"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Community Development: Final Paper

leave a comment »

Well, here I am at the end of the one-year certificate in restorative justice from Simon Fraser University. This has been an interesting (if stressful) journey. Interesting because reading through all the materials has helped me move to a place of higher integration of my own distinct world views: engineer, priest, soldier, leader. Also interesting because I was the only engineer in the study groups, so had lots of exposure to other perspectives. Stressful because I changed jobs part-way through the second course, and have been working much longer hours.

This is my final paper. Not my best work due to time pressures, but an interesting study into two problem definition approaches to address poverty and homelessness from the worldview of restorative justice. I’ve been sloppy with citations for some of the assertions I’ve made, I know.

A Practical Comparison:

The City of Edmonton’s End Poverty Initiative


The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’

Definition of Indigenous Homelessness


CRJ 445: Community Development through Restorative Justice

December 4, 2017


In this course the focus was on community development through applied restorative justice principles. A primary emphasis throughout was on the need to holistically consider the greater circles of relationship that each individual is enmeshed within. (Bopp & Bopp, 67) This systems approach to the question is critical, for it is only in considering each challenge in the greater context of the system in which it resides that the possibility of transformative change may be created. (Dekker, 2004) This approach contrasts sharply with the usual business- or government-centric approach which looks to “fix” a presenting problem, usually with the provision of some time-limited source of money.[1] Only by adopting a community-centric approach that develops transformational community can we begin to understand the root causes for the presenting problems, and then by addressing those root causes we may begin to effect lasting transformation.

This paper will review two initiatives which both presume to be community-based: the End Poverty Edmonton initiative of the City of Edmonton; and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’ work to produce a Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada. The approach will be to compare and contrast the program’s problem definition phase using the particular interpretive framework on community as presented through the lens of restorative justice, particularly focused on the issue of the achieving transformative change to reduce an undesired situation (poverty or homelessness).

Same System, Hoped-For Alternative Outcome

There is a history of government-sponsored and led projects setting out spectacular goals such as ‘ending poverty’ or ‘ending homelessness’ which do not deliver even a fraction of the benefits promised. A promise to end child poverty in Canada, made by the federal government some 28 years ago, fell far short of the goal. (Jarvis & James, 2014) Likewise Premier Alison Redford campaigned in Alberta in 2012 with the promise to end child poverty in Alberta within five years.[2] Similar promises have been made by all levels of government throughout my life, such as the promise to end boil water advisories on First Nations reserves: contrasted with the reality that 147 drinking water advisories are presently in effect, with 100 of those being in place for longer than one year. This situation is undisputed, and my perspective is that the work of Block and Bopp & Bopp was focused specifically to create new perspectives on the ways in which community may be created or recreated, so that a different outcome might be imagined.[3] (Bopp & Bopp, 4) Yet our only societal response to such problems is to attempt the same actions as have previously failed, usually by repackaging what had come before. The stark reality of unclean water and Indigenous homelessness remain immune to these policy-centric, top-down approaches.

The history of success with problem-centric approaches does not support that merely addressing the presenting problem does anything lasting, including not resolving the original presenting problem. On a fundamental level, these two approaches differ in that Thistle’s work on Indigenous homelessness uses a bottom-up approach, holistically considered, to define the scope of the presenting problem. The analysis to define the why of Indigenous homelessness begins in the meeting of the people to find out why they are in that situation. By contrast, End Poverty Edmonton is very much government-driven, top-down, in spite of initiation with a survey of citizens who were asked to identify top issues, using the Collective Impact model for community change, and involving many outreach agencies. In a review of the materials it is apparent that End Poverty Edmonton is very much underwritten by resources (financial and people) mostly provided by the City of Edmonton or allied funding agencies.

It is also fashionable to speak about “reconciliation” in the context of social change which intersects the Indigenous community. This is a particular and welcomed outcome of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission undertaken by the Government of Canada with respect to the long history of cultural genocide associated with colonial Residential Schools. Use of the word has become a requirement for any government interaction with the Indigenous community, but this too belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the word ‘reconciliation’ in many of those encounters.

