Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Restorative Justice happens even when its not called Restorative Justice.

Last month I attending the 2010 Mennonite Central Committee Restorative Justice Gathering near Laird SK. This year's theme was Aboriginal experiences of community based justice. Throughout the week three stories from presenters and participants stood out for me.

The first story involved the history of the Young Chippewayan people near Laird SK. In 1876, land in this area was promised to them as part of treaty #6, which was not honored. The Young Chippewayan people have recently approached the Mennonites, who are currently living on the land, to start a conversation. As each group shared their stories and the significance of the land they recognized the importance of the other's story. As a result they have been able to find common values and hopes that they can build on for a future partnership.

The second story was that of a family who had recently immigrated to Canada. The children in the family were struggling with racial bullying at school. In response to her children's experience, the mother of the family approached the bully's family to talk about what was happening. She invited the parents into a conversation, which ended in a plan: all the affected children and their parents would ride in a van together to get ice cream and learn about the other's culture and traditions.

The third story was that of a church prayer group that chose to support abuse victims in their church. However the organizer of the group (an RJ advocate) was apprehensive. Would this evangelical prayer group have the skills or the self awareness to sit with people and really support them. When the time came to do the work he was amazed at how much this prayer group knew about approaching things in a restorative way. The nonjudgmental support and care given was perfect. The prayer group members did not use RJ language but they understood RJ practices.

A common thread runs through each of these stories. The people in these situations would not call themselves RJ practitioners but in striving to treat each other well they lived out the principals of Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice happens even when its not called Restorative Justice.

by: Paul Kruse

Friday, October 22, 2010

Is there another side to the story?

I recently read a newspaper article about Steven Slater, the Jet Blue employee who quit his steward job in a rather dramatic fashion. After an encounter with an over-eager passenger getting luggage from an overhead bin he uttered a ‘profanity laced tirade’ into the speaker system, activated the slide, grabbed a beer and slid down the tarmac to freedom. What I found fascinating about the story was the initial public reaction and then the new details that emerged.

First, Steven was the frustrated employee who got a gash on his head by an over head compartment when he tried to stop a rude passenger from opening it before it was safe to do so.

Then he was a hero who gave the bad passenger a piece of his mind after her actions had cut his forehead open. This was the part that got the most attention in the press as people cheered his antics and praised him for being so dramatic and gutsy.

Then slowly another story found it’s way in the less visible places in our newspapers. Steven already had a gash on his head when he started the trip and had been snippy to a number of customers throughout the trip. What emerged out of that was that Steven seemed to be carrying some ‘baggage’ onto the plane from something that had happened prior to his shift.

Who knows the whole story. There inevitably is a lot more. Had Steven planned his dramatic exit earlier? What was going on in his life that he had an open gash on his head? What was going on for the woman who opened the overhead bin earlier than what was safe?

What this story does point to is a number of aspects of human nature and conflict.

First, we want a neat world in which there are heroes to praise (the hard working employee who stands up for himself), and villains to hate (the rude obnoxious passenger, and the employer who doesn’t protect employees). Complicating the picture by having heroes also be villains, and villains be struggling human beings just isn’t all that compelling, and gets buried inside the newspaper rather than the front page.

Second, we want to justify bad behaviour as a response to the bad behaviour of others. We are 100% responsible for our actions and our reactions. This is when it is difficult to live our RJ principles.

How would the world change if we believed there were no heroes and villains, that there was always two sides to every story and that bad behaviour is never justified?

by: Jan Schmidt

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Invitational Forgiveness

What does it mean to let go, to deliberately put an injury in the past and relinquish all sense of grievance and injury? We may think immediately of the concept of forgiveness but this concept is all to often so loaded with religious baggage that it quickly becomes an another difficult burden rather than a potential for release. The last thing we want to hear when suffering under the real or imagined injuries done to us is that we are somehow obligated to forgive and just let it go. Yet in the midst of a world where imperfect people constantly rub up against each other in various imperfect ways, there has to be some way of changing our feelings and attitudes toward those who wrong us so that we can all continue to live together.

One of the best recent non-religious definitions of forgiveness comes from the writings of Trudy Govier, a philosopher and a professor at the University of Lethbridge. In her 2006 book, Taking Wrongs Seriously: Acknowledgment, Reconciliation and the Politics of Sustainable Peace, Govier challenges some commonly accepted stereotypes of forgiveness and presents a form of forgiveness that can be very inspirational for the work of restorative justice.

