Chronicle Herald Feature of THANS and Women’s Centres Connect #RestorativeJustice

Shiva Nourpanah, co-ordinator of Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, and Georgia Barnwell, co-ordinator of Women’s Centres Connect, are part of a group of organizations who oppose dropping a moratorium on the use of restorative justice in cases of domestic and sexualized violence without proper consultation. – Stuart Peddle

The Transition House Association of Nova Scotia and the province’s women’s support centres want further consultation and proper consideration to take place before a moratorium on the use of restorative justice for domestic and sexualized violence is dropped.

Representatives of 20 organizations, including THANS, Women’s Centres Connect and Alice House, released a position statement last week supporting the continuation of the moratorium.

Shiva Nourpanah, provincial co-ordinator of THANS, said the group is not against restorative justice and there are well-known concerns about a conventional justice system that often leave victims feeling re-victimized.

“So we can certainly understand the intention behind developing a more humane, a more compassionate, a more healing-based system to address these crimes,” Nourpanah said in an interview on Tuesday. “But we are concerned that an alternative system might become kind of like ‘justice light,’ or as a way of demeaning or dismissing the gravity of these crimes and these are heinous crimes which tear apart families, communities, lives and we are concerned that without the proper training, resources, community support and understanding in place, this may also become yet another tool to perpetuate the cycle of violence and misery and suffering.”

Georgia Barnwell, co-ordinator of Women’s Centres Connect, the association of the province’s women’s centres, said one of the biggest concerns is serving the rural community.

“First of all, the conversations have been HRM-centred and HRM has lots of resources and certainly there is the expertise and the understanding amongst some of the people in HRM that could do this properly,” Barnwell said on Tuesday. “However, that’s not the case across the province, so first of all, we would want to see comprehensive, in-depth consultation (and) conversations with victims and the organizations that support them to find out ‘yes, we want it,’ or ‘no, we don’t,’ or ‘this is how it could work’ and what are the resources that have to be in place to make it safe and effective. That’s the key.

“We’re not saying ‘No forever,’ but we’re saying that certain conversations need to be had.”

Anonymity is one of the challenges in the rural context, where “everybody knows everybody else,” Barnwell said.

Nourpanah added that accessibility is another rural challenge that is quite different from in the capital region.

“Right here in Halifax, take Gottingen Street, you have Department of Community Services, income assistance, and Salvation Army, you have a whole bunch of services (there),” she said, adding she’s helped women go through the whole process, including returning to the refugee clinic, in a couple of hours or less.

Rural colleagues face a full day of travelling around to support one woman through the court navigation process, she said.

Child care and quality of health care are obvious issues but others many don’t think about may include care for animals.

“It is very complex and restorative justice is a very complicated and delicate, sensitive mechanism,” she said. “So this paper was basically pulling together our thoughts of all our organizations saying ‘Let’s just think about it and let’s just consider all the factors.’”

The position paper called for “fully resourced wraparound services and information for the survivors, empowering them to make informed choices; operational funding and training for anyone working with victims on gender-based violence, with focus on violence against women; ongoing monitoring of the results; and separation of restorative tables for the victim and perpetrator.”

A decision has not been made to discontinue the moratorium but the groups have heard “momentum” was building in that direction.

“We definitely support the principles around restorative justice and I think we’re doing this now before the rubber hits the road,” Barnwell said. “And so, really, what we’re trying to do is build some bridges to some broader conversations before it’s too late.”

Heather Fairbairn, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said in an emailed statement that lifting the moratorium is not being planned at this time.

“Any process to consider changes to this important restriction would be approached with consideration of all relevant factors and cautions, including those noted by the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, Women’s Centres Connect and Alice House,” Fairbairn said.

“Supporting survivors with an understanding of trauma and with sensitivity, respect and compassion is our priority,” she said. “We continue to work with and seek the perspective of women serving organizations and other community partners around the very serious issue of intimate partner violence and sexual violence in Nova Scotia.”