Bad things happen. They did to Katy Hutchison on New Year’s Eve in 1997. Her husband Bob was beaten to death while checking on a party being thrown by their neighbour’s son. It happened in Squamish, a small town just north of Vancouver. A wall of silence grew up around the murder. It was four years before Ryan Aldridge admitted to having delivered the fatal blow, was convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to five years in prison.
The restorative response
Katy Hutchison’s response to the tragic event was not get tough on crime. She did not see how that approach would build a stronger community. She didn’t want to be re-victimized by the prevailing justice system. Instead, she courageously reached out to Ryan, first through a formal victim/offender reconciliation process, and since, has maintained close contact with Ryan and his family. She wanted healing, and sought it through Restorative Justice. Read Katy and Ryan’s story of forgiveness and restoration.
The Restorative Justice way
Restorative Justice (RJ) is a response to crime that focuses on restoring the losses suffered by victims, holding offenders accountable for the harm they have caused, reintegrating victims and offenders into their community and building peace. RJ views an offence as harm done to a person and the community; it seeks to solve the problem and repair the harm and it supports forgiveness and rehabilitation.
Reflections from the road
Since 2003, Katy Hutchison has spoken to 350,000 young people in Canada and internationally, about her experiences. Her most recent engagement was last week, here in Victoria, when she spoke at the Victoria Restorative Justice Society’s 2010 AGM. I was there.
Here are some of Katy’s reflections from visiting communities here and far, and as an advocate for RJ:
- We have a moral responsibility to deal with conflict; part of being human is rolling up our sleeves and taking an active part in repairing harm
- RJ is a way to break the cycle of violence & abuse (Ryan was bullied as a youth, then became the bully); to live a better life
- On the importance of working with youth; when the classroom bully never fully understands how their actions hurt others, it carries on in their life, into their work worlds
- RJ is a position one takes; a way of thinking & being a choice one makes every day!
- We need to better harness the media as a force for RJ; for sharing personal stories in a safe and successful way; recognizing the transformative power of RJ, and not just the gory details of the harm that precipitated it
- RJ is becoming more mainstream (with glaring exceptions); as an alternative way to deal with conflict (vs. zero tolerance approach)
- In some fractured neighbourhoods (e.g., in urban core), schools are defacto community centres; the role of RJ is central to the well-being of youth and community
My own reflections
I’ve been part of the Victoria restorative justice community for 10 years, in various volunteer capacities; working with recently released offenders in risk of violating their parole, mediating schoolyard disputants, participating in family group conferencing, and most recently as a RJ society board member.
And though my contributions are small compared to others in my community (e.g., Etta Connor, Geanine Robey, Penny Joy, Tara Ney, Mark Hellman), I’ve seen RJ in action. It really does help community re-connect with itself, when things go off the rails.
How does your community restore itself when bad things happen?
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