By Amy Robertson
Connie McGonigal, a family and community advocate, no longer believes that retribution is the only solution to wrongdoing.
Since completing SFU Continuing Studies' Restorative Justice Certificate in December 2010, McGonigal believes that restoration, not punishment, can be the best answer—and her clients are reaping the benefits.
McGonigal is a longtime employee of The Caring Place, a Salvation Army-run social services organization that offers an emergency shelter, a transitional housing program, and a community meal program to residents of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows (both in the Vancouver area). She builds relationships and cares for people who come to the organization for help—including families in distress, people at risk of homelessness, and troubled youth.
“When we think about justice, we think about punishment—but really, it doesn’t need to be like that. It can be an honourable process,” she said. “Punishment forces change. Restorative justice provides opportunities for change through relationship.”
McGonigal took the restorative justice program at the recommendation of a colleague, realizing that her goal at work was, ultimately, to restore people who were on the margins of society—the Caring Place’s tagline is “Where Healing Begins.”
The online program gave McGonigal the tools and understanding to facilitate that healing, and changed how she deals with her clients. Rather than looking at the conflict as it happens, she said, “I’m looking for ways to look beyond the situation at hand. Maybe someone’s mom died that day and they went off the deep end. We don’t know.”
In the past, people who were caught being disruptive or doing drugs at The Caring Place were automatically barred for a minimum of 24 hours. Now, McGonigal realizes that barring people from the premises only limits their access to help. A committee now meets to discuss barring—and offenders are invited to join the meeting.