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  • Gayle Baker

A BetterWay to Address Conflict? What About Restorative Justice?

May 31

Nine joined us to welcome Laura Dafoe, a Restorative Justice volunteer, to this ASK Salt Spring gathering. We were especially glad to welcome Laura as she was unexpectedly filling in at the last moment for Restorative Justice Program Coordinator, Jessica Terazakis, who was ill. Although she had not planned to be our special guest this week, Laura led us on a rich journey of learning about Restorative Justice, saying that she was glad to do so in appreciation of all the good things ASK Salt Spring does for our community and for the opportunity to tell us about Restorative Justice.


During her Territorial Acknowledgement, we learned that Restorative Justice is a way of looking at the world based upon Indigenous principles. When addressing conflict, Restorative Justice focuses on adhering to the five R values:

  • Relationship, 

  • Respect, 

  • Responsibility, 

  • Repair,

  • Reintegration. 


After each participant introduced themselves, we began our time together by taking a moment of silence to breathe deeply, centre ourselves, and take time from our busy lives to focus on being present in the moment.


Taking a moment to settle before a meeting is one example of a restorative practice that many organizations, schools, and even families are adopting with profound effects. Later in our time together, a participant mentioned the spirited debate characterizing many Salt Spring meetings, wondering if these conflicting opinions could be better understood if all meetings began with a similar reminder of centered and open listening.


A teacher/librarian for three decades, Laura began her interest in studying how we communicate when she remarried and was met with the tender and challenging dynamics of a blended family. A counsellor introduced her to the practice of Nonviolent Communication, a way of communicating that comes from a place of equality rather than power and control over another. https://www.cnvc.org


This practice resonated with Laura as the values are those of her First Nation’s heritage. Laura’s paternal grandmother was from the Penelakut Tribe.


After taking every course available in Nonviolent Communication, Laura connected with three other professional women who shared her passion for learning how we can enhance our communication skills. Together they developed a course which they taught at the library. Laura continues to offer a variety of courses on communication. Want to know more? Contact Laura at Laura@RJSSI.org for more information.


It was a natural step from Nonviolent Communication to Restorative Justice. A basic shared principle of Nonviolent Communication and Restorative Justice is that everything we do is an attempt to meet a need, from our physical needs for food and shelter to our emotional needs for belonging and understanding.


We all have the same needs but not the same resources. When resources are limited, sometimes trying to get ones needs met can be detrimental to others. Restorative Justice seeks better understanding between those who are responsible for the harm and those who have been affected by the harm. Participants take responsibility for their actions and make reparations. The victim may be an individual, a group, an organization or a community. By facing each other in a safe space, the responsible party seeks to make amends to repair the harm done and, in turn, restore the relationship. Mentored by a Restorative Justice volunteer, follow-through to ensure that the agreed upon reparation is done as promised is part of the process.


Restorative Justice puts the needs of the person harmed first and foremost. Within the criminal justice system, the needs of the victim are often erased as the crime becomes against the Crown and not the person who has been harmed.


With a Restorative Justice process, victim needs are also central. Sometimes, by looking at the bigger picture, we come to understand that the person causing the harm also sees themselves as a victim.Although recidivism rates are lower with Restorative Justice, its primary benefits are focused on victim needs for repair, resolution, restitution, justice, and accountability. Benefits to the victim may include:

  • information and answers to questions,

  • an opportunity to have their voices heard,

  • community support, and

  • increased feelings of satisfaction and justice.


Our Restorative Justice volunteers on Salt Spring work closely with our RCMP detachment who are supportive of the process. Participating in the Restorative Justice option is voluntary; both the person harmed and the responsible party must be willing to engage in the process. Interestingly, we learned that, while most of these referrals are offered by RCMP, one who is apprehended for a crime can also request the Restorative Justice process.


Why would anyone prefer the court system over Restorative Justice? Restorative Justice is hard work. It requires not only taking responsibility for one’s harmful actions but also the willingness to make reparation for the damage they have done. Some simply prefer to go through the impersonal court system and serve their punishment without having to face those they have harmed nor repair the harm they have done.


A global movement, Restorative Justice is gaining momentum with very successful programs in Ireland as well as fast growth in the United States. Our current government is encouraging the use of Restorative Justice and significant funds have been granted to umbrella organizations such as Victoria and Vancouver. Our local Restorative Justice is, for the most part, volunteer-driven and dependent upon successful grant applications for operating expenses. They rely heavily upon a Civil Forfeiture grant which, unfortunately, they did not receive this year.


A participant asked what our local Salt Spring branch would do with more funding. Most importantly, it would give job security to our program coordinator who facilitates time consuming cases, organizes community circles and workshops, liaisons with social services, and so much more. The long-term dream is for a space where people experiencing conflict could easily come for support. The space would also offer ongoing community circles and communication workshops.


