“Restorative Justice (RJ) is one answer to the question of ‘what is justice,’” explained Johonna McCants-Turner, Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. “RJ tells us that justice is about meeting needs and responding to the impacts of harm. Whether that harm involves events that have just occurred, or that happened many years ago, Restorative Justice provides an answer to what is justice, and that answer is healing,” she said. 

Restorative justice as a philosophy “emphasizes healing and accountability to repair harm and injury, build healthy relationships, and create thriving communities,” wrote Professor McCants-Turner. Students pursuing the new RJ diploma or specialization at Grebel, and the University of Waterloo will explore different remedial approaches to current problems in the criminal legal system, study the philosophy and historical roots of restorative justice, and apply anti-racist and decolonial lenses to understand the dynamics of power in the justice system. The RJ Specialization is open to all Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) Major students looking to pursue an in-depth study of alternative, non-conventional responses to societal harms and injustices, as well as solutions to harms experienced by individuals or groups in schools, faith communities, or social settings. The RJ Diploma is available to all University of Waterloo students enrolled in a degree program or any non- or post-degree academic plan. 

"There is an increasing volume of organizations dedicated to Restorative Justice practices, or have it as part of what they do,” said Sessional Instructor Chris Cowie, who teaches a Restorative Justice course at Grebel. Cowie has dedicated his life to restorative justice and worked in the youth justice field and in a custody facility for young offenders. "It took very little time for me to see that those approaches were not having the intended impact,” he said. “I was drawn to a more restorative response. Since then, I've facilitated many cases bringing perpetrators and victims together and seen remarkable changes.”  

"Restorative Justice asks how we can set things as right as possible and appeal to the larger context of people’s relationships,” said Nathan Funk, Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Grebel. Professor Funk explained that the Restorative Justice program focuses on responding to conflict situations with the aim of promoting the emotional growth and well-being of everyone involved. “Conflict, violence, and harm always happen in the context of relationships and community. These factors result in distinct kinds of harm for the people who caused that harm and the people targeted by it. RJ asks allows us to think of justice in human terms and analyze how a community can act to improve each situation,” he added. 

Professor McCants-Turner explained the negative effects of punitive measures in relation to families, interpersonal relationships, and government institutions. “Most of us have learned a punitive conception of justice. Part of the reason why many of us have been taught this perspective is due to colonialism,” she said. “As a society, we need to identify ways to un-learn justice as punishment and re-learn the practices of long-standing communities that were replaced by violent colonial systems.” 

PACS students have commented on their shifted perspectives after taking the Restorative Justice course taught by Cowie in Grebel’s PACS Department. “The Restorative Justice course opened my mind and allowed me to identify the problems in our justice system and analyze solutions to those problems in such a practical, applicable, and beautiful manner,” said Selah Woelk, a Peace and Conflict Studies student at UWaterloo. “Restorative Justice applies to our current society by presenting relational ways to respond to large scale harms, while building meaningful relationships and creating a more connected community,” she added. 

There are six courses required to complete an RJ specialization; some PACS courses can be double counted toward the specialization. Students looking to add the RJ specialization to their PACS degree must submit a plan modification, but students interested in an RJ Diploma only need to enroll and complete the six required courses and request for the Diploma to be added to their degree program when they apply to graduate/during the application to graduate.  

By Jiho Mercer

Johonna McCants-Turner, Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies

Johonna McCants-Turner

Nathan Funk, Associate Professor of Peace and Conflicts Studies

Nathan Funk