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Many voluntary organizations across Canada do excellent work in the field of criminal justice (see previous post on some of them). Since 2010, a Toronto church, Eglinton-St. George United, has been hosting a speaker series under the heading of “Compassionate Justice”. The series has included talks by many well known experts and advocates in the field. Two dozen of these presentations are available in audio form on the series’ website, http://esgunited.org/local-outreach/compassionate-justice.
Most years there are four presentations, each on a Sunday afternoon.
The impetus for the series came from the 2010 changes in Canada’s Criminal Code proposed and then enacted by the Conservative federal government. In 2016, the organizer began to broaden the scope of the Series to include a more complete range of social justice issues and concerns. For example, a series of speakers, including Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Peter Russell, Murray Sinclair and Rebecca Jamieson focused on Aboriginal issues. Doug Saunders spoke about the need for Canada to increase its population significantly. Swedish Ambassador Per Sjogren spoke about The Swedish Model for a fair and inclusive society. Bob Rae spoke about public policy.
However criminal justice issues have remained central to this project. Speakers have included defence lawyer Ed Greenspan, former parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, former Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers, and Senator and former activist Kim Pate. Audio of all these talks are available on the website.
Previous talks this year have been by Mary Campbell, a former senior official in the Department of Public Safety, and Pauline Oades, the newly appointed chair of the National Parole Board. Ms Campbell, now retired, said that the Canadian penal system had become excessively harsh and this actually reduced public safety. Ms Oades made the argument that parole was a critical part of helping people rehabilitate and thus also contributed in important ways to public safety. She noted that the reoffending rate of people on parole is extremely low, but that any such cases that do occur tend to get a huge amount of media attention, while the thousands of successes do not.
The next presentation in this series will be on Sunday, February 24, at 12:30 PM, by noted criminal lawyer Marie Heinen, on The Politics of Criminal Justice Reform. Her presentation will touch upon the challenges in effecting criminal justice reform in our new social media world, where politicians are informed by tweets rather than Law Commission reports. Instant opinion formation in social media creates a huge impediment to informed evidence-based decision-making in criminal law reform.
These sessions are all free, and begin at 12:30 PM at the church in north-central Toronto.