George Floyd

George Floyd was a stranger to me until last May. No longer. No longer with us but living in our mind and heart and imagination as the symbol of innocence cut down by racial hate, white supremacy and the violence endemic in our nation’s policing.

I was on my way home with the radio on when the verdict was announced. Pulling into the drive my husband arrived – we looked at each other in silence our faces speaking volumes. His eyes filled with tears as he exhaled,  my chest heavy with the import of this historic conviction, heavy with grief, despair, outrage, helplessness and fear. Emotions that have consumed so many of us since his murder. Heavy because as the jury deliberated another Black person was shot by police, this time a child. Despair because this keeps happening. Why don’t they see? What do they see? How can this keep happening? Now it’s become clearer why it keeps happening, something the majority of Americans have been unaware of but that this summer revealed in a way it hadn’t before. It keeps happening because the murdered are Black. Black lives in this country don’t count as much; they are seen as an existential threat, especially if they are Black men. But man, woman, or child, just being Black is enough.

I woke up thinking about trauma. Black families; Black people of all ages; Immigrants; Indigenous peoples; poor people. White people are traumatized too – we may not know it but we are. By the violence, treachery, and cruelty that permeates our society. It affects each of us in countless ways and to different degrees but there is no escaping. Until we face the dark side of our history, until the fantasy myths of our founding are acknowledged, until we begin to repair and explore how to put right the many wrongs perpetuated over time by a culture of supremacy and domination none of us will be free to live the lives given us.

My hope is that a reckoning has begun. That we will find a way, ways we haven’t yet imagined, to face our past, our demons, to face each other and see each other in our full humanity. Then we can explore together what amends look like, to repair and build our communities together, communities based on openness, justice, support and nurture – communities where people can thrive.

Reflections: A Dream of Revolution

A few months ago, I had a dream. It was a sensation, a feeling rather than a story.

I’m in a park, it’s a beautiful day. People are spread out in small groups, everyone enjoying each other and the sunny day.

Permeating the dream is the consciousness of revolution. Demonstrations are going on in major cities and small towns. I’m filled with a heightened awareness of the desire and need to maintain momentum for change.  There is a deep sense of consensus in the dream that momentum needed to maintained, it wasn’t an option, but a given, a deep awareness that our society MUST fundamentally change and that we would work together to make it happen.

The underground interconnection of trees pervaded the dream, the microscopic mycelium networks trees use to communicate about their shared environment, changing conditions, and potential danger.  We know that trees partner with each other through invisible networks of underground fungi, building channels that help them stay healthy and cope with challenges in their environment. This underground communication is hidden and deeply alive. Sometimes working invisibly is smart and keeps one safe.

There was an aerial perspective that joined us all, we shared the determination to stay connected and to work together to keep up the pressure for deep rooted change and transformation.

An inner calmness filled me as I woke, a welcome sense of interconnection and possibility as an antidote to anxiety and grief, which during much of last year was so pervasive.

Justice and Structural Change – Does RJ have a role?

The US criminal ‘justice’ system is anything but ‘just’. Over the past decades changes in sentencing have resulted in mass incarceration of mostly African Americans and poor people, resulting in deeply harmed families and communities. Even before these consequential changes in laws and sentencing that began in the 1970’s, the US justice system can only be described historically as deeply racist particularly against Indigenous Peoples and African Americans.

After the catalyzing murder of George Floyd in May 2020 by a Minneapolis policeman, calls for an in-depth rethink of the purpose and funding of police departments moved from the fringe to the mainstream and ‘defund the police’ became a rallying cry. Defunding police is linked to abolition of policing such as it is; in its current iteration, defunding means rethinking policing and community safety, i.e., de-militarizing and reallocating resources and responsibility to communities to decide how best to increase community safety and well-being. It means not using the police to settle matters of mental health, homelessness, domestic incidents and other situations where no crime has been committed. In this vision of policing, police step in only in emergencies where violence is likely.

