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Life sentence in fatal impaired accident ‘small victory’ for Quebec family

September 11, 2009

Complicating the story, especially if you are not Canadian, is the issue of the categorization of offenders as “dangerous offenders”. Currently under Canadian law convicted drunk drivers are not listed as “dangerous offenders”, since that category is kept for those violent offenders considered the most heinous. That category of offender is considered beyond rehabilitation. The sentencing of Walsh to a life sentence was precedent setting although some, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the victim’s family, were lobbying for drunk drivers like Walsh to be added to the “dangerous offender” statute.

Where does restorative justice fit in here? The first press story I read on this case, a wire story picked up by the New York Times , provided very little information on the victim’s family and the pain they suffered from the death of their daughter. That led me to ask, my usual question after violent crime: what about the victims?  But the press articles appearing throughout Canada do interview the victim’s family members and get theirreaction to the sentence. A justice system based on restorative justice would seek to repair or restore the victim or victim’s family as much as possible. For the offender restorative justice would require accountability for his actions after violent (or nonviolent) crime. Accountability in the offender could translate into many actions. Restitution, for one.  

After any violent death repairing the harm, or restoring the victim or her family as much as possible, is a challenge. But it is not impossible. Would the victim’s family ever want to meet with the offender? Has that been suggested to the family? Perhaps it is too early, since the death occurred in 2008, but maybe not. I have seen victims, and their families, decide quite quickly that they wanted contact with the offenders.

Some victims wait. Some victims choose not to meet. But I believe they should have that option. Why?  I am convinced that the family of Anee Khudaverian have questions they would ask Roger Walsh. The answers they seek could only be provided by the offender. An admission of guilt and remorse expressed directly to the victim’s family has a powerful effect. No, it cannot bring back their daughter but it can help to heal the pain of this tragedy. This process also has a powerful effect on the offender. 

Since this conviction was Walsh’s 19th impaired driving conviction, an astounding number, the question is could this have been avoided? I’m sure we cannot answer that. But we can ask whether Walsh might have  been reached, and his actions affected, had he been exposed to restorative justice programming for these previous convictions. That could have included meeting real victims of crimes. Their personal stories would have put a human face to violent crime, something that offenders and ex-offenders often do not see. In addition, a criminal justice system based on restorative justice would have strongly supported alcohol or drug treatment. Apparently Walsh did receive some kind of alcohol treatment but to no avail. Seems many actions were taken to attempt to stop him from driving while drinking, or driving at all. But it did not stop Walsh that day. 

Was this a fair and just sentence? Walsh received a life sentence but he will be eligible for parole in seven years. I cannot answer that but I know one thing for sure those of us who support restorative justice are fully committed to public safety as much as any public official demanding so called “tough on crime” remedies. We do not want to see Walsh or any other inmate commit another crime. The use of restorative justice is an investment in increased public safety while acknowledging the great harm crime has on victims and communities. For the Khudaverian family, perhaps there is healing that still can come. Perhaps that healing can come through experiencing restorative justice. If Walsh does serve the rest of his natural life in prison he still should be eligible to participate in a restorative justice meeting. Walsh still could take full responsibility for his actions, even behind bars.  


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