A participant asked about tagging. Wouldn’t this be the perfect crime for Restorative Justice volunteers to address? Not only would taggers and those whose property had been damaged gain a better understanding of each other’s perspectives, but the community would also win through repair of the damage.


While it was noted that actually repairing a damaged sign, for example, may not be the solution embraced by Emcon, our roads maintenance contractor, it was agreed that taxpayers should not have to pay for this damage. Laura suggested that reparation could range from fixing the damage to payment to replace it or even community service.


What about violent crimes? While our local Restorative Justice program does not currently address crimes such as rape and homicide, other Restorative Justice programs have been successfully addressing these more serious crimes as well. Our local volunteers are hoping for more training to facilitate more difficult and violent cases.


The widespread use of Restorative Justice in the United States has been spurred largely by the growing number of school children being suspended or expelled. "School children? I thought Restorative Justice was about crimes and criminals?” We learned that crimes are just one aspect of Restorative Justice. Laura is especially excited about using the holistic restorative practices in our schools, families, work places, and communities thereby reducing conflict before it happens. As a former teacher, she knows how valuable these principles are in the classroom, and the Restorative Justice team is working with our schools to implement these practices.


Restorative Justice volunteers are occasionally called to help with conflicts in organizations, neighbour disputes and among families. While Laura would love more referrals, she also recognizes that there are serious capacity issues for our Salt Spring Restorative Justice program (https://www.rjssi.org/) comprised of a core group of eight enthusiastic individuals, six of whom, while keen, must work full-time in other jobs.


With expanded capacity, could Restorative Justice volunteers help address some of our local divides? Could our connections to one another and the reality that, in general, we all want the same things help resolve community disputes? Possibly. . . .According to Laura, peacemaking circles calm fears and perceptions, resulting in more empathetic and open communication. In these circles, our collective wisdom comes together to inspire new ideas and solutions to problems. It can appear to be quite magical when, in fact; it is an organic process that comes naturally to us.


Could Restorative Justice volunteers help us continue the environment v affordable housing conversation touched upon in last week’s ASK Salt Spring report (https://www.saltspringcommunityalliance.org/post/ocp-lub-cca-lots-of-letters-tell-the-story-of-some-exciting-new-islands-trust-projects-for-salt-s)?


What about that divide between our inadequately housed/homeless/liveaboard community and other Salt Springers, some of whom are not welcoming? Could Restorative Justice lead a healing conversation exploring these different perspectives and seeking understanding? As one participant noted, “How you treat the weakest members is a measure of your community.”


Laura offered a cautious “Yes.” Before COVID, Restorative Justice volunteers led a series of gatherings in the United Church and adjacent meadow, seeking understanding between folks with different perspectives. Quite successful, it is possible that Restorative Justice volunteers could lead this conversation again.


A place to begin may be the Restorative Justice Circles held the first Thursday of every month from 5:00-7:00 pm in the SIMS classroom shared with Transition Salt Spring (and loaned to ASK Salt Spring every Friday :). This month the date is June 6th and the topic is: Anger as a tool for justice.


Also, for those interested in learning more about Land Acknowledgments, Restorative Justice is hosting a workshop with Caroline Dick, the Indigenous coordination at SSI Public Library, on June 13th 5:30-8:00 pm in the SSI Library Program Room.


There will be refreshments at both the community circle and the library workshop. Everyone is welcome. Registration is required at info@rjssi.org.


If you are interested in learning more, Laura suggested checking out the videos at rjssi.org, or reading one of many books available at the library or in the Restorative Justice SIMS classroom space. One in particular that provides a deep understanding is: “Returning to the Teaching – Exploring Aboriginal Justice” by Rupert Ross: (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/391654/returning-to-the-teachings-by-rupert-ross/9780143055594).


Our time together over for this week, we all appreciatively thanked Laura for her willingness to teach us about Restorative Justice; her courage sharing personal stories that led her on that journey; her passion for its respectful, responsible principles; and her hard and enduring work applying these principles to help us to be an ever better Salt Spring. (Thank-you, Laura!)


Please join us this Friday, June 7, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) Classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome our new and revitalized Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce and meet its new Executive Director, Matthew Quetton.

What would you like to ask him?

  • So, what is revitalizing the Chamber?

  • What do you hope to accomplish in 2024?

  • What are your challenges accomplishing these new initiatives?

  • What are some of the most exciting of the Chamber’s new projects?

  • Can you describe the Chamber you envision by 2026?

  • And?

Please join us this Friday to welcome Matthew!


Just in case you are interested. . . .This report has been written by Gayle Baker, Ph. D., founder of ASK Salt Spring, currently also a Salt Spring Local Community Commissioner. This report has also been edited by this week’s special guest.


Want to help? We welcome volunteers to join the team.

Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings, and

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.


Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings' Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!


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