Guest post by Brad Langendoen.
Here is the letter I wrote yesterday when preparing for Jury Duty Selection. Although I had the chance to pass on jury duty because I am technically a part of a “religious order”, instead I obliged to be a part of the selection (not to be selected) but to share some thoughts I had about the criminal justice system to a judge and some lawyers…. Unfortunately when I got to the courts today they told me I was exempt for some reason, so I did not get my chance, but here it is. I should note that any personal views stated here are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the community I am a part.
My name is Brad Langendoen, I am part of a new monastic community here in downtown Winnipeg. This community is a religious order where we voluntarily commit to a number of ideals including working for peace and justice with-in the neighbourhood of west-broadway, the same neighbourhood that this courthouse is a part of. One way we explore justice is by living together in a house and opening up our doors to people in the neighbourhood. This includes a number of friends who have lived on the streets in Winnipeg’s West-End and at one time or another have found themselves here in this very courthouse. The intent of hospitality is to create a safe space where people from all walks of life can come together, learn from one another and can build authentic relationships together. We have witnessed from this place the power of deep, healing community.
The purpose for this written address is to make two things clear, 1) my own personal convictions about justice and 2) my deep concerns with Canada’s criminal justice system. Before any attempt to select me for jury duty, I find it necessary to admit that I as an individual hold some unique political and religious convictions that shape my life but also my view of Canada’s criminal justice system. For myself, what this means is that I believe in showing deep love and respect for individuals and persons in authority and positions of power, while ultimately believing with conviction that those very positions and structures inhabited are historically illegitimate, potentially destructive, and in some cases must be resisted. As noted, this motivates me as an individual, with a community of people, to find alternative ways to work for justice outside the systems that I believe do at times add to the problem not the solution, to crime, poverty, theft and violence in our neighbourhoods.
Despite by interest in social justice I have very strong reservations about the Canadian criminal justice system. I am in no way a legal expert nor do I have any personal experience with the courts nor do I have answers or solutions to all the questions and concerns I have. But I have heard first hand accounts of how victims and offenders are both consistently left out of the court process. This raises a number of red flags. First, the process does little to nothing for the victim. According to our justice system the crime is against the crown and not the victim so their voice is rendered irrelevant to whatever justice may be brought about. Secondly, the court proceedings can be incredibly adversarial, often leaving victims re-traumatized. Third, the Canadian criminal justice system is obsessed with the offender as well as making sure the offender is punished. Yet this focus results in little to no healing, reconciliation or eventual re-integration into the community and often only perpetuates separation and marginalization. Lastly, the criminal justice system operates on a fixed definition of justice. This means that sentences, mandates and terms are pre-designed, and do not take into account individual needs and obligations.
A good friend of mine in the neighbourhood has been through the courts process a number of times and describes the system as such, “we are treated like cattle, we are a number, there is no time for the system to hear our stories or histories, and because there is no time to deal with root causes of peoples behaviour many people re-offend again and again”. The Canadian criminal justice system does not interrupt the cycles of crime and violence, and especially due to time constraints, quickly punishes crime in a way that too often perpetuates it.
A professor of mine, Jarem Sawatsky once wrote, “What if justice isn’t ugly? What if justice is something beautiful and whole? If injustice is about excluding, taking away, breaking, and being shamed, then shouldn’t justice be about embracing, giving back, connecting and becoming radiant? If injustice is about losing identity, should not justice be about rediscovering identity?” I am moved and challenged by my professors words.
My understanding is that today, I am being asked to play a part in a system that I think will do little to promote the kind of justice and peace that I and others envision for our neighbourhoods. I do not doubt the good intentions of the individuals who work with-in this system but I must respectfully stand in protest against the system and the process itself.
Had I been called to the courts today, and asked to some how walk alongside a victim or offender in a tangible way, by say building a personal relationship of support or accountability, or by offering creative and empowering approaches to individual and community healing, then my interest to be included in this process may be different.
A final comment: If selected for this Jury, I cannot guarantee that at any point, I won’t decide to engage in acts of civil disobedience due to ethical concerns about the process. I believe that the means to an end matter, and as stated, I’m not sure that the Canadian criminal justice systems’ means or ends carry with them the same values that I hold coming from the unique Christian perspective that I do.
Thank-you for your time.
Please remember that this is a guest post by Brad Langedoen so your comments/questions/concerns may or may not receive a reply.