Restorative justice offers a way for peace to come from tragedy

One family sat across from the Greater Victoria woman whose dangerous driving caused the death of their brother, John Caspell.

Another woman, Shannon Moroney, sat on the other side of the glass from her newlywed husband, in jail for brutally raping two women in their Peterborough home.

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The two very different stories follow a similar arc in the way the victims found healing and closure within restorative justice programs, an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system that often leaves victims sitting on the sidelines. Caspell’s brother and sister and Moroney will share their stories Wednesday as part of the Supporting Victims of Crime symposium Wednesday at the University of Victoria.

John Caspell’s family went through the restorative justice process almost two years after his death. Caspell was riding his motorcycle when he was struck by a car at the intersection of Government and Bay Streets on April 26, 2009. The 57-year-old had surgery on a badly fractured ankle and the next day, he was feeling well enough to stand up. He suddenly felt dizzy and his heart stopped. He died of a blood clot that clogged his lung, which shocked his family who was hopeful Caspell would quickly recover from the accident.

The driver, Cheryl Gervais, who was distracted by her cellphone, pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention, a lesser charge than the original charge of dangerous driving causing death, which carries a maximum prison term of 14 years in prison.

Caspell’s siblings, Paul Caspell and Lois Schmidt, approached Crown prosecutors about a restorative justice process as an alternative to a woman with a young child facing jail time.

“Enough harm had been done already and we didn’t see any good coming from someone going to jail for a bad decision on the driver’s part,” Schmidt told the Times Colonist Monday.

After a lot of back-and-forth communication through mediators and lawyers over the phone, a restorative justice meeting was set up for March 19, 2011.

Schmidt said she knew she needed to hear the side of the driver, who up until the meeting, she knew nothing about.

“It seemed like the justice system was determined to keep the two sides apart,” Schmidt said. “The only opportunity we had to know what happened and to find out what went on that day was to sit down with her and talk to her.”

Paul Caspell and Schmidt both brought their adult children. Gervais was there with two supporters.

Everyone sat in a circle and one could not talk unless in possession of the “talking stick” to make sure everyone had a fair say and to prevent arguing.

Gervais was able to apologize and explain the circumstances — that she was communicating with her daughter because she was running late.

“It almost went from her being a monster to being a mom,” Schmidt said. “I’m not sure that could have happened in the courtroom setting.”

The group worked together to agree on restitution. Gervais voluntarily gave up driving for a year to pay her respects to Caspell. She volunteered with the B.C. SPCA because Caspell was an animal lover and she planted a tree in his memory.

Gervais also did some public speaking about the dangers of using a cellphone while driving.

Schmidt said the experience left her “100 per cent satisfied in terms of our opportunity to be involved, to be heard and to really hear her side of what happened.”

 

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Shannon Moroney created her own form of restorative justice the moment she walked into Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario to see her husband, Jason Staples, who had just been arrested for kidnapping and raping two women.

Moroney was away at a conference in Toronto when police told her Staples had been arrested for the brutal crimes and that their Peterborough home was now a crime scene.

They had been married a month earlier, after a happy two-and-a-half-year relationship. Moroney knew about Staples’ violent past, that he had spent ten years in jail for the second-degree murder of a woman in 1988, just months after his 18th birthday. But his recovery was so positive, his parole officers told Moroney he was a low risk to reoffend.

Moroney said she had to talk to Staples, to ask him why he did what he did and how he could have hid a double life from her.

“I visited him many times, as many times as it helped me in moving forward,” she said in a sit-down interview with the Times Colonist Monday. Moroney said she got a lot of criticism from people who felt she should have immediately cut off contact with Staples.

Moroney learned a painful lesson that even though her life had fallen apart — she lost her job, lost friends and “became a widow after Jason was arrested” — she was not seen as a victim by many people and took much of the blame for her husband’s actions.

Moroney continued to visit and communicate with Staples for two years until his sentencing, where she helped him write a statement that he read in court, through which he was able to take responsibility for his crimes.

“Working with him and helping bring about some accountability was a really positive thing and it was healing for me. Otherwise there was no role for me … in the justice system, yet I was so directly affected. So the role that I carved out for myself was to help the offender.”

Moroney, who lives in Toronto, has since remarried and has two-year-old twins. She wrote a book, Through the Glass, and does public speaking about restorative justice all over the world.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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