Friday, 6 November 2015


A couple of years after Glen Flett and I met, sharing deep, authentic, and powerful healing, within the crucible of Sawbonna, I was invited by the Church Council on Justice to share my story, and to give a therapeutic writing workshop, using my book, The Other Inmate: Mediating Justice-Mediating Hope, which is a poetry and workbook for restorative practices, at their conference in Montreal. In my workshop was a woman who wrote from a place of the deeply personal and the poignantly political. She shared her voice and celebrated me sharing my own. Lorraine Berzins, was that woman. She has been involved in "smart justice" for a long time. She was a catalyst for me to see that even as I had painfully complex and complicated emotions and thoughts about the place for victims-survivors in the criminal justice system, there were several individuals who, though working with and for offenders, also worked with and for victims-survivors. Lorraine and the Smart Justice Network are of this ilk. This morning, I received a mail-out from the Smart Justice Network, of which I became a charter member in Vancouver three years ago, invited by the inspiring Professor Brenda Morrison. In that email is a call to distribute widely a proposal to the new government for a federally-initiated review of Canada's Criminal Justice System. It is my joy to do just that: distribute widely, please see below. This document echoes Sawbonna. Sawbonna is about living justice, with, for, and through community. Sawbonna is about respect, responsibility, and relationship/s. When our hearts are connected to our processes of living justice and justice as lived-experience, we will continue to invite "smart justice," which is Sawbonna's very purview. It is my belief that with this new government, our opportunities are rich and vast.

PLEASE feel invited to distribute widely, noting that: Danny Graham, Founding Chair of Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program (an authentic and generous individual, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and sharing kindred conversation - my blog on our sharing:, Barry Stuart, Former Chief Judge of the Yukon Territory, (with whom I have shared rich conversation in-person), and Gerry Thompson, Former Deputy Minister, Justice Canada, are some of the signatories to this document.

Proposal to Government of Canada on Criminal Justice Reform(6)
  • There has been a growing crisis in our criminal justice system and there is an urgent need to attend to this.
  • The incoming government’s approach to criminal and social justice will go a long way in beginning to address this crisis.
  • In addition to already-announced reforms (i.e.C-51amendments; judicial discretion in sentencing etc.) it is recommended that the new government convene in collaboration with provincial-territorial-indigenous governments an evidence-based review of the Canadian criminal justice system, necessary to provide a coherent, integrated and comprehensive strategy for criminal justice policy and practice.
  • Successive governments since the late 1980’s have passed new criminal laws on a piecemeal basis.
  • This approach has been costly, harmful to vulnerable populations and has produced incoherent and ineffective outcomes including:
    • skyrocketing spending on the criminal justice system (a $2 billion increase 2002- 2012; up 72% federally and 47.9% in provinces and territories);
    • growing incarceration rates (8,305 more people in our prisons by 2012 than in 2000);
    • an alarming, rising incarceration of people with mental health challenges, who require services not available in prison;
    • a grossly disproportionate number of Indigenous citizens in prison (though they represent only 3- 4% of our overall population, by 2013 they represented 23% of our federal prison population, 33% for women);
    • limited opportunities and support for victims to meaningfully participate, heal, rebuild their lives;
    • over-loaded and delayed courts: over half of provincial correctional centre inmates are waiting for their cases to be heard (an increase by 45% in 10 years (2003-2013).

Proposed Approach
  • The review process proposed should be an exercise in public engagement involving more than just politicians, public servants and justice system partners.
  • Engaging the public and civil society organizations in this review (key stakeholders in criminal and social policy, Indigenous organizations, victims’ rights and social justice groups, bar and police associations as well as others with experience in related fields)  would give rise to a number of beneficial results including:
    • increasing political support for future reforms;
    • creating vital partnerships for potential initiatives;
    • engaging Indigenous communities in a way that will assist the reconciliation work recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada;
    • gaining important knowledge and wisdom regarding initiatives and solutions that exist at the local level;
    • building commitment to undertake work at the community/local level;
    • increasing public education and deepening the public’s understanding of criminal justice issues.



  1. Awesome, Margo! Here's hoping this Smart Justice proposal is well- received by our new government MPs and PM. I know they are looking at an overhaul and an undoing of much of Harper's "work". I have a sense they will be happy to receive such a thoughtful proposal from such strong community leaders.

    1. Thank you, Michelle. I believe that much good will come back to the justice system. Smart Justice is on-track.