Restorative justice leaders gather in Halifax to share expertise, commend Nova Scotia’s "fierce initiative"

- July 25, 2016

Nova Scotia has a long history with and deep expertise in using restorative approaches — used in schools, workplaces, and professions to create inclusive, cohesive, compassionate communities. Viewed as a way of building healthy communities from the start, and a way for people to put things right when things go wrong, taking a restorative approach has reached a significant moment of regional, national, and international interest.

That interest and Nova Scotia’s provincial expertise helped draw more than 400 people from around the world attended the 2016 International Restorative Conference: A Restorative Approach to Climate and Culture in Education, Workplaces, and Professions at Halifax’s World Trade and Convention Centre on June 27 and 28.

The conference brought together more than 30 national and international experts to explore wider uses of a restorative approach in creating inclusive and healthy communities.  On the first day, six panels explored restorative topics ranging from culture change and feminist justice, to educational applications and professional responsibility. Delegates came together in workshops on day two to share expertise and dig deeper into these topics.

See also: International conference learns from Dal's restorative process (Faculty of Dentistry website)

Nova Scotia — an international leader

“Nova Scotia is a really interesting place for the speakers and delegates to come and explore possibilities,” says conference co-chair Jennifer Llewellyn, the Schulich School of Law’s Viscount Bennett Professor of Law and an internally renowned restorative justice expert. “We have been doing a lot of this work for a long time in youth justice and now in human rights, and we’re moving into adult justice and thinking about it in our schools and on university campuses.”

Prior to the start of the conference, a number of delegates visited the Black Cultural Centre across from the site of the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, and learned about the trailblazing restorative inquiry underway with former residents. Fania Davis, a high-profile civil rights activist and lawyer from Oakland, California, commended Nova Scotia’s leadership: “This is a fierce initiative for both justice and healing.” Singling out Nova Scotia as a potential model for the United States, Davis added: “It appears your government is trying to address systemic and institutional racism, something that’s opened up by this incident with the colored home.”

Jurisdictions around the world – including Nova Scotia, Canberra in Australia, Leeds and Hull in England, Vermont and Maine in the United States, and New Zealand – are taking a restorative approach to their justice systems, workplaces, and schools and have formed The Restorative Approach International Learning Community (ILC) to share experiences and best practices. This group is currently hosted at Dalhousie, under the direction of Prof. Llewellyn.  

Prof. Llewellyn, who also directed the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Community University Research Alliance, has worked with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Research Initiative on the Resolution of Ethnic Conflict at the Kroc Institute for Peace at the University of Notre Dame, and a restorative justice consultative body to the UN. She advised the Assembly of First Nations during the Indian Residential Schools Settlement negotiations, and wrote a National Restorative Justice Policy for Jamaica.

Prof. Llewellyn is also central to Nova Scotia’s use of restorative justice in human rights, schools and youth justice settings, and to the restorative processes Dalhousie has undertaken in recent years, including Dalhousie’s Restorative Justice Project, which is a partnership between Dalhousie, Halifax Regional Police, and the Nova Scotia Department of Justice. The project aims to help Dalhousie students who have received a summary offence ticket or certain criminal charges to take responsibility for their actions and take positive steps to address their offences with those harmed by them.

Sharing national and international learning

Throughout the conference, the attendees shared their research and experience taking a restorative approach within education, workplaces, and professions across a spectrum of matters ranging from work and campus climate and culture to professional responsibility and discipline.

The conference was a collaboration between Dalhousie University, Dalhousie’s Faculty of Dentistry and the Schulich School of Law, the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the Crime Prevention Unit of the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, the Nova Scotia Criminal Justice Association, and The Restorative Approach International Learning Community. It featured 30-plus speakers and experts from around the world, including:

  • Fania Davis, civil rights activist, lawyer, and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, California
  • Moana Eruera, principal advisor Māori, and Paul Nixon, chief social worker for Child, Youth and Family, Ministry of Social Development, New Zealand
  • Leigh Goodmark, law professor at the Frances King Carey School of Law, University of Maryland
  • Mimi Kim, domestic-violence advocate, California
  • Saleem Tariq, CEO of Children’s Social Work for Leeds City Council, England

It also drew on the local expertise of:

  • Schulich School of Law Professors Bruce Archibald and Jennifer Llewellyn
  • Schulich School of Law alumna Emma Halpern (LLB ’06), officer of access and equity, Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society
  • Tod Augusta-Scott, guest lecturer in Dalhousie’s Department of Social Work
  • Jacob MacIsaac, community safety officer with Dalhousie’s Security Services
  • Kevin Reade, president of the Halifax Association of Black Firefighters
  • Barry Stuart, former Schulich School of Law professor, co-founder and chair of Smart Justice Canada, and retired Chief Judge of the Territorial Court of Yukon

More info: Full list of speakers

Dalhousie steps into leadership role

In 2015, the restorative justice process at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Dentistry drew upon the ILC’s research and experience and highlighted the potential of a restorative approach following the the discovery of offensive Facebook posts made by male Dentistry students. As a result of that experience, coupled with a history of using a restorative approach on campus, Dalhousie has stepped further into a leadership role for the use of a restorative approach in the education sector.

See also: International conference learns from Dal's restorative process (Faculty of Dentistry website)

The conference involved many of the facilitators and participants of Dentistry’s restorative justice process, including several of the female and male Dentistry students and faculty members, plus Llewellyn, MacIsaac, and Melissa MacKay, Dalhousie’s associate director of Student Life.

Videos: Conference highlights at the Schulich School of Law's YouTube account

At the closing session on the second day, workshop moderators summarized what they had shared in both small and large discussion circles. Questions that arose included: What do leaders value in their organizations? How do we get the top people in an organization involved in a restorative approach when they don’t know much, if anything, about it? What can you do when restorative processes are in place but not working well?

The underlying theme running throughout the panels and workshops was that people were optimistic and excited to be doing this work — and to feel that they weren’t doing it in silos.

“The conference helped us think about how to secure just relationships to form healthier communities,” says Llewellyn. “We’ll continue to examine what we should do when things go wrong, share our experiences in taking a restorative approach, and learn from each other. And we plan to come back together again, and again, and again locally, nationally and internationally to continue these conversations about the important work we’re doing.”


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