As an RJ practitioner I cannot avoid contemplating the what/how/if role of RJ in situations where serious harm has occurred.  In May 2020, Newsweek published an op-ed promoting dialogue between the Minneapolis protesters and the police to heal the rift between police and community and to begin to repair the harm caused by police violence. This particular argument for dialogue is misguided and increases confusion around the role of RJ in addressing and repairing harm. The glaring omission in the article is the issue of power and the deeply entrenched, historical and structural bias that characterize police departments across the country.   But this alone will not result in transformation of the criminal legal system.

The article correctly asserts, that for RJ to have integrity, the party with structural power recognizes they are responsible for harm and are willing to address that harm, i.e., change and sincerely strive to make amends. There is no indication that this is the mindset of police departments.  The police have regularly lied about their actions and it is only because their actions have been filmed that the public knows what occurred. The violence manifested by police will not be done away with any time soon because it is structural – for harm to be repaired it will take a reckoning with our cultural history of white supremacy and the violence it has caused to our society and particularly to Indigenous Peoples and African Americans.

There is a part for RJ to play in achieving structural change within the current criminal field. RJ could play a part in structural change by integrating into the criminal legal system as part of an overarching goal of transformation; to create a humane system committed to rehabilitation and reintegration. There are hints of this happening in the US in offices of certain District Attorneys working to dismantle the worst injustices of the current criminal legal system.

In the bigger picture we need deep structural reform to address the rampant systemic racism in the core of our culture and not only in police departments. The US desperately needs a truth and reconciliation process – when are how that will happen remains to be seen but I’m hopeful that small steps are happening on local levels.

In the book, Learning from the Germans – Race and the Memory of Evil,  Susan Neiman describes the decades long process of reckoning with the evils perpetuated by Germany during WW2 and the nascent attempts in pockets of this country to confront the historic harm caused by white supremacy since the first slave ship landed on our shores in 1619.  It will be the work of generations, but I hope that as a nation and a people we will find the courage and perseverance to build on these efforts.

Consent in Mediation

The last family meditation I did got me thinking more specifically and carefully about the principle of ‘consent’ in mediation. In this context it had to do with the option of parties to bring supporters or other individuals concerned and/or involved in the issues at hand to the mediation and that the decision to do so must be ‘by mutual consent of all parties’. Mutual consent is a fundamental principle in mediation to assure that the process remains as fair and unbiased as possible. In the case at hand, during pre-mediation intake, one party had requested a friend join her at the mediation. It was explained to her that her request would have to be consented to by the other party to the mediation.

On the morning of the mediation the party making the request arrived with her friend. We explained again that the other party would have to grant consent. As it turned out the second party nixed the idea immediately.

The initial response of my co-mediator was then that was that – the friend could not join the mediation. This stance of course dovetails with the basic principle of consent – that all parties must agree if anyone else is to participate in the process.

Somehow I wasn’t comfortable leaving it at that. My concern was that this response tipped the balance of power, however subtly, towards one party, the one saying ‘no’. At the same time, the principle of consent needed to be honored. The challenge formulating in my mind was how to honor both parties position all the while maintaining impartiality.

After some discussion we agreed that rather than simply informing the parties that no one else would attend the mediation, we would identify the request as the first issue in the mediation. The goal being to understand, and for each to hear, the underlying reasons for the request and the subsequent denial. Our goal as mediators would be to uncover the interests and needs motiving their oppositional stance. This would give each party a chance to explain themselves and share concerns and feelings underlying their opposing positions; it also communicated to the parties that we took both positions seriously and wanted to understand them. We explained the basic mediation principal that both parties could ask for a pause at any time to consult with their attorney or others supporting them. In this instance the final decision was that the friend would not join the mediation but wait outside with the option for the party to consult.

Reflecting on it later, I believe that by acknowledging the issue and encouraging the parties to discuss it we built rapport with each of them as well as confidence in the mediation process, a process neither had ever experienced and that both initially seemed skeptical, unsure and even fearful about.

In spite of the initial animosity between the parties and their difficulty communicating during the process, evaluations at the close of the mediation were positive.

‘The Apologist – how to turn a monster into an apologist, by Eve Ensler

I first heard this interview on ‘Reckonings’, a weekly radio program broadcast on Oaklands WGPC. Follow this link for more information on the broadcasts, their mission and programs:

In this episode, author and playwright Eve Ensler, discusses her recent book, The Apology’. In it, she imagines the apology her father never gave her for the abuse he inflicted on her as a child. In doing so she says ‘… I moved him from monster to apologist…and in doing that, he lost power over me.’ It is a story of terrible abuse perpetuated for years. As a Restorative Practitioner her account resonated deeply.