The examples of this paying of lip-service to the concept are legion, one example particularly highlighted by a recent Supreme Court of Canada case is offered as a typical example. (Block, p. 136-7)[4] The Government of the Yukon website on aboriginal relations includes this statement: “Government of Yukon is committed to reconciliation, and building partnerships with First Nations governments.”[5] This commitment becomes less convincing when local First Nations had to take the Government of Yukon to court to object to its unilateral revision of a land-use plan concerning the Peel Watershed. The government had taken a mutually-negotiated land use plan, conducted through processes established under modern treaties between the First Nations and the settler government, and revised some of the aspects dramatically. One included changing the amount of protected land in the watershed from 80% to approximately 29% after the changes.[6] The Supreme Court of Canada, thankfully, upheld the honour of the Crown by stating that modern treaties were binding instruments, negotiated by both parties using modern principles, and were binding on both parties. A government could no longer undertake a mandated consultation process, and then make a unilateral decision to move in a different direction.

The concept of reconciliation for both Indigenous and restorative justice is a holistic concept which involves a new attempt at a previously fractured relationship. (Block, p. 163) This contrast was clearly apparent at the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when the Federal Government of the day sought to conclude all aspects of the process, while Indigenous participants were advocating for a demonstration of that new relationship. Like in restorative justice, the concept of reconciliation involves a fundamental understanding that the parties are committed to walking forward in a new relationship that actually involves living in relation. A fundamental split can be seen between this idea of the creation of a new possibility of community growing out of reconciliation, and the western, settler need for finality in legal and business processes. One asks how we will now live together; the other insists that fiduciary duties have now been met, and the issue that brought us to this place is concluded.[7] The split in approach between the two systems reviewed reflects a similar split in understanding.

End Poverty Edmonton (EPE)

In a review of the materials published by End Poverty Edmonton, they have established 35 actions which have been grouped under five overarching goals. The goals are:

  1. Toward True Reconciliation
  2. Justice For All
  3. Move People Out of Poverty
  4. Invest in a Poverty Free Future
  5. Change the Conversation (End Poverty Edmonton, 2016, p. 22)

The roadmap set forth to address these goals is introduced:

These actions demonstrate neighborhood-focused groundbreaking initiatives as well as city-wide actions intended to impact individuals, groups and communities across Edmonton. The Road Map actions also showcase new and innovative ways of working by prototyping promising and leading practices as well as advancing systemic changes to improve conditions. The City of Edmonton, community partners and Edmontonians, as well as other orders of government, will work collectively and contribute financially to make an immediate and tangible impact on poverty in our city. (End Poverty Edmonton, 2016, p. 22)

This top-level description fits the problem definition provided earlier, that while it includes many phrases which imply a new and organic approach to the problem of poverty in Edmonton, it very much reflects the same sort of government-centred rhetoric of past initiatives. This will be clearly seen in the lack of a sustained bottom-up engagement to be reviewed later.

A review of the 35 actions outlined resulted in the following distribution of “lead” agencies against the actions (End Poverty Edmonton, 2016, pp. 24-40):

City of Edmonton alone: 18 actions

City of Edmonton shared lead: 2 actions

Groups related to City of Edmonton or with primary purpose of funding: 15 actions.[8]

Street-level outreach organizations (Bissell Centre): 1 action

The distribution of lead agencies against each of the actions indicates that the leadership for the initiative is over-represented by government or quasi-government organizations or fund-raising organizations. While most of the initiatives included more street-level outreach type groups, only one of the 35 actions was set to be led by such a group. Of the total expenditures planned of $27,180M, $15,750M is from the City of Edmonton while the balance, $11,430M is from partner agencies, the distribution of which has already been outlined in the assessment of lead agencies. It is also significant that the one initiative completely in the hands of a street-level agency (The Bissell Centre) is a crisis intervention program intended to stop eviction from rental accommodation of people in risk. (EPE, May 2016, p. 33) This is not a transformative program, but an intervention program that is not necessarily “advancing systemic changes to improve conditions.”

The community engagement aspect of the EPE project was conducted by a survey of 400 Edmonton citizens by telephone in February 2015. The principle goals of the survey were to:

  1. Establish benchmark measures to assess citizens’ attitudes towards poverty.
  2. Provide communication cues to develop a dialogue with Edmontonians. (EPE February 2015)

The use of a telephone survey involves some degree of selection of the survey population. Not all citizens have telephones, and those living in poverty are likely to be more represented in that population. The principle goals of the survey were to assess citizen’s attitudes toward poverty and its underlying causes, which could not be interpreted as a degree of significant encounter with the community. The establishment of a survey around particular questions in of itself provides some pre-bias to the outcome.

