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[Sticky] Discussion Question

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Posts: 7
Active Member

At this point our discussion has covered a lot of ground and raised many issues.  I'm hoping we might also have suggestions as to steps that might be taken to improve the situation.  Here are a few thoughts - responses and other ideas welcome.

To insert more evidence into a debate that is highly emotional, the federal government could, following Catherine Latimer's suggestion, create an independent body, like the former Law Reform Commission, that would have the task of reviewing research and other evidence and advising Canadians on what we know (and how confidently we can say we know it) about various aspects of criminal justice.  It could also have a mandate to bring facts to bear on current issues, like the debate on bail.  Such vehicles have been used to good effect in other fields such as health or climate.

As Peter Carter suggests, more stories about people who have been through the system, what got them there, and what helped them rebuild their lives would be great.  A concerted effort to tell such stories in a public way (even if anonymously) would help make the system less abstract.  And people love 'second chance' or recovery stories.

Canada has quite a few non-profit organizations (like John Howard Society) that work in this field but almost all are small, poorly resourced, and lack capacity to take on bigger projects.  There would be benefits to better synergy among these bodies (such as coordinating their work), and a more concerted approach to sustained resourcing this sector. 

Similarly, Canada has some terrific researchers in this field but research efforts tend to be uncoordinated and small scale.  Stronger connections between researchers (who are split between law and criminology/sociology), a more strategic approach to research and stronger links between research and policy/advocacy organizations would help.

The media play a huge role in shaping public attitudes and public policy but they are also under enormous stress.  Those in the sector could do more to work with media - of all kinds - to improve levels of background knowledge on CJ as well as access to expertise so that reporting can be better informed.  

The legal profession has some great public advocates but these efforts, too, are uncoordinated and rest on individual initiative.  Legal organizations could be more strategic in the way they participate in the public debate.

None of these things would solve the problems, but they are all modest actions that are feasible today.  


Posted : 17/02/2023 11:23 am
Posts: 3
New Member

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this discussion. Lot's of important issues and reflections on possibilities for change were mentioned, and some key questions were asked. Thanks also to JHS for hosting this discussion, I hope it can reach a larger audience and we're not just "preaching to the choir." Unfortunately, the people who really need to be aware of these issues typically don't engage in these types of discussions.

I appreciate Peter Carter's reflections from his decades as a journalist, his frank honesty, and in his last post highlighting the positive steps we made. While there is a lot of work to be done, it's important to recognize the good with the bad. I really like DD's reflections on the overall discussion and overview of various approaches to addressing the wide-spread assumption that prisons, jails, police, and a "tough on crime" approach can make communities safer. I have never felt safe around police and prisons certainly don't enhance public safety in any way. Before I ever had a criminal record and was surviving domestic abuse, I found that when neighbours called the police or my ex-boyfriend was arrested it only made things worse and I felt much less safe. The current system only aims to help the wealthy and elite maintain their power while the marginalized in society are used as scapegoats for all social problems.

I agree that a comprehensive, diverse, interdisciplinary, collaborative approach among the various fields and people looking at these issues is key to overcoming them (i.e., policy changes, research, media, public consciousness-raising, partnerships with advocacy organizations). We have decades of evidence and narratives concerning what leads people into the system, the traumas they face while incarcerated and the stigma experienced upon returning to the community. I believe we need a strength-based approach to shift the public narrative concerning criminalized people. I also believe that multi-sector collaboration is essential, which requires open communication. I'm striving to work towards this in my own life. I have a lived experience of imprisonment and criminalization, engage in research aimed at building healthy communities for everyone and reducing negative perceptions about criminalized people, I often engage with the media to speak to a wider audience, and I'm actively involved with multiple advocacy and activist groups that work with current and former prisoners including Walls to Bridges prison education, the Transformative Voice and Systems change committee within the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, and the Prison for Women Memorial Collective. I hope that more people will join these efforts and seek to look across differences so that together we can all contribute our shared wisdom to creating a world free of punishment, revenge, inequity, violence, and hate. 

Posted : 17/02/2023 12:11 pm
Posts: 7
Active Member

First, I want to thank our participants, all people with many demands on their time, for participating actively in this dialogue, and for their thoughtful comments.

This forum was an experiment - to see if, as an alternative to the more common 'webinar' we could have a sustained discussion that would allow participants and readers to delve into some issues in a deeper way, with time to think between comments.  Also an online dialogue like this can involve more voice than can fit into a 60 or 90 minute event.  Putting together people with very different kinds of experiences and perspectives tends to create a more interesting discussion.

Another benefit of this kind of event is that we have a permanent written record that can now reside on the JHSC website as a reference for others interested in these issues.  It is likely that some parts of the discussion will reappear on the JHSC blog featured on this site as well (under Media/Blog). 

At the same time, we didn't generate quite the level of deep interchange that was our hope.  People come into any discussion like this with views that they have formed from years of experience.  It is important to hear and respect those ideas, but they are also relatively easier to put forward.  The sustained discussion and exploration of differences that was a hope did not (in my opinion) happen as fully, so if John Howard Society Canada does a similar event again, we will look for ways of encouraging more of that dialogue.   

Thanks for joining us!  I hope all readers found the experience worth your time and attention.

Readers with comments on the dialogue are invited to write to  


Posted : 19/02/2023 10:47 am
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