Some of my colleagues have responded with concern to Ensler’s approach, fearing that survivors could be re-harmed, worried that the burden be on survivors to ‘rescue’ and transform those who have so seriously and deliberately hurt them. Elements described in the podcast are indeed harrowing and I can understand how what Ensler describes as her way of dealing with her trauma could be confusing and disturbing to many.

I also understand why the process Ensler describes fulfilled her goal of regaining her freedom from the spectre of her father that had dominated her life for so long. As a writer and playwright, Ensler used her creativity to devise a process that she instinctively felt would help her confront the years of abuse and the consequences this had on her life. By the time she was ready to confront the abuse directly her father was dead. There was no opportunity to explore a face to face meeting with him or some other form of communication. What is striking about her choice of process is the abuse she experienced is described, by way of her imagination, through her father’s eyes and heart which, for her, amounts to him taking responsibility. As we know, this taking of responsibly by the perpetrator (if that is possible) is one of the keys to repair for a great many survivors – Eve couldn’t get that from her father since he was dead, so she creates it for herself. This creative act frees her. It gives her back her agency and helps free her from him and his power over her. This painful ‘excavation’ leads her to step back, to contemplate the root cause of his actions, however horrific, which results in a growing kind of empathy for him. This deep ‘excavation’ includes her mother as well, as she too was not only deeply harmed by the father’s abuse but complicit in that she did nothing to address it.

Not everyone who has been traumatized would choose this process. Each survivor is unique in what they need and each has unique capacities to figure out what these needs are and how best to address them. This is where the RJ practitioner has a key role. The role is essentially to understand what the survivor has experienced, how they’ve been affected, and explore with them what process would help them reach their goals. I have worked with survivors who knew the perpetrator would NOT apologize but nevertheless wanted to communicate with them, in some cases face to face. These interventions invariably left the survivor, by their account, freer, more liberated and able to engage in life on their terms.

Engaging with the survivor reveals what the survivor needs, what is possible and what kinds of actions would help them in order to regain their power. All survivors want accountability whether in the form of apology or not. Some survivors choose to write a letter to the person who harmed/abused them; some request a letter from the harmer addressing specific questions and concerns. Some are not ready to do anything. All these options are valid and depend on the needs of the survivor and the external circumstances – is the perpetrator alive? Do they have an awareness of the trauma/harm caused by their actions? Are they remorseful? Are they willing to address the harm they caused? If not, then what? All these factors influence the nature of the RJ intervention and careful preparation (of both the survivor and the harmer and others affected) is critical to determining the what, when, and how of the process.

One of the most common wish/need of people harmed is that what they suffered will not happen again to another. A restorative process is humanizing for both for the perpetrator and the survivor. In any effective RJ intervention where the harmer has expressed a desire to not re-harm, elements are put into place to support them to make good on that pledge. As Ensler says ‘if the perpetrator has gone through a deep enough journey of accountability they couldn’t imagine doing what they did to someone else’.

Aspects of the RJ process are mysterious; one can never tell if or when shifts and changes will occur – in perceptions, perspectives, connections and understanding – all the elements that make the restorative process so powerful and sometimes life changing.
By giving people choices and supporting them to be as honest, authentic and courageous as they can be, unexpected and transformative things can happen.

Restorative Practice – Where Mediation and Restorative Justice Meet


As a workplace, family, and community mediator and a restorative justice practitioner, I think of all the work I do as ‘restorative’. Mediation and Restorative Justice share fundamental principles and values. The major differences between them lie in emphasis. Restorative Justice (RJ) focuses on harm, the nature of the harm, and responsibility for that harm. In Mediation there is a conflict to settle and an expectation of resolution. In RJ, settlement and resolution are secondary and defined differently.

