Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Restorative Justice for Dental Students at Dalhousie University Brings Scrutiny

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Restorative Justice for Dental Students at Dalhousie University Brings Scrutiny

Article excerpt

Restorative justice scrutinized at Dalhousie


HALIFAX - Dalhousie University's use of restorative justice to deal with misogynistic Facebook posts is being called a "game-changer" by a leading expert in the field as others question whether it was the right approach.

With the male dentistry students involved in the case being allowed to return to clinical practice from suspensions, those critical of the Halifax university's handling of the controversy have expressed reservations at a lack of public accountability surrounding restorative justice.

But proponents of restorative justice say those questions are based on a misunderstanding of the process.

Brenda Morrison, director of the Centre for Restorative Justice at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, commended the school's administration for taking action that went against the public outcry for conventional disciplinary measures.

"I'm in awe of the level of commitment, courage, compassion and time that Dalhousie has been willing to give this process," said Morrison, who has supported the process at Dalhousie by answering questions from facilitators.

"Everybody there is under pressure to do the conventional thing and just push the problem and the people out the door, which bypasses any opportunity to learn and grow from this.

"I think this particular case will be a game-changer."

The school in Halifax suspended 13 fourth-year male students about two months ago for being members of a Facebook page that contained sexually violent content about female classmates.

University president Richard Florizone later announced that the male students and female students who were targeted in the posts would participate in a restorative justice process, which uses an informal and confidential resolution procedure that includes all of the parties involved.

Morrison said there is plenty of research supporting restorative justice programs at the grade-school level in the United States outside the justice system, where the process originated, but it hasn't made it to universities.

"In Canada, Dalhousie is in the lead," she said, adding she believes the school's approach will become a benchmark for other universities.

"We conflate the problem with the person and we need to separate those out so we can understand the problem more fully by having difficult conversations with those directly involved and really digging deep."

But a professor of gender and women's studies at Dalhousie University said the process doesn't address the different levels of culpability. …

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