EDMONTON — Justice is not just about determining guilt and punishing the offender but also about creating peace and harmony between victim, offender and the community, says Pierre Allard.
More important than determining guilt or innocence is finding a way to make things better, said Allard, one of Canada's strongest promoters of restorative justice. "How can we get beyond pain?"
Allard spoke to the annual Alberta Restorative Justice Conference Nov. 19, proclaiming the importance of restorative justice and sharing the story of how the murder of his brother led him to seek a better solution than vengeance.
"There needs to begin a journey of healing. You need to embrace the victim. You need to embrace the community that suffers when a crime happens. And you need to say how can we heal the community? How can we make it better? How can we make it safer?"
Chaplains, students, lawyers, social workers and youth justice committee members attended the weekend conference at Grant MacEwan University.
"Restorative justice says you need to stretch your mind and you need to stretch your heart and you need to also make room to see how can the perpetrators also heal. Everybody is in need of healing."
Allard, 72, served in the Correctional Service of Canada for over 30 years. He was a chaplain, director of chaplaincy and assistant commissioner. He is now president of Just.Equipping, a non-profit organization committed to education and training in restorative justice.
Before the murder of his brother Andre, which remains unresolved, Allard didn't know what being a victim was.
But that changed in 1980 when he received a phone call from the Quebec Provincial Police telling him his brother had been brutally murdered and abandoned on the south shore of Montreal.
"This changed everything. I was a victim," he said.
At the funeral in Quebec City, "my older brother got angry and said, 'What are we doing here? We are going into church to pray to a God that I don't even believe in. If we've got any guts we wouldn't be here. We would be in Montreal trying to find out who did it and do the same thing to them.'
"You know, the joy of paying back, the joy of revenge, of giving back even more than you received is very seductive. Vengeance is the most seductive drug we have. It's stronger than cocaine."
When Allard returned to the penitentiary he was not the same.
"I used to look at them as the bank robber, the sexual offender, the murderer," he recalled. "Something had happened to me, something had happened in my mind and in my heart. I could not continue to work with prisoners in that state of mind and heart.
"I started reflecting and I started praying and I started reading and for the first time in my life I came across restorative justice."
Restorative justice is a vision worth investing in, he said. "I say to you restorative justice saved my life. It gave me the vision that allowed me to continue to work with prisoners, to work with victims, to work in the criminal justice system."
In practical terms, restorative justice seeks to involve the victim, offender and community as much as possible. It calls for deep respect for all involved. It seeks to listen carefully to all parties, to focus on the truth of the event and to the possibility of reparation.
"Restorative justice can never be forced on people. It is a voluntary process. It seeks to humanize the justice process, which through the centuries has become professionalized and sanitized."
Allard recalled that in 1972 he was appointed chaplain at Archambault Penitentiary in north Montreal, "probably at the time the worst penitentiary in Canada."
"You cannot be involved for over 35 years with prisoners without discovering two very important things: the first one is that you discover the many faces of evil; there are terrible things being done by human beings to other human beings," he said.
"But you also discover the deeply wounded side of humankind."
Whenever Allard has worked with prisoners, he has never asked pity for them. "But I've always asked for a deeper understanding.
"Could we go beyond the headlines of the media? Could we go beyond the number and see the other name, the other story-a story of woundedness and a story of broken dreams.
"Can we hear the pain? I have a friend, a volunteer, who says violence is often the noise that pain makes."
Offenders, he said, are not falling off the moon. "They come from our Canadian communities and in 95 per cent of the cases they are going to return to their communities. How are they going to return? Are they going to return better?"
If no one creates new "social linkages" for criminals, "I can guarantee you they won't come out better." Like everyone else, an inmate's most basic human need is to belong somewhere, he said.
Allard said restorative justice is at the core of the Judeo-Christian tradition. St. Augustine embraced it in 412 when following the murder of his best friend he asked that the offender be treated with mercy.
"But sadly enough that treasure that was there among the first Christians has been lost," he said, lamenting that in the U.S. evangelical churches call for capital punishment and longer sentences.
"The attitude that the wicked should get it has so permeated the Church that we have completely forgotten about the restorative biblical concept of justice. Today in a lot of our churches we still carry some very punitive attitudes without being conscious of it."