Resolution, Responsibility, Harm

In an RJ process, the emphasis is on the harm experienced by everyone involved in the incident or situation. One person or group is usually responsible for the harm (in some cases, particularly in educational settings, or between friends and within families, responsibility for harm is more ambiguous or shared). By exploring and acknowledging the harm caused (whether intended or accidental), RJ brings a certain kind of resolution to the situation and relief for both the harmed and the person(s) responsible for the harm. Problem solving takes place at a later stage in the process to determine what is needed for ‘justice’ to be done and to identify elements that will decrease the likelihood the act that caused the harm is not repeated.

Addressing harm in mediation

In mediation parties are looking for resolution due to conflict arising from a range of differences in perspectives, values and preferences. Anger, humiliation, fear, vengeance, and physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, depression and anxiety are common. Although parties have some awareness of their contribution to the situation, they often see the other as the root cause of the conflict and hold them responsible for their distress. In this regard, despite a focus on settlement, each is experiencing harm. Encouraging problem solving and resolution too soon, before understanding what led to the conflict, the emotional impact it has had, and what each can do to assure the situation doesn’t repeat itself, will result in a tenuous agreement.

Mediation Case Study

This conflict developed between two men, friends since elementary school and both volunteer fireman at the local fire station. They owned homes adjacent to each other and their wives were close friends.

A minor dispute over the sale of a motorcycle had escalated to the point where not only were the men’s lives turned upside down but the conflict between them began to significantly affect the station team. Inadvertently making matters worse, senior management’s message to the two men was for them to ignore each other, change their shifts, and instructing other members of the team not to take sides, Needless to say the situation deteriorated. The conflict became so bad that one of the men sold his house and the wives’ friendship ended. This unresolved conflict had caused untold distress for the two men, their families, friends, and colleagues, spilling over to the station and the team. Management requested Mediation.

In initial individual preparation meetings both men exhibited strong emotion. One was tearful, the other extremely angry. But both desperately wanted resolution as unlikely as that seemed. Additional preparation meetings were held. Finally, a joint session was agreed.

At the beginning of the joint session, the angry party could not look the other in the eye. He sat scribbling intensely on a piece of paper. He asked if he could move away from the table as he was having difficulty being in close proximity to his old friend and colleague. He took his chair and moved it across the room. This seemed to provide him with some safety and he engaged more with the dialogue. The mediation continued for some time with the two men physically far apart from one another. But the conversation was making progress – they were listening, acknowledging, questioning, challenging, clarifying, apologizing, and expanding on their understanding of the situation, their feelings about it and the impact it had had on their lives. I was listening, reframing, paraphrasing, reflecting commonalities and generally working hard to see if there was a way through this complicated and painful situation.

By the end of the 4-hour session, they were at the same table, had identified what external forces had contributed to the escalation of the conflict and had come up with some ideas for how to resolve it. Much of the mediation dealt with the strong emotion both had experienced and the distress the situation had caused. This needed to be aired and acknowledged before they could realistically focus on a workable agreement. They left the mediation together and were going for a drink. A date had been agreed for another joint session.

The elements in this mediation mirror reactions of a victim of harm in a restorative justice process. In RJ, the harm is the focus. In workplace mediation if significant emotions are present and the relationship is ongoing, the harm caused by the conflict must be dealt with before exploring options for agreement.

Not all workplace mediations are so fraught, the emotions so raw. But the norm, in my experience, is that by the time people engage in mediation they have suffered emotionally, and psychologically. This is in part because of how the conflict, which may seem minor to outsiders or to management, is handled. Managers are usually not experienced conflict resolvers so consequently the conflict festers, feelings escalate, and within months there is a full-blown conflict where people are off sick and/or on anti-depressants.

RJ Case Study

Peter is a man in his early 50s with family, children, and a successful business. Peter had been in habit of using recreational drugs regularly. Over time he fell into heavier drug use which spiralled out of control to the point where his whole focus was on getting money for drugs. Over a period of years, he lost his family, his home, his business. His children stopped speaking to him.
He began to shoplift to support his addiction, resorting to theft and robbery.

Angela was in late middle age, a retired accountant, and widowed, very involved in her local community, and a volunteer at local hospice where her husband had resided. One evening she stopped to draw cash at an ATM machine. To her shock she was accosted from behind and the cash she had withdrawn was snatched away. She shouted and people come to her aid and pursued the robber. The police were called, and Peter was apprehended, charged, and pleaded guilty.

