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Protest, community, and uncertainty: Restorative justice and the risks of social fractures.

Finlay, Charles
June 4, 2015

Source: (2005) Submitted to the Department of Justice Canada Dispute Resolution Award in Law Studies, 2004-5.

In this paper I will undertake four related analyses. First, I want to show how
restorative justice theory is rooted in a broad-based protest against State power. I will look at the ideological and historical foundations of restorative justice theory, as it is articulated by the most influential restorative justice scholars, in an attempt to understand
the fundamental intellectual drivers behind the project, and the ultimate goals to which
restorative justice, as a theory, aspires. Second, I will use this evaluation to come to an
understanding of what restorative justice theorists might mean when they discuss
“community”, a concept which has eluded specific definition as long as restorative justice
has been discussed. Third, I will evaluate the potential dangers of restorative justice theory in the context of Canadian multiculturalism. Specifically, I will show that by
emphasizing community control of criminal justice processes, restorative justice practices
threaten to weaken the important but fragile bond of Canadian social unity which is our
national adherence to common criminal justice norms. Finally, I will briefly examine a
restorative justice process which is currently operating—the Nova Scotia Restorative
Justice Initiative—to see how insights gained from contemporary restorative justice
practice might help resolve the theoretical concerns which I have outlined. Through
these analyses I hope to show that if they are implemented in a spirit of State/community
collaboration, and with the goal of building local confidence in the State’s criminal
justice system, restorative justice processes might be forces for social cohesion,
strengthening the bonds between local communities and the State which governs them.
But I will also warn that for restorative justice processes to succeed the State must remain
vigilant. If restorative justice programs are allowed to overstep the bounds set for them,
and are free to manifest in their practices the ultimately destructive protests against State
power which underlie so much restorative justice theory, these restorative justice
processes may threaten the social cohesion and civic unity which makes possible our
College Streetcar. (excerpt)


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