The EPE campaign uses language which suggests that it is highly engaged in the community, using the Collective Impact approach to “achieve large scale, deep community change”. Collective Impact is based on the idea that in order for communities to create lasting solutions to complex social issues, they need to work together towards a shared goal. It also puts people with lived experience at the centre of this vision.” (EPE Overview, January 2017, p. 2) The participation of those with lived experience is gained through a “stakeholder forum”. The approach also seeks to “bring the spirit and wisdom of Indigenous peoples to help steward…the roadmap.” The membership of the stakeholder forum is not publically available. The place of the ‘spirit and wisdom of Indigenous peoples’ is not explicitly identified. The membership of the stewardship group providing leadership is comprised of government officials from municipal and provincial governments, university professors, chairs of charitable organizations such as the United Way, leaders from two religious communities and the chairs of social advocacy organizations. Three members are Indigenous, and two of those lead street-level outreach activities, one of the Indigenous members is identified as healing out of addictions and poverty.[9] The stewardship group is not representative of the community elements the overall EPE mission is intended to reach out to.

End Poverty Edmonton as a Radical New Community Approach

With this surface analysis, it is apparent that the majority of this initiative is led by government or quasi-government organizations. This is not what might be considered a community recreation best practice in the assessment of either Block or Bopp & Bopp as it does not appear to lead to the re-birthing of true community. (Bopp & Bopp, p. 33)  Bopp and Bopp also identify the critical challenges of involving existing helping agencies who are unavoidably infused with the presumptions of the dominant culture:

Almost all helping agencies (which unconsciously follow the rules of accept the basic assumptions of the dominant culture) work at cross-purposes with communities that are marginalized by, or are ethnically outside, to dominant culture. Indeed the dominant culture tends to be blind to the very existence of cultural diversity. Its perspective, when viewing peoples who are different, is that they have culture…and we have reality.” (Bopp & Bopp, p. 32)

The make-up of the working groups that are supporting this initiative are highly dominated by people who are already in community leadership positions, and particularly by settler leaders. If the group was to be truly representative, I would expect to see the stewardship group comprised of at least half Indigenous individuals (with a significant number living in poverty), as Edmonton’s experience is that over half of homeless identify as Indigenous. Similar numbers relate to those living in poverty.[10] I would also expect to see some representation of those with direct experience of poverty rather than a listing of those already occupying positions of power. It is difficult to not conclude that this initiative is not soundly in the camp that Bopp and Bopp caution about, that this is an effort to impose the dominant cultural reality on those in the state of poverty.

A pragmatic question to ask at this point might be, if the governmental structures in place have not already eliminated poverty in the city, is it likely that further initiatives using the same players will achieve success that was previously not possible? While a component of the program is education of citizens, there is little provision for the development of small community groups to lead the transformation (Block, p. 95), another best practice. Some of the suggestions for community involvement include hosting gatherings to speak about the issues, but there is little evidence of a framework which will permit community-level (street-level) leaders to develop support and transformative small groups for the program from a bottom-up approach.

A particular point of contention arises through EPE’s identified focus on reconciliation. Goal 1 is titled “true reconciliation”, that the EPE action plan is entirely predicated on achieving real reconciliation with Indigenous people. This is a good assertion as a first step, as such a large part of the cohort being considered is Indigenous. However, the action items do not address what Indigenous people have acknowledged is foundational to any reconciliation, a discussion on the place and occupation of the land.[11] It appears the City of Edmonton is prepared to provide land for an Aboriginal Culture and Wellness Centre, but that is the extent of the engagement of land in this discussion. Given that Indigenous are over-represented in poverty groups, and particularly among the homeless, a lack of engagement with this central question is fatal.[12]

This aspect of the land as central to any discussion about reconciliation and an end to the usual cycles of poverty and homelessness is largely missed in the EPE materials. Indigenous poverty is rooted in the dispossession from extended circles of relationship that include human relations, animal relations, plant relations and the integral relationship with the entirety of the Creation. That dispossession has at its root concerted efforts to achieve assimilation of Indigenous peoples into the settler body politic.[13] Any attempt to address the root causes of that poverty and homelessness needs to address in some measure that central dispossession. The governance goals allege to consider some of these aspects in discussion self-governance, “… self-governance is rightfully viewed as a first step in community capacity-building and resolution of many of the issues experienced by their communities.” (EPE December 2015, p. 25) The irony of having the leadership group comprised of 80% settler peoples is apparently lost.

