In Our Words: Tolerance, not punishment, for positive change

Flin Flon may have just taken a stumbling, fumbling step forward on race, and we have our northern first nations to thank for it.

You may have seen one of our main news stories in this week’s paper, showing that one of the Flin Flon-area women arrested last year on hate speech related charges received her penalty. She will not face jail time for the remarks, which included public calls for the shooting of indigenous people.

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Instead of going through the criminal justice system and potentially facing jail time, the woman – who has not been identified – will instead go take a different path. After a mediation circle in OCN, acting on the recommendation of indigenous elders and groups, the woman will instead do 80 hours of community service on a First Nation, will have to write an essay on indigenous issues, will have to write a formal apology and will have to attend a cultural awareness camp on residential schools, along with having been given seven conditions based on traditional laws.

I feel like it’s the perfect move. The way you change an ill or angry mind isn’t through a stint in jail – going right to the root of the issue and trying to fix that instead will be more likely to make something change for the better.

This is not a punitive move. It’s rehabilitation.

Instead of treating a person like an unclean, unreachable wretch, extending an olive branch could be a welcome gesture – a wake-up call that the person has taken the wrong path and an invitation to heal wounds.

It’s refreshing to me to see that an action that was done out of anger and disrespect has been countered not by a jail cell, but by reparation and education.

That is countered by the fact that another person arrested in the case, when offered the same judgment, missed their mediation session last week. Instead of trying to make something positive out of this, they’ll now end up going through a different path – in all likelihood, through the court.

It’s about time people in the north stop dodging the subject of racism. Tackle it head on. As someone who was born and raised in Flin Flon, there have been way too many times where I’ve heard people who I (previously) had respect for or who were in a position of authority, resort to lazy stereotypes and slurs for groups of people who didn’t look like them. That extended to doctors of Middle Eastern descent to black people in skilled trades to Asian business owners.  Half the time, these people didn’t even realize how ludicrous their words were.

That being said, no matter how many angry column inches we devote to the issue and how much others foam at the mouth in response, nobody will change his or her behaviour solely due to shaming. Grown-ups don’t like being forced to change the way they act, even if that way is demonstrably wrong. Nobody likes to be lectured to, as if they were a child told to go to the corner for a timeout.

I will say that I’m glad the people who started this have not been treated – in the eyes of the law, at least – as lost causes. Deep down, I hope we all believe that people can change. Maybe that’s accurate, maybe it’s just naïve – who knows. Maybe this sentence can be a catalyst for a new form of criminal justice.

It may not change the world, but it’s not the worst place to start. Now, let’s make more steps ahead.



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