Govier defines forgiveness as bilateral, unilateral or invitational. Bilateral forgiveness is the form of forgiveness that comes to mind most readily. The wrongdoer renders an apology with a plea for forgiveness, the appropriate remorse is shown and on this basis forgiveness is offered. But what if the wrongdoer refuses to acknowledge the wrong or what if the specific wrongdoer is unknown and can never show the appropriate remorse? Does this mean that forgiveness and letting go can never happen? As Govier notes, forgiveness that is dependent on the attitudes and actions of the wrongdoer may never provide the kind of release and closure the victim needs.

On the other hand, forgiveness can be solely an act of self-repair and self-healing, something that bears no relationship to whatever the wrongdoer may or may not do. This is what Govier defines as unilateral forgiveness. This may be a useful therapeutic tool but does nothing to restore relationships and reconcile hurting people to each other.

Another option is what Govier terms as invitational forgiveness. This can be done unilaterally and does not depend on the actions or words of the wrongdoer, but it is done in such a way that it invites a response. Instead of the traditional path from acknowledgment to apology to forgiveness to reconciliation, an invitational forgiveness may move in the other direction from the offer of forgiveness toward a greater acknowledgment of their actions by the wrongdoer(s). Govier points to Nelson Mandela’s forgiveness of South African white society as one of the best known examples of this type of forgiveness. By his actions and words, Mandela invited South Africans to engage in a deeper reflection and acknowledgment of the harms of apartheid society. The offer of forgiveness was given not just as a precious gift but as a challenge.

How can this idea of invitational forgiveness shape the practice and the study of restorative justice? How do we offer forgiveness and encourage forgiveness in a way that creates space for deeper reflection and acknowledgment by those who hear it?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reflecting on forgiveness

It always seems such a dignified event to attend the Sol Kanee Lectures on Peace and Justice at the University of Manitoba sponsored by the Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice at St. Paul’s College.

This time the visiting guest from South Africa, Dr. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, presented an hour-long lecture on Narratives of Dialogue and Healing: Stories of remorse and forgiveness in the aftermath of mass trauma and violence.

Gobodo-Madikizela describes herself as an engaged global citizen. She served on the Human Rights Violation Committee of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission as coordinator of public hearings in the Western Cape. She facilitates private encounters between perpetrators of gross human rights violations and their victims. From this experience she focuses her research on the role of forgiveness in the aftermath of mass trauma and violence. Her credentials are impressive; her work already spans the globe.

At the very last minute a victim friend (and I am truly sorry to describe her that way because she is more of a survivor than victim) came along with me and two other colleagues.

After an amazing musical number entitled Lipstick and War by Norma Sibanda, Gobodo-Madikizela began her lecture by defining forgiveness. She challenged the thought that any atrocity could be considered unforgiveable. She encouraged us to open our moral imaginations to believe that when we can engage with the “other”, no matter who the “other” might be, there can be hope of reconciliation. She said that forgiveness needed to start with remorse. She was all about dialogue.

She was brilliant, her words and stories inspiring, easy to listen to. As Nelson Mandela has said, “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named goodness and forgiveness.”

Later my friend and I had a cup of decaffeinated coffee in my office to debrief. We closed the door. “What do you really think?” I asked her.

For my friend, forgiveness means survival. She has just learned over the summer that when she forgives she can breathe more easily. For her, to forgive has meant healing and a new lease on life.

We agree that theory is great for finding the right words, but the reality of it is that we not only need words, we need to survive. Our personal atrocities aren’t politically motivated; they are slightly different than the ones described earlier. So, as another good friend always reminds me, we need to make it more than theory. We need to apply this to our personal lives. We need the stories of others to challenge us to re-examine our own.

Neither of us have a hope of an apology or any show of remorse from the person who has murdered our love one. Can we still participate in forgiveness therapy? If not how do we survive?

I know Gobodo-Madikizela, who is all about dialogue, would have enjoyed the long and intense discussion behind closed doors as both of us defined again for ourselves how we will survive.

On a level of simple personal survival, understanding and forgiveness are crucial... whether in an intimate personal relationship or on a global level.Edward Albert

Wilma Derksen

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Restorative Justice Week Launch - Join in!

