be made safer through the transformative work of restorative justice.”
The Building a Culture of Hope Conference continued with a panel discussion on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. In addition to Gordon, conference speakers included Rev. Brian Rude and Justice Steven Point, and a number of workshop sessions.