Canadian Lawyer

August 2023

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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Page 7 of 51

FEATURE CROSS EXAMINED 6 FROM TOUGH-ON-CRIME TO TRAUMA-INFORMED The justice system needs to radically alter how it deals with crime, argues Benjamin Perrin in his new book IN 2018, Benjamin Perrin received an unso- licited letter that significantly changed how he researched criminal law. It was a handwritten letter from an Indigenous man incarcerated in British Columbia. "He didn't ask for any help," says Perrin. "He didn't want anything from me. He was literally just sharing his experience and telling me what his life was like in the criminal justice system." That same year, the federal justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, launched a public consultation on justice reform, and Perrin, a professor at University of British Columbia's faculty of law, was invited to participate. Justice Canada asked participants what a new justice system would look like, designed from scratch. "So, on one hand, I've got this letter from this Indigenous inmate, which is just haunting me. And then I have this this quite provocative once-in-a-generation question, which is, 'How can we do things differently?' And that was the kindling in the spark for my book Indictment." Perrin's book is broken into two sections. The first hears from those with lived experience in the justice system, like the Indigenous letter writer. Perrin says these people act as figurative witnesses putting the justice system on trial, hence the Indictment title. "We literally sent a poster by email across the country to every organization that was listed in the Justice Canada Victim Ser vices Director y and ser vices that they provide for people who have been charged and incarcerated." The second section hears from experts, like lawyers, judges, and other justice sector professionals. Perrin brings years of experience working with and interviewing many of these experts. Before he began the book, he had worked with victims of crime, researched human trafficking, and worked on justice issues for Prime Minister Steven Harper as his top criminal-justice advisor. Even further back, Perrin had worked in downtown courts as a law student helping clients who couldn't afford a lawyer, and at a centre for abused women and children as a teenager. Perhaps most significantly, Perrin had personal experience with the criminal justice system. His book opens by recounting the experience of his father-in-law, Greg, a Métis with a troubled childhood and run-ins with the law, and how he was transformed in a vision quest. "I remember when he went on [it], and he came back a totally different person. The big thing that he went out there to overcome was a crack cocaine addiction," Perrin recounts. The common thread connecting all these stories, Perrin says, was trauma. "The overwhelming majority, almost universally, of the people … were previously themselves victimized and continue to be victimized often when they are caught up in the justice system." For the book's second part, Perrin's interviewees included corrections officers, the head of an Indigenous peacekeeping force, people doing gang-exit work, public health experts, forensic psychiatrists, and police force specialists. Many of them, he anticipates, will "The importance [of the stories] and why I tell stories in Indictment, and not just [include] statistics and studies, is it's quite clear that we're not doing criminal justice policy based on evidence in Canada right now"

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