Peter received a suspended sentence. RJ was suggested by Probation and Peter and Angela agreed to engage with the process. After individual preparation meetings, Angela choose the option to meet face to face with Peter. Peter’s daughter accompanied him, and Angela brought a close friend. Peter’s Probation officer also attended. At the meeting, Peter began by taking responsibility for his actions and the harm he caused. Angela talked about the effect the robbery has had on her and her family, the emotions she felt then and now. Peter expressed his emotions and remorse. Their supporters shared the harm the incident has had on them.

By the end of the meeting they reach an agreement outlining what actions Peter committed to to help him stay clean and not resort to robbery to feed his habit. Included in is a schedule of repayments to Angela, acknowledgement of the harm caused, and apologies offered and accepted.

As illustrated in these two cases, both RJ and Mediation address harm, responsibility and resolution. Both processes seek a restorative outcome. The differences lie in the balance of these elements and how ‘restorative ‘is defined.

(Both these cases took place in the UK. Names have been changed and situations altered slightly to protect privacy.)

Antigone in Ferguson

Greek Tragedy in Our Times: Antigone in Ferguson

Last month I travelled to NYC to see the classic Greek tragedy, Antigone, distilled and adapted by director Bryan Doerries, to grapple with the death in 2014 of a young black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The deaths of mostly black men by mostly white police officers over the past years has caused anguish, fury and despair. Much of the anguish stems from the impunity with which this crime continues to happen – no police officer, until recently, has been held accountable and young men have continued to die.

In Antigone, two brothers have fought on opposite sides of a civil war and end up killing each other. One has been given a dutiful burial. Polyneices, having fought on the ‘wrong’ side, is seen as an enemy of the state by Creon, the current ruler. Central to the plot is the duty and loyalty Antigone feels for her dead, unburied, brother and her determination to honor him by burying his body. This value of hers – that everyone is due the respect of burial no matter what their actions – is perceived by Creon as disloyalty to the nation state and a direct challenge to his authority. The dramatic tension in the play is the conflict of values and beliefs between Antigone and Creon and the tension this represents between individual and state authority.

Unfortunately, the key protagonists in the Antigone story, and other close associates involved in the conflict, die for their values and the choices they make. But their deaths do not, in the end, bring justice or assuage their anguish. On the contrary, grief and despair spreads to the community and the cycle of violence is set to continue.

Tragic events invariably stir strong emotions of anger, outrage, pain and grief. What can be done in situations where survivors are calling for justice, for acknowledgement of severe violation, for retribution? What process could possibly bring some sense of restitution, of solace, of knowledge that the tragedy is recognized and did not happened in vain?

Is there a way that a restorative approach to such a tragedy could help the suffering players in this story? What would happen if, in the name of breaking the cycle of violence, the key protagonists could step back for a moment and try to understand where each were coming from?

Antigone would have to try to recognize Creon’s need that his role of Governor be respected and his concern for uniting a city torn about by civil war. The Governor would have to set aside his anger at Polyneices and try to understand Antigone’s deep desire to honor her brother by giving him a proper burial, no matter the choices he had made in life. Both protagonists hold beliefs at the extremes – it is their unwillingness to entertain any understanding of each other or meet anywhere between those two extremes to explore solutions that might satisfy each of them, that leads to tragedy and perpetuates the cycle of violence and retribution.

Creon and Antigone are the main protagonists. But there are many others that are deeply affected by the conflict between the two. They hold beliefs somewhere in between the two extremes, are torn by the dilemma, plead for reason and compromise, and express their fear for the future if both main protagonists maintain their extreme positions.

The Chorus represents the Community. In this production the Chorus was performed by a choir of activists, police officers, youth, and concerned citizens from Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. Throughout the play the Chorus reflects the communities’ struggle as it grapples with the moral dilemma represented by the two main protagonists and the anguish they feel as they watch the tragedy unfold.

