Another way to teach them a lesson, at least those who will learn, is to have them first confront the harm their night of fun caused. First responders, business people, people who took part in the clean up, perhaps some of the victims, could teach them real lessons a judge can only lecture them about. Maybe a hockey player could tell them how they shamed the club after a magnificent season.

....Restorative justice can take many forms. That is one of the things that makes it attractive in this case. It is an approach to crime, not just a set of rules. Justice Canada describes it this way:

Restorative justice is one way to respond to a criminal act. Restorative justice puts the emphasis on the wrong done to a person as well as on the wrong done to the community. It recognizes that crime is both a violation of relationships between specific people and an offence against everyone – the state…

Restorative justice requires wrongdoers to recognize the harm they have caused, to accept responsibility for their actions and to be actively involved in improving the situation. Wrongdoers must make reparation to victims, themselves and the community.[citation omitted] 

That is all very well in principle but to many it sounds vague and not very rigorous. But the concrete and more familiar forms that restorative justice takes include: victim/offender mediation, sentencing circles, restorative conferences with victims, offenders, their families, and community representatives. Of greater interest in Vancouver might be examples of larger scale community restorative conferences and community courts. At the national end of the scale, truth and reconciliation commissions are a form of community restorative justice. None of these is a slap on the wrist.

Restorative justice is optional for both offender and victim. It is true that some rioters would choose it not because they wish to atone for what they have done but because they think it will be easier than formal criminal sanctions. We can’t expect that all rioters will start out truly contrite. In fact, one of the strongest arguments for restorative justice is that it is good at reaching the ones who still don’t have a clue of the harm they’ve done. In their minds ransacking the Bay only hurt a big company. If we are to trust them again we need to know they understand that they terrified people just like them. The test of the process is not what the offenders feel at the start but what they feel at the end.

Far from being a slap on the wrist this is, for many, a deeply troubling experience. But it can also be a transforming experience. There is a great deal of evidence that people who go through restorative justice are less likely to re-offend and that more victims of crime attain closure and have a higher level of satisfaction than those who deal with the formal justice system.