This is fundamentally missed in the EPE approach, and reflects that the non-Indigenous approach to an understanding of the land misses the crucial relationship question. Lowman and Barker identify this as a failure to recognize that the Indigenous world view encompasses ontology and epistemology as inseparable understandings of the Creation. The settler perspective splits those concepts, so it is possible to conceive in the settler world view that the individual human is discrete and separate from the Creation, which can be exploited without fear of harm to the individual. (Lowman and Barker, 2015, pp. 49-51) They also reference the need to revisit sacred sites as a part of “rituals of renewal” that assist in maintaining sustainable relationship. It is land relationships which link Indigenous to kin and to the shared history of place and time: indeed without the land, it is not possible to conceive of an Indigenous “home” in the fullest sense of that word. This also reflects the imperative identified by Bopp and Bopp that healing the past is a necessary part of sustainable development. (Bopp & Bopp, p. 67; Block, p. 164)

Jesse Thistle’s Indigenous Definition of Homelessness

The analysis of the contrary example, Jesse Thistle’s development of an Indigenous Definition of Homelessness, is to the point. This approach embodies the best of the restorative justice approach combined with the building of restorative communities, because Thistle begins with the involved community itself. Thistle, a Métis scholar, was himself homeless for 10 years, off and on.[14] He provides the following definition of a healthy community:

The key to understanding a healthy community, Indigenous or not, is appreciated that cultivation of the human spirit is grounded in emplaced networks of significance. Grounded emplacement gives positive meaning to individual and collective life in social groups and society as a whole, and produces a healthy “sense of place,” as well as a healthy sense of identity. (Thistle, p. 7)

Thistle’s used of the phrase, “emplaced networks of significance” reflects a basic aspect of any community, but a particular requirement for Indigenous community is that network of significance includes all relations, human and otherwise. He also identifies the impact of centuries of colonialism causing the “complex and intentional unravelling of traditional social and cultural systems, known as cultural genocide, has created and prolonged and continues to perpetuate, Indigenous homelessness in Canada.” (Thistle, p. 7) This identification of the root problem sharply contrasts with the EPE approach that appears to appreciate “Indigenous spirit and wisdom” but fails to address the fundamental causes of the poverty it seeks to remove. This dichotomy of approaches suggests that the EPE efforts will ultimately be one more failed attempt at social transformation, while Thistle’s definition provides some hope that at least we are beginning to understand the real problem. Thistle’s definition seeks to not address the symptom of the problem (poverty and homelessness), but the root causes which created the symptoms in the first place. (Block, p. 33)

Thistle situates the question of homelessness as a cultural one, because the lack of a sense of home or homeplace is a culturally understood experience. Bopp and Bopp echo this emphasis in their identification of the need to develop an understanding of a “cultural-insiders’ perspective”. That requires that those seeking development acknowledge that much of the work which is done to fix problems is already situated in colonial dominant narratives that situates itself as the reality. (Bopp and Bopp, p. 72-3) They also identify that those seeking to create transformation must be prepared to align themselves with “alternate patterns generated by groups other than their own.” (p. 59) It is significant in Thistle’s work that while he could have written based entirely on his personal encounter with Indigenous homelessness, he instead traveled and spoke to many people to collect a fulsome definition of what it actually meant.[15] Thistle develops an intimate and authentic relationship with those he writes about, involving them in the definition of the full reality of homelessness in their communities. (Block, p. 98)

Thistle contrasts his 12-part definition of Indigenous homelessness with the Canadian definition of homelessness which only outlines four types of settler homelessness: unsheltered; emergency sheltered; provisionally sheltered; at risk of homelessness. (p. 13) He offers a contrary definition of the Indigenous sense of home that outlines the framework which results in the ultimate symptom:

