I recently had the privilege of hearing the Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, speak at the Fourth Annual Iona Campagnolo Lecture in Restorative Justice, which was held in Courtenay. It was the first time the Chief Justice was in the Comox Valley for a public lecture, of which about 150 people attended.
I was captivated by the Chief Justice’s words. She asked us to consider restorative justice in three different ways. First, that restorative justice is not something "nouveau" or cutting edge. Notwithstanding the relatively recent 1998 Criminal Code amendments, restorative justice has been around a long time. She pointed out that healing is a principle found in the many different Aboriginal forms of justice. Healing and repair to the individual was also considered justice before the relatively new "King's justice," which in practice became a source of revenue for the King. So, the principles of restorative justice are actually old and traditional, not something new.
Secondly, the Chief Justice acknowledged that opposing principles of punishment and reconciliation are difficult to reconcile. She recognized that some members of the public are critical of a seeming lack of punishment in our justice system. It is perhaps far easier to impose punishment than to seek a path to reconciliation.
She applauded the early efforts of an Ontario Provincial Court judge who in 1974 required apologies to 22 victims who were the subject of slashed tires, broken windows and a broken cross at a church announcement board. The young men had been intoxicated at the time. The judge ordered the young men to apologize. The judge also ordered compensation to victims and a period of supervision. The Chief Justice believes the then novel sentence resulted in a better community and better justice.
She also recognized now retired BC Provincial Court Judge Cunliffe Barnett’s similar sentence made years ago, which used restorative justice principles. In that case, a young Aboriginal man had wronged his community and was ordered to serve a sentence on an island under the supervision his uncle. As a result, the young man healed and learned. He became a leader in his community.
Thirdly, she challenged those hearing her remarks. She described the path toward restorative justice as requiring risk and monetary investment. The risk included allowing those harmed and those harming to come together to talk and to heal. It requires conversation, reconciliation and rehabilitation. Courting that risk and making that investment may not be the easy path, but the path provides better outcomes.
I am inspired by Chief Justice’s remarks, and have resolved to pursue these restorative principles in my practice. The principles have great resonance, not just in criminal law, but in our everyday lives.
Our challenge is to take the “risk” and encourage others in the profession to do the same.