Having recently served on a jury in the Ontario Superior Court and also experienced restorative justice through the Collaborative Justice Program in Ottawa, I am even more supportive of the restorative justice philosophy.
In January of this year, our 13-year-old son and two friends were struck by a car moments after stepping off their school bus. Mercifully, the young driver, who had lost control of his car, did not seriously injure them. They were, however, taken to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario to assess the extensive bruising and trauma that resulted. Our son had to wear a leg brace and have physiotherapy for a month.
The driver was charged with two Highway Traffic Act offences, for which he paid significant fines, and one Criminal Code of Canada offence.
While we were not looking to exact punishment for what happened, we certainly wanted to be assured that the driver realized the potential risk of greater harm that he could have caused and the seriousness of his actions. Being referred to the Collaborative Justice Project in Ottawa meant we were involved in a restorative process that took our son, and us, through the anger and pain of injury to compassion and understanding of the individuals involved.
Our son saw the driver of the vehicle take full responsibility for his actions, apologize for the injury and pain caused to all parties, and make every attempt at restitution through 24 hours of community service. Our son also learned the broader lesson of taking responsibility for one’s actions in a way that we could never have taught him with just words.
The ultimate benefit of this type of process is that it allowed all of us to put faces on those involved and fully understand the impact of the incident from both sides. We, the families involved, then petitioned the judge for removal of the criminal charge, believing that conviction for the crime would not serve justice or society.
Unfortunately, our ‘justice’ system does not really encourage people to take responsibility for illegal activity. A plea of ‘not guilty’ is encouraged, and the defence lawyer makes every attempt to get their client off. If the lawyer ‘fails’ and a conviction does result, the accused is punished. At no time during this process, even after conviction, is the accused encouraged to take responsibility, but simply pay the penalty.
We believe justice and society were well served with restorative justice and wish this process could be more widely accepted and funded.