Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Restorative justice works — I tried it

He didn’t rape me, he was no murderer, yet when I faced the 20-something male stranger who kicked in my front door last month, I initially refused to shake his hand, feeling scared just sitting next to him.


In my early fifties, I was about to experience my first restorative justice session, held last Saturday, a day before the start of Canada-wide Restorative Justice Week (Nov. 18 to 25). This is a process whereby an offender and victim meet, share their views of the related incident, and come to a mutual agreement regarding accountability and restitution. This perspective considers minor crimes an office against an individual or community, rather than the state; therefore, it avoids court proceedings and a criminal conviction.


Accompanied by a young female constable, the offender and I faced each other in a small room in the new RCMP building in Gibsons, BC. My chest tightened at the sight of the man’s striped jacket, the same one he had worn that awful October night. I had been alone in my rural home, weak from the flu, watching TV in my pajamas and bathrobe at 10:30 p.m. Hearing repeated knocking, I had decided to answer the door. Perhaps someone in our community-minded neighborhood was in trouble.


Unable to see through the door’s peephole, I went to a window next to the door and pulled across the curtain.


“I need a ride,” slurred the tall, blond man in a baseball cap under my overhead deck light. I couldn’t tell if he was drunk or high. He was carrying a near-empty six-pack. He repeated the request.


“We can’t give you a ride,” I repeated, not wanting him to know that I was alone. My husband was away, working. The guy mumbled that he was from Vancouver Island and asked me if I had been there. He said someone had told him there was a party here and he wanted to know how many people were inside. Was he trying to assess the situation for an attack?


“There’s no party here,” I told him. “You’re probably looking for the Legion.”


“The Legion’s closed,” he said. He didn’t leave.


“I’d like you to get off our property or I’ll call the police,” I told him. He didn’t move. “I could call the police right now.”


“Sorry, sorry,” he said, sheepishly. I stepped away from the window. The curtain fell back into place.


SMASH! I ran into the hallway, aghast to see my locked door open, the inner left door frame broken and fallen halfway outside. Omigod. Would he try to get into the house and rape me?


All I could think was: I have to stop him from getting in. I put all of my weight, fatigued from the flu, against the door. The end of the lock reached into space, nothing left to hold it in place. I dialed 9-1-1 and gave a description of the man to the dispatcher. Relieved that he hadn’t gained entry, I relaxed a little. But was he lurking outside?


A male constable arrived quickly and showed me a photo on his phone of the suspect. Police had just picked him up on a nearby road. They would hold him overnight. More relief. He was charged with mischief. The officer asked me if I would be willing to testify against him. The man had no criminal record. But what if he sought revenge for his first offence? I didn’t want to be victimized again.


Weeks later, Constable MacPherson, the RCMP’s local restorative justice representative, had called me and asked me if I’d consider a restorative justice session. I said yes.


Now I sat in this newly built room, which still smelled of fresh wood, and at first, avoided looking at the offender. I told him everything about that night: my fear; his arrogance in expecting a stranger to do his bidding; his lack of impulse control, his unwarranted trespassing and on and on. What if he had done this to my 93-year-old neighbor? She could have had a heart attack. His actions could have caused post-traumatic stress disorder in someone. I spoke of taking responsibility for one’s actions, of empathy and compassion, how every action and statement we make has an impact, in the moment, on others.


The twenty-something constable, only four years on the force, spoke of her own fear and adrenaline that night, when she had to arrest him while alone on a dark road with no streetlights. He had become belligerent in the police vehicle, denying his actions. I found out that he had followed my neighbors down their driveway only a half-hour before appearing at my door.


The man admitted that he had once put his fist through a wall after an argument with a past girlfriend.


“That scares me,” I told him. “This is your wake-up call. You need counseling.” I spoke of violence against women. He agreed to counseling, which became a term of our agreement. If he didn’t follow through, he could be re-arrested.


He paid for my door repairs and apologized repeatedly. I also received a hand-written letter of apology. I shared my appreciation of his willingness to get help and to participate in this session. The constable said it was rare to have both parties agree to restorative justice.


Before we ended our conversation, I wanted to shake his hand. “You earned it,” I told him.


I left, feeling heard and validated. As the constable had explained, if this had been a court case, I would not have been able to address the offender directly. Such an opportunity felt deeply gratifying. I spared nothing in my assessment of his actions.


I’m not surprised that restorative justice shows a high rate of victim satisfaction and offender accountability. For minor infractions, this is how true, meaningful change begins: in raw, person-to-person honesty, one heart at a time.

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November 23, 2012 at 11:27 am Comments (3)

Sixty attend teens’ hike to save Wilson Creek forest

                                                              — Jack Stein photo

This week, I had the pleasure of watching a five-year-old boy, camera in hand, staring up at Douglas firs, their tall tops reaching past the mist in a Sunshine Coast forest.


He had stretched his head far back, almost parallel to the mossy ground, as if his brain needed space just to take in the sight of these massive trees. I wondered what he was thinking, if this moment would leave a memory of awe that would remain to adulthood. More importantly: Would these trees in Wilson Creek, BC even be here in a year?

The boy was among dozens of children of all ages, one of 60 local residents who’d come to hike through, and learn about, this remarkable low-elevation forest that’s slated to be logged. Three Coast teens—Jillian Olafson, Kamilla Hindmarch, and Galen Wilson—had organized this educational hike, along with retired teacher Karen Stein, to help save these precious 27 hectares from logging.

Before the hike, at the mouth of the trailhead, we stood in a circle below the wooden sign created by Sechelt First Nations member Willard Joe, which depicts Thunderbird, a powerful protector and mystical figure.

                                                                                                      — Jack Stein photo


We were each invited to choose a small smooth rock, from a pile of 100 brought for this purpose, and write one word that these woods inspired in us. Soon, several rows of rocks appeared, bearing words like “Peace,” “Preserve,” and “Love.”

Jillian Olafson, young friend, Kamilla Hindmarch, Galen Wilson

“One beautiful possibility is for this part of the forest to be left as a park for us all to enjoy,” Stein told the group. “This is our community forest. You are the next generation. Today, you represent all the children who live on our coast.” When asked for one word to describe this forest, Olafson replied: “Magnificent.”

The government of B.C., which owns this land, has issued a licence to enable the District of Sechelt, as shareholder of the Sunshine Coast Community Forest, to log this forest, known as cutblock EW002. It is one of the last intact, natural forests left in the Wilson Creek watershed. Its largest tree, a Douglas fir, measures 2.31 metres across.

“This forest is much more valuable alive than clear-cut,” Hans Penner of the conservation group Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF) told the gathering. He said he hopes that local residents of all ages who want to save this forest tell the District of Sechelt: “You’re a public body. We expect you to listen to the public.”


Several of the event’s teen organizers plan to meet with District of Sechelt representatives on Nov. 23 to discuss alternatives to logging this forest. “It’s a beautiful place to be,” said co-organizer Wilson. “We can’t let it (logging) happen. It would destroy everything.”


Some local teachers have taken students through this forest to learn about the forest’s biodiversity, thanks to informational trail signs provided by volunteers. The event’s organizers planned the hike as part of a home-schooling peace project.



ELF member Bill Legg told the children: “You guys really have a voice.” He reaffirmed the land as traditional territory of the Sechelt (shíshálh) First Nations, who have used this forest for centuries for hunting and gathering.

ELF member Ross Muirhead speaks to the group

Meanwhile, about 100 Sunshine Coast residents, including Sechelt nation members, held a rally Nov. 15 outside the District of Sechelt office, hoping to tell mayor John Henderson and city council members that these 27 hectares of forest should be protected as parkland. Although no such representatives appeared, people at the gathering, including many who had attended the forest hike in Wilson Creek, openly shared their opposition to logging this area.


Sunshine Coast residents who want to save this forest are urged to write letters to the local media and to the District of Sechelt. Click here to find out more through the ELF website.

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November 18, 2012 at 8:14 pm Comments (4)

Seek peace on Remembrance Day — and always

On Remembrance Day, I woke up at about 4:30 a.m., unable to sleep. Oddly, I was thinking of the life expectancy of a tail-gunner in the Second World War. These men, who operated machine guns while cramped into a highly visible plexiglass bubble in the rear belly of a plane, were exceptionally vulnerable to enemy fire. I had heard that they rarely survived a week of such work. Other sources say seven weeks or two flights. Twenty thousand of such allied gunners died during the war.


