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Restorative justice offers a way for peace to come from tragedy

April 11, 2014

… John Caspell’s family went through the restorative justice process almost two years after his death. Caspell was riding his motorcycle when he was struck by a car at the intersection of Government and Bay Streets on April 26, 2009. The 57-year-old had surgery on a badly fractured ankle and the next day, he was feeling well enough to stand up. He suddenly felt dizzy and his heart stopped. He died of a blood clot that clogged his lung, which shocked his family who was hopeful Caspell would quickly recover from the accident.

The driver, Cheryl Gervais, who was distracted by her cellphone, pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention, a lesser charge than the original charge of dangerous driving causing death, which carries a maximum prison term of 14 years in prison.

Caspell’s siblings, Paul Caspell and Lois Schmidt, approached Crown prosecutors about a restorative justice process as an alternative to a woman with a young child facing jail time.

“Enough harm had been done already and we didn’t see any good coming from someone going to jail for a bad decision on the driver’s part,” Schmidt told the Times Colonist Monday.

After a lot of back-and-forth communication through mediators and lawyers over the phone, a restorative justice meeting was set up for March 19, 2011.

Schmidt said she knew she needed to hear the side of the driver, who up until the meeting, she knew nothing about.

“It seemed like the justice system was determined to keep the two sides apart,” Schmidt said. “The only opportunity we had to know what happened and to find out what went on that day was to sit down with her and talk to her.”

Paul Caspell and Schmidt both brought their adult children. Gervais was there with two supporters.

Everyone sat in a circle and one could not talk unless in possession of the “talking stick” to make sure everyone had a fair say and to prevent arguing.

Gervais was able to apologize and explain the circumstances — that she was communicating with her daughter because she was running late.

“It almost went from her being a monster to being a mom,” Schmidt said. “I’m not sure that could have happened in the courtroom setting.”

The group worked together to agree on restitution. Gervais voluntarily gave up driving for a year to pay her respects to Caspell. She volunteered with the B.C. SPCA because Caspell was an animal lover and she planted a tree in his memory.

Gervais also did some public speaking about the dangers of using a cellphone while driving.

Schmidt said the experience left her “100 per cent satisfied in terms of our opportunity to be involved, to be heard and to really hear her side of what happened.”

Read the full article.


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