Jennifer Llewellyn is a United Church member, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and a restorative justice expert. She has consulted on many cases, including the 2014 incident in which male Dalhousie dentistry students posted misogynistic comments about female classmates to a Facebook page.
On restorative justice: Restorative justice is an idea that says that justice is fundamentally about securing relationships where people can enjoy respect, dignity and mutual care and concern for one another. It tends to not only be concerned with a particular incident, but with understanding what that breach of the law means. We need to be addressing underlying and broader issues that have brought people into conflict and created conditions for harm.
On the influence of the United Church: Both of my parents were ministers who focused on social justice. They helped me to understand justice, what’s required, what we owe to one another and how we can ensure just relationships. From peace groups and nuclear disarmaments to the Nestlé boycott and anti-apartheid activism, I learned at an early age that justice is not only about legal systems and the law.
Photo by Todd Arsenault
On criminal justice versus restorative justice: Our criminal justice
system does one thing particularly well: it incapacitates people from
doing further harm, often for a relatively short period of time. It
doesn’t do very well on meeting the needs of victims, addressing the
harms. Incarceration is a pretty blunt instrument. It hasn’t shown
itself to be particularly good at rehabilitating or changing people’s
minds, behaviours or the circumstances that caused them to behave in
ways that made other people unsafe. In reforms that are inspired by a
restorative approach, we’ve seen a deeper understanding of the needs and
harms experienced by victims, but also the circumstances of crime and
On sexual assault cases: The Jian Ghomeshi
case [a former CBC radio broadcaster who was charged with multiple
counts of sexual assault, and acquitted last spring] raised a lot of
questions about our current criminal justice processes in meeting the
needs of sexual assault victims. Sexual assault cannot continue to be
understood purely as incidents between individuals. In order to respond
adequately, to ensure justice and safety for women in our society, we
need justice processes that are much more robust in terms of
understanding the root social causes of sexual assault and seeing those
as systemic issues. We need a system that can generate better solutions.
the Dalhousie dentistry school incident: The women who came forward
asked for a different process, which told us this was not just an issue
of a few bad apples who said harmful things. They saw what was reflected
on that Facebook page as being about those men, but also about the
dental school in which they were being educated, the society in which
they were living and, more importantly, the profession they were about
A restorative approach was better able to meet their
needs and to address the issue as they understood it: it wasn’t just one
of individual harm, but one of systemic discrimination.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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