I can’t imagine what it would be like to take on such a high-risk task, knowing with complete certainty that you would be dead within weeks. Flying so exposed at high altitudes, these men often suffered frostbite. As lookouts, if they relaxed their guard for a moment and missed seeing an enemy plane, they and their crew mates could be dead within seconds.


Yet so many young men willingly undertook this dangerous role. I would like to honour the courage of such men and the thousands of others at battle on land and sea, who died for the cause of freedom against fascism and Nazi power from 1939-1945. But ultimately, is any war justified?


Remembrance Day always brings me conflict. I admit that I enjoy freedoms now because of those who gave their lives in the past. My heart aches for those whose young sons and daughters have died in a global conflict, for the veterans who have returned, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and receiving little government aid.


Yet, I don’t support the hype around labeling dead soldiers “heroes” when they were exploited as pawns in a war for oil interests under the guise of “liberation,” as in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf. I am a pacifist, committed to nonviolence. I don’t even like using the term “enemy.” I praise the nonviolent resistance movements of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi. I support the notion of ahimsa, which yoga master Kripalu describes in the following way:


Ahimsa is the state that exists when all violence in the heart and mind have subsided. It is not something we have to acquire; it is always present and only needs to be uncovered. When one practices ahimsa, or nonviolence, one refrains from causing distress—in thought, word or deed—to any living creature, including oneself.


Many people might think that this state is unattainable. Yet, we can all become more conscious of the conflict within ourselves, which we project onto others. Peace begins within. Would I be willing to take up arms in self-defence? Probably. Does that make me a hypocrite? I don’t know.


On Remembrance Day this year, Yoga by the Sea offered a peace meditation at the same time as the memorial ceremony held at the Legion in Roberts Creek. Dozens of people gathered to meditate, in silence, for about 40 minutes. I think that such events are a wonderful counterpoint to the honoring and continuing of war. Peace rhetoric is easy; living it is a daily challenge. Let’s all strive for peace within our hearts and share this every day, as best we can, in forms both big and small.

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November 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm Comments (2)

It’s not too late to stop ratification of the Canada-China Investment Treaty

Two days past its ratification deadline, Prime minister Stephen Harper’s Canada-China Investment Treaty (FIPPA) remains unsigned. That’s good for Canadians.

Harper will soon arrive in India, touted as the largest democracy in the world, to wrangle more business deals. While there, maybe he can pick up some democratic principles of his own, rather than ignoring parliamentary procedure in his home country and the views of thousands of Canadians in how he handles Chinese investment.

As Canada’s Green Party leader Elizabeth May has stated on her website, 32,000 Canadians signed her party’s petition against this treaty. Her office received more than 75,000 emails against the deal and 5,000 used her website to send their MP letters to warn of the danger posed by dealing with the Communist government in Beijing. And the organizations Leadnow.ca and Someofus.org had more than 70,000 signatures on their petition against FIPPA.

I won’t recap here the many dangers related to this treaty, from security threats to China’s non-reciprocal powers and legal clout, because they’re amply covered across the Internet. Instead, I’ll quote from journalist Terry Glavin’s recent commentary in The National Post: “It’s the sudden emergence of the most powerful criminal enterprise in world history suddenly establishing itself as the most powerful capitalist entity in Canada by securing its place as the critical and irreplaceable component of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s sole economic strategy, which is to transform Canada into an ‘energy superpower.’”

Glavin points out that China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC)’s $15.1 billion pending bid for Calgary’s Nexen Inc. is the biggest-ever overseas acquisition move by a Chinese state-owned enterprise. Petro-China, meanwhile, pumps more oil than Exxon-Mobil. And the annual revenues of the China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation, known as Sinopec, exceed the entire sum of the annual federal tax revenues of the Government of Canada.

Surprisingly, for a deal that gives the Chinese sweeping control over key Canadian resources and the right to sue any level of government that doesn’t go along with its business ventures, the NDP has done little to condemn this agreement. So far, Elizabeth May is the only politician to take a strong vocal stance against this treaty.

Canadians have made it clear that they don’t want their federal leader handing unprecedented powers to a corrupt, foreign country that will gain massive control over this country’s resources. At the very least, this issue needs to be debated in Parliament in a process that includes provinces, territories and First Nations. Let’s stop FIPPA now.

Click here to read Terry Glavin’s opinion piece. To receive updates on this issue, join the Facebook page of SomeofUs and LeadNow.

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November 3, 2012 at 12:22 pm Comments (0)