Restorative Justice Week 2010 will be launched with a dynamic Open House and Networking Event
taking place at the West End Cultural Centre on Monday November 15th, 2010 from 1-3pm!

The event will feature:

* displays and information tables from a variety of organizations
* short performances and testimonials from various program participants
* the proclamation from a Manitoba Justice representative
* snacks and refreshments to enjoy while connecting with others

Are you an organization that works from Restorative Justice Principles or would you like to learn more about Restorative Justice? Join us!

How can you get involved?:

* attend this free event from 1-3pm to learn and connect
* set up an information table for your organization at no cost to you (must call 925-3419 to reserve your table by November 1st, 2010 as space is limited)
* support this event by donating snacks or refreshments on behalf of your business

For more information or to reserve a table call Kelly at 925-3419.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Amazing opportunity for RJ Practitioners and Academics

Amazing opportunity for RJ Practitioners and Academics

It is not very often that one has the opportunity to attend a binational conference with such an impressive line-up of key-note speakers, and more workshop opportunities than you can count... and all of this at an affordable cost.

Here in Manitoba – Winnipeg specifically – we have such an opportunity.. On October 1 and 2, the Peace and Justice Studies Association Conference is offering us the chance to hear expert and experienced people in the field of Peace and Justice. The plenary speakers alone are worth the cost and include Chief Ovide Mercredi, Catherine Morris, Carolyn Nordstrom, Betty Reardon and others (see their bios at www.peacejusticestudies.org/conference – click on Plenary Speakers.

This is the first time the PJSA is holding its conference in Canada, and its not likely to be in Winnipeg again in the near future.

My recommendation is that you not dismiss this opportunity lightly. Take a few minutes to check out the workshops and the schedule. If you're a good Manitoban like me, it'll be hard for you to pass up this good deal!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


In mid-June I attended some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) events held at the Forks in Winnipeg. Hearing the stories of the survivors of the residential schools gave me pause to reflect on my response to this dark chapter in our relationship to the Native people of this country.

Where do I, the son of an immigrant, fit into this picture? As a Canadian I feel a sense of accountability for the actions taken by the government of this country. As a member of a Christian faith community I feel a deep shame at the flagrant disregard for the rights and outright abuses perpetrated in the name of "Christian Mission". As a member of the Mennonite faith community I am well aware that my forbears maintained their identity by having a very strong focus on worship and education as they moved from their originating countries in Europe to the Ukraine, North America, Paraguay, Mexico and the list goes on and on. As each new community was formed, the school played a pivotal role in educating with the specific goal of propagating the faith and the culture of my particular faith group.

The Mennonite faith community has been very involved in "mission work" and has seen the value of the school as an institution for fostering not only the academic development of the students but also that of faith and culture. It raises a haunting question: In spite of our good intentions, were we inadvertently partners in the effort to erase the cultural identity of the students in this setting?

In a small group setting where these issues were being discussed, a suggestion surfaced to the effect that, as recent immigrants fleeing war-torn Europe and having struggled for survival in various other countries, we had "pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps". Could we not expect others to do the same?

As I reflected on the imagery of "bootstraps" it struck me that our "bootstraps" had been woven over the centuries in the context of our schools and communities. In many cases, these had been transported intact as we migrated from one country to another. True, for many of the immigrants, especially those fleeing the soviet regime after having been stripped of their spiritual leaders and in many cases, of the male members of the family, fathers and brothers, the straps had become frayed and extremely weakened. However, most of these people found their way into a pre-existent community of support in their new environment. There is no comparison between the above experience and that of the cultural groups who, for several generations, were subjected to a very deliberate and conscious "cutting of the cultural bootstraps" with an equally deliberate

Can we as outsiders "fix the damage?" "No!" We need to recognize that the mending can happen but only as the ones who suffered the loss live in community with each other and reconnect their "cultural bootstraps". We need to honour and celebrate all cultures, not only our own. In such an atmosphere reconciliation is possible. This process can be an uplifting experience.<

The stories need to be told. We need to listen. We need to acknowledge our involvement, deliberate or inadvertent in the injustice that was done. We need to honour the culture that is bringing them back into their rightful place in this country and we need to count it a privilege when we are asked to join in the celebration of their "bootstraps".

Submitted by Martin Penner
Volunteer with Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA)