If we want to take Reconciliation seriously and to support the Black Lives Matter movement, we need to fundamentally change our understanding of justice in this country.
No doubt you heard about the death of George Floyd (and so many others), and saw calls to defund police. If the presence of police makes you feel safe rather than unsafe, it’s hard to imagine living without them. Even if you don’t feel that way, dismantling a fundamental piece of our societal structure isn’t easy to envision.
It’s not just the police that embed structural racism into the criminal justice system, though. Indigenous Canadians are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous Canadians. They represent 30% of all admissions to incarceration, despite accounting for about 4% of the adult population. And when they are incarcerated, their children are more likely to be taken away from them, and put into care. There are more Indigenous children in the child welfare system now, than were in Residential schools at any given time.
So, what can we do? Fortunately, a lot of amazing people have been trying to create systems of true justice for a long time. Most of their ideas and the programs that have been established are classified broadly as “Restorative Justice” (RJ) or “Transformative Justice” (TJ).
The basic ideas of RJ and TJ are that when harm is done, justice requires us to look at the big picture. What led to the harm? Are there underlying factors or provocations that need to be addressed? If we’re not going to resort to capital punishment or locking the person responsible away for life, then we need to find ways to reintegrate them into the community, and (ideally) ensure that something similar is unlikely to occur again. We need to recognise that all people make bad choices sometimes, and find ways to move forward, find meaning, and restore community. Good parenting advice no longer advocates punishment as an effective means of addressing negative behaviour, but punishment is still the basis of our criminal justice system. The idea of Restorative Justice is that we should try to restore relationships and community after harm has occurred. The idea of Transformative Justice is that often harm arises because of dysfunctional situations that we need to transform rather than restore in order to build community.
Rittenhouse is a Toronto-based organisation that has been promoting and running RJ and TJ programs for over 20 years. Your support would go a long way toward keeping these programs running, and working to implement systems of true justice in Canada!
Post by Joy Morris - Daughter of Rittenhouse Founder Ruth Morris
Freelance designer Shirien Damra’s tribute to George Floyd @shirien.creates