by Bob Russell
Margot Van Sluytman and I met about 5 years ago at an International Institute of Restorative Justice Practices Canada conference in Ontario, when she was there to give a talk about Sawbonna, her award-winning model of restorative justice. While having an enjoyable meal with her, I soon discovered in our engaging conversation that I had heard her story on the CBC Radio show called The Current. It is a national current affair show played right across Canada from Monday to Friday. It was about the 1978 senseless murder of her father, Theodore Van Sluytman, in an armed robbery in Toronto. I had a similar story to share with Margot. I told her that while I was working as Correctional Officer in 1980 as METFORS at 1001 Queen Street in Toronto, a nurse I had worked with on a midnight shift had been murdered after our shift. I had worked with another nurse and male nursing assistant. AKA: PA. To this day, this is still an unresolved murder mystery and posted on the Toronto Police Service website.
After she finished her session on Sawbonna, victim-led restorative justice, I asked Margot if she would consider in being a Keynote Speaker for a non-profit organization I was involved with, the Bridge-Hamilton, which is a transition house for ex-offenders that offers programs for those discharged from the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, also known as The Barton Street Jail. I had the pleasure in introducing and thanking her on behalf of this non-profit organization. Margot spoke at this fund generating event sharing 20-minute presentation on Sawbonna victim-led restorative justice. Her sharing was well received by those in attendance that evening, with many questions about victim-voice and victim needs being posed. The respondents were deeply grateful to hear from the daughter of a murdered man, whose committed to shared-humanity did not preclude support for offenders. Margot was well-informed and deeply caring the Bridge-Hamilton at-risk clients; aware that many have also been crime victims.
I support Margot’s dedicated and tireless work as much as possible by sending out her information sent to me to over 30 of my networking contacts of mine developed over the years regarding Sawbonna, as well as other forms of restorative justice, criminology, and victimology.
When I started to work within Ontario Corrections in 1977 as a young Correctional Officer just out of college, the involvement of victims of crime was extremely limited. It is has expanding very slowly over now including victim impact statements, notification when offenders are being released from custody, attendance at parole board hearings, and the development of victim’s services agencies right across Canada. It still has a long way to go and personally feel Sawbonna, as well as other forms of restorative justice are important to this deepening conversation. Not everyone buys into the use these principles, as some within policing and Crime Stoppers view this process as being “soft on crime”. However, as we know that such processes are often more difficult to get involved with than going to jail.
In my early retirement from Ontario Corrections in 2006 as the Program Co-ordinator doing staff training at the Ontario Parole Board (OPB), I developed a keen interest plus passion regarding restorative justice. I attended a 3-day training course on this topic conducted by the Metro Toronto Police Service, 12 Div. I have attended restorative justice conferences in Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa, Ontario. In the USA in Rochester and Buffalo, New York. I even visited a restorative justice lead crimes of crime unit in the West Midlands part of England. In 2012, I met with Program Co-ordinator for a 1:1 conversation for 2 hours. The area of restorative justice, which is unfortunately still offender-focussed, continues to expand and to grow, with many victims of crime engaging in important research, development, and policy changes. Not the least of which is continuing to insist that the government address The Victims Bill of Rights, and entrench mechanisms for implementation of each of the significant elements therein.
Since I met Margot 5 years ago, she is now the Executive Director of Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors, which is a virtual healing home for crime survivors where abundant resources are available. www.theodoresplace.org Theodore’s place is contextualized in the framework of Sawbonna, Victim-Led Restorative Justice, with shared-humanity and human-rights core principles.
I have a lot of respect for Margot’s work. Her advocacy for Sawbonna, for shared-humanity, and for human-rights, does not falter. It has taken her a lot of courage and guts on her part in telling her own personal story to others. I am sure the senseless murder of her loving father in 1978 is still fresh in her mind and the motivation to keep her going each and every day. Sawbonna!
Bob’s contact info: E-mail bob55russell@sympatico, Cell # (289) 952-1234, Faceb