Key to the production, and to director Bryan Doerries purpose in presenting classic tragedies to a modern audience, is the facilitated collective discussion that takes place at the close of the performance. The play is a catalyst for discussion on race, justice, trauma, oppression, and survival after trauma. The audience discussion provides a forum to explore alternatives to the choices made in the play. Speaking their truth, audience members wrestle with the anguish of their immediate reality and their deeply felt need for positive change, change that could offer some restoration, solace, understanding, recognition and connection. The audience discussion is arguably as important as the performance in that it brings alive universal moral dilemmas and allows for a collective sharing as to how to address them.



Bryan Doerries Outside the Wire – Artistic Director

Theatre of War, What Ancient Tragedies Can Teach Us Today

Sophocles – Antigone, 441BC approximately










On Forgiveness

Re-reading a book at a different time in one’s life is always a new experience. A couple of weeks ago I picked up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina again and quickly became engrossed in the story and the characters.  As a novel, I had wanted to re-read it for lots of personal reasons but I didn’t think of it as having any relation to my work. Re-reading it however I was struck by a powerful depiction of the human capacity for forgiveness.

Alexis, Anna’s betrayed and humiliated husband, is making his way home to St Petersburg from Moscow, summoned by Anna who is in labour with her lover’s child. Vronsky, her lover is attending the birth. During the journey Alexis feels hatred for his wife and finds himself wishing her death. Once in the presence of the lovers however, and witnessing their despair, he is suddenly overwhelmed by emotion and is flooded with forgiveness for them both.

Human forgiveness, where it comes from, and what makes it possible, is something of a mystery – it cannot be forced and isn’t ruled by logic or rationality. My experience tells me it comes from the deepest internal place and at essence is paradoxical – where vengeance and blame would be perfectly understandable, forgiveness suddenly wells up and along with it the release of compassion and something akin to joy.  As close as it gets to miraculous.

I have occasions to witness this first hand in the restorative justice and mediation work I do and it never ceases to move me.  It is one of the privileges and rewards of working in this field.

And finally, reading this remarkable book again I am reminded why fiction has always been so central to my life, and of the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “fiction reveals truth that reality obscures “. Yes, we read fiction to understand life.





Global Unity and Healing, Building Communities with a Restorative Approach

I recently returned from a 3-day International Restorative Justice Conference held at Vermont Law School in Burlington. There was a wide range of topics and lively keynote speakers, including Robert Sand, director of the Center for Justice Reform, Judge Robert Yazzie from the Navaho Nation and Donna Hicks whose theme was Dignity and the research she has done around its critical role as both a driver in human conflict and a key element in its resolution.

I became aware during one of the plenary sessions that sitting a few rows from me was a middle-aged man who had been deeply wronged by the state. The workshop dealing with his case is one I will never forget. Due to prosecutors, detectives, and police’ unethical and incompetent practice, this man was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. The consequence of this enormous injustice was that he spent almost 25 years behind bars, much of it in solitary confinement. He was finally released due to the efforts of the North Carolina Capital RJ Program. To add injustice upon injustice, because of recent changes to the law, it is almost impossible for the wrongfully incarcerated to claim compensation. Both attorneys working in this program have experienced PTSD over the years defending capital cases.

Other workshops dealt with organizational and systemic aspects of integrating restorative practices into specific settings (Education, Healthcare, Public Safety, Environmental Disputes, Youth Justice Services, Child Protection). Several researchers from the UK shared their experiences of implementing restorative approaches into the City of Hull as it strives to become a fully restorative city.

Some dealt with irreversible harm and how a restorative process can help survivors reclaim their lives and heal from the trauma caused by harm. This workshop examined racial attacks fuelled by social media at two California High Schools that resulted in very different outcomes. The presenters shared the learning from the intervention that did not go well and was halted early on, and from the intervention where the result was positive. It was fascinating to contemplate and analyse the range of complexities involved in preparing and running interventions where so much harm, fear and confusion had been experienced by students and staff.

The decision to use a restorative approach to address the historical racial and sexual abuse at The Home for Colored Children in Nova Scotia was emotionally cathartic for those who had been harmed. The survivors, now middle aged, described their gratitude and deep satisfaction with the process and how it had helped to heal childhood traumas that had remained buried for decades. An acknowledgement by state and government officials of the longstanding institutional racism that had perpetuated the harm, and their commitment to address it across state agencies contributed to the positive result for the survivors.

