A senior manager with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission says restorative justice is the "ideal" approach for dealing with the misogynistic remarks made in a Facebook group connected to Dalhousie University, but a lawyer who has researched the process doesn't believe it's the right approach.
Gerald Hashey, the manager of dispute resolution at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, said the restorative justice process will keep close to heart the interests of the female students and the general public.
An alternative, formal investigation would focus information and power in the hands of one person, he said.
"A restorative approach is characterized by involving parties who are affected by the issue, it's characterized by being forward looking, it's characterized by thinking about the community needs in a broader perspective," Hashey said Thursday.
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Hashey said the process has dealt with issues of racism, homophobia and gender discrimination. It brings together the two sides to discuss what an appropriate punishment should be.
"It's been our experience that we get better outcomes, people are better engaged, people are more willing to accept responsibility for their actions," he said.
"They're gaining insight into the impact of their actions, or their inactions in some cases."
Allows broader context
The restorative process brings in a broader context, he said, such as the early morning bikini video allegedly shown to students by a male professor.
Hashey said all the women involved should be contacted about the process. He said the upcoming Christmas break and approaching graduation dates make it hard to carry out a full restorative justice process.
"That's what we have to deal with. We can't hope for something else," he said.
Dalhousie University president Richard Florizone has stressed that even under restorative justice, the code of conduct still lists expulsion as a possible outcome from the process. It's not clear if the outcome of the process will ever be made public.
'Secretive' process won't help
Pam Rubin, a lawyer and counsellor who has researched restorative justice, said she thinks this is the wrong way to deal with the students who posted on a Facebook page called the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen.
She said Dalhousie University has a public responsibility not to hide the outcome of this process.
"We empower these institutions and give them a lot of public support and funding because they ensure that professional standards will be met and that the public is safe in trusting its members," said Rubin.
"Regardless of whatever restorative justice process takes place, these kind of questions must be answered by the university and other public institutions. They cannot be answered by a long, secretive victim-offender process."
Public interest a factor
Rubin said there is a very significant public interest involved in patients who use Dalhousie's dental clinic, which is served by fourth-year dental students.
"Right now, women are telling me — especially if they've had a history of sexual victimization which many women do have — that they are not going to be able, ever, to go back to that clinic."
Rubin said the restorative justice process has a history of being ineffective. She said in the U.S., victims are suing some schools and saying they have been retraumatized by the restorative process and were unable to continue their studies.
"I'm not sure what asking them to participate in a long, secretive, potentially retraumatizing and ineffective process with their abusers or harassers is going to accomplish that is better than that — which is simply accepting the fact that the harassment has occurred and it's had impacts, asking women what they need, now, and providing it," she said.
Rubin said these are not "theoretical or abstract questions" in Nova Scotia.
"We have one of the highest rates of sexual assault. A high proportion of those assaults are drug-facilitated, so these are not abstract questions," she said.
"This is something Nova Scotians are dealing with on an every day basis."