Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vancouver's Hockey Bedlam - Justice after the riots

Dr. Evelyn Zellerer is a criminologist specializing in restorative justice. She teaches part-time at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in greater Vancouver and is a restorative facilitator, trainer and consultant. She has done extensive work in a variety of settings on how to respond to conflict, crime and disorder with restorative methods. She sent this blog entry about the Vancouver riots.

I, like most others, was horrified by the Vancouver hockey riots last week. How should we respond? What is the healthiest way for us to move forward?

It’s time cities like Vancouver used restorative justice to meet the needs of victims, hold offenders accountable, support healing, and build community.

A recent Globe and Mail editorial describes one attempt to hold people accountable.

Vigilante justice is not the answer. Martin Luther King said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”.

Criminal justice is another option, but what happens after police make arrests? Those who rioted are charged. Their crimes become against the state and lawyers and judges take over. An already overburdened court gets more cases. There is a battle between the prosecutors and defence. Plea bargaining will occur. There are few sentencing options: fines, probation, community service, or prison.

Criminal justice “success” means spending taxpayer’s dollars locking people up. Is this justice, healing and resolution? I don’t think so.

Have we and the offenders learned anything? Given the high rates of prison violence and reoffending, it seems not. In criminal justice victims are excluded, except as witnesses. And the community doesn’t have a place.

Another option

There is another option: Restorative Justice. Here, crime is a violation of people and relationships, not the state. All parties come together to understand what happened and determine how to respond, how to make things right.

Victims tell their offenders what they feel and need. Offenders face their victims and community. Offenders come to see the impact of their actions, make amends, and learn things of value. The community finds out what offenders need to be non-violent, healthy, contributing citizens. Offenders are a part of our community too. Even if they go to prison, they will return. There is no enemy. It’s only us.

Restorative justice is not soft on crime. For many, the hardest thing is to face those you harmed and sit alongside your family, peers and community to determine consequences. Restorative justice works with all kinds of conflict, including serious crimes like assault.

It is easy to punish people and think this solves things. Even in a riot…it doesn’t.

4 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

I suggest people read the front page of today's National Post (22/June/11) for more discussion on what is and what is not restorative justice in relation to the Vancouver criminal behaviour. People are using social networks to apologize, thinking they are engaging in RJ. They are not!

Thanks Evelyn. Good discussion!

Gerard Cleveland

GSaville said...

Good point Gerry

Fascinating news clip. When that looter says "the riot would continue happening with or without me, so I might as well get my adrenaline fix", she is telling us much about what she really thinks.

As Evelyn points out, a half-hearted public apology and a dab of electronic shaming is nothing at all like real restorative practices.

What's interesting to me is the mojo driving these anarchistic impulses in the the "non-criminal" and otherwise "normal" middle-classers. A barometer of the entitled generation, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

It always amazes me that our society is horrified when members of our community, who are permitted to consume large amounts of alcohol (sometimes in open public venues) conduct themselves  in a manner that is considered anti-social. Go figure!!!  Alcohol -  of course I am being very focused here and not considering any other substances – significantly dulls that portion of the brain that controls recently developed social norms.  

Perhaps those assessing the situation in Vancouver should start thinking about what is the root cause of the behaviour and stop dealing with the symptoms only.  Of course there will be those who will take the position that even though they, those involved in looting and willful damage to property, had been drinking, they should have been able to control themselves which is a very interesting position when society has clearly determined the effects of alcohol on the human brain.
Again, when will we start actually addressing the true catalyst that in some cases causes very normal and productive human beings to conduct themselves in such an extreme anti-social manner.  ROOT CAUSE!!!!
Perhaps a more proactive – preventative approach would be less costly, less horrifying and certainly less of a burden on our already over taxed court system.

Greg Mills

Jay B. said...

I think there is no special root cause for the whole situation. There was complex of factors which affected rioters, starting with sociological through psychological and ending with the impossibility of getting home after the game. Rioting connected with sporting events is common thing everywhere in the world and I don't think there is something what we can do to prevent it in 100%. We can only deal now with the rioters and looters and prepare precedent for future.