In another case in Nova Scotia, a grieving father whose son had died in police custody found peaceful resolution. Until the restorative circle with police officers the father and his family had found no peace and no justice. Their satisfaction with the process was deep.

Two additional things about the conference stand out for me.

Firstly, there is overwhelming dissatisfaction with the current legal system by all those affected by harm, and there is consensus that the traditional legal process is broken. It is built on blame and punishment and does next to nothing to address the root causes of crime and help those most affected heal and reintegrate. Hence the willingness of a range of agencies and institutions to engage in a restorative approach, a process that they have little experience with, but are willing to try with the proper support and guidance (The Nova Scotia cases were supported by Jennifer Lewellyn, Professor of Law at Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, a committed and passionate advocate for restorative approaches).

Secondly, I was moved by the tribute paid to Native American Peoples by some of the keynote speakers. Several began their address by acknowledging they were standing on land originally home to indigenous people and their tribes. This is fitting given that restorative processes were practiced for millennia by indigenous peoples, and long before they were adopted by the modern world. There is a growing societal recognition of the efficacy and healing potential of these ancient restorative approaches for all affected by an offence. One can only hope that more restorative approaches for all levels of offending and wrongdoing will be integrated into a wider range of public and private policies and become the norm for addressing harm and wrongdoing, particularly when the harm is relational. A restorative approach can run alongside a criminal-legal system and create processes that deliver justice and along with that, healing and re-integration.


Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks, 2011, Yale University Press

Public Inquiry: Restorative Approaches in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children:

Human Rights Inquiry

Death in Custody


Dawnland (Truth and Reconciliation in Maine: child welfare authorities and Native communities) Directors: Adam Mazo and Ben Pendler- Cudlip

Producer N. Bruce Duthu

Coming Home – Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) program for returning offenders. Produced and directed by Bess O’Brien

Afternoons in Moscow

Recently in Moscow, Russia, for a family visit (my daughter has lived and worked there for 10 years), I spent most afternoons in neighborhood parks with my 4-year-old grandson. Picking him up after nursery school, it being May and warm and sunny, and given his fascination with moving water, he would invariably ask to go to the ‘waterfall’ – two of the large parks in the area had small locks where the water rushed forcefully down an incline. Watching the flowing water and throwing various natural found objects into the water kept him busy for ages. This gave me time to observe and reflect on my surroundings with uncommon leisure.
My thoughts drifted to the current state of the relationship between the US and Russia, to the discord and mutual recriminations surrounding the US 2016 election, and the resulting economic and diplomatic retaliations (it now takes 300 days for a Russian to get a visa appointment at the US Consulate due to staff being cut to bare bones). The cold war is revived. And along with this polarization comes the predictable deterioration in trust and communication, along with direct attempts to cause mutual harm. This deteriorated relationship ripples out and affects in various ways the citizens of each of these bumbling and blustering countries.
I felt a sadness in reflecting on this international conflict. Russians, even in Moscow, are not used to hearing English so we stood out and people were curious but never in an unfriendly way. Some, mostly young people, would initiate a conversation and welcomed the chance to engage with the foreign and the new.
Looking around at the people in the park, I felt a commonality and connection in our shared needs and pleasures – enjoying the warmth of the sun after a long winter, adults and children playing and relaxing in pairs and groups, teenagers and some brave adults swimming in the still cold water, bikes, scooters, roller skates, volley ball, sunbathers, ice cream and picnics, laughter, lively conversations. And expressions of concern, language barriers aside, when my 4-year-old tumbles off his scooter.
The contrast between the international and local dynamics struck me. The leading elites battling it out in distinctively unconstructive ways with predictably destructive consequences to relationship. On the ground, my grandson and I were enjoying and sharing a variety of simple pleasures alongside strangers despite our vastly different languages, histories and cultures.
The roots of these conflict dynamics plaguing Russia and the US these days are multiple and go back a long time. What saddens me is that it doesn’t have to be this way, there are ways to manage differences, however great and whether they are between nations or within families or the workplace, that lead to constructive and healthy outcomes. Not always easy, but possible. What is needed is the will, the patience, and the skills to make it happen.