Indigenous worldviews conceptualize home more deeply as a web of relationships and responsibilities involving connections to human kinship networks: relationships with animals, plants, spirits and elements; relationships with the Earth, lands waters and territories; and connection to traditional stories, songs, teachings, names and ancestors…The holistic Indigenous concept of home is understood as circles of interconnectedness that together form the heart of health Indigenous social and spiritual emplacement. These are known [as] All My Relations…meaning that an Indigenous person, community and Nation feel at home when they have a reciprocal responsibility and stable relationship with such things as place, geography, animals, community, sense of belonging, identity, family, ancestors, stories and independence…without these connections, Indigenous people feel “rootless”… (Thistle, p. 14-5)

Thistle goes on to engage the root causes of institutional dependency as, “the chronic and intergenerational conditions of poverty and marginalization created by the federal, provincial and territorial governments of Canada.” (Thistle, p. 25, cf. Bopp, p. 13) This problem is also identified by Block as he points to one of the hallmarks of an oppressor/oppressed relationship is the prescription of advice where the institution imposes its will on the individual. (p. 109) In comparing the two approaches outlined in this paper it is apparent that the EPE approach is one that reflects the advice-giving aspect Block highlights, while Thistle has openly placed his study in the role of advice-taker from the impacted community. It is also apparent that Thistle’s approach is one that looks at circles of relationship, something Bopp and Bopp emphasize as an important world view when encountering questions of community. (p. 29, 33) Bopp and Bopp also ask the specific question if the dominant worldviews we have relied on for progress to date are able to address the problems those worldviews created in the first place. (p. 73, 77) Thistle has also adopted the pattern of asking “powerful questions” which Block outlines as necessary for drawing in the reader to become an actor in the solution of the problem. (p. 106)


In a comparison between the problem-defining methodologies of the End Poverty Edmonton initiative and Jesse Thistle’s Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada, it is readily apparent that Thistle’s approach is far closer to those outlined in restorative justice and radical community-building theories encountered in this course. Both Bopp and Bopp and Peter Block, along with many restorative justice theorists emphasize the importance of Indigenous wisdom setting patterns of interaction and conceptual models which work well in those world views.[16] It is not surprising that Thistle’s methodology, grounded in his understanding of Indigenous circles of relationship and Indigenous understandings of reality, follows a pattern which is familiar to restorative justice and radical community approaches. By contrast, the EPE initiative is one that is formally situated in colonial cycles of doing business, using an approach familiar to anyone with experience in corporate business planning: a core team of high-profile leaders who guide and direct all of the activities. Participating is permitted, and overtly encouraged, but this is in particular modes of participation and interaction and not in any way which would permit more significant engagement with the actual approach and plan being enacted. Based on the survey of the public-facing materials, it is apparent that most of the strategy and plan is already in place and now it just needs to be executed to achieve the goal of ending poverty. This approach has little which resonates within the restorative justice framework, as it does nothing to identify or address the underlying structure matters which are the primary causes of poverty. It particularly does nothing to engage the specific question of Indigenous poverty which is highly tied up into the dysfunction of colonial systems: the same systems EPE proposes to solve the problem.

Reference List

Alberta College of Social Workers, Public Interest Alberta, and the Edmonton Social Planning Council. (November 2014). No Change: After 25 Years of Promises it is Time to End Child Poverty. November 2014. Retrieved November 25, 2017 from: http://www.edmontonsocialplanning.ca/index.php/resources/digital-resources/f-social-issues/f07-children/240-no-change-after-25-years-of-promises-its-time-to-eliminate-child-poverty/file

Block, P. (2009). Community: The Structure of Belonging. San Francisco: Bennett-Koehler Publishers.

Bopp, M. and Bopp, J. (2001). Recreating the World: A Practical Guide to Building Sustainable Communities. 3rd ed. Calgary: Four Winds Press.

Cabaj, M and Weaver, L. (2016). Collective Impact 3.0: An Evolving Framework for Community Change. Tamarack Institute. Retrieved November 25, 2017 from: https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/316071/Events/Multi-Day%20Events/Community%20Change%20Institute%20-%20CCI/2016%20CCI%20Toronto/CCI_Publications/Collective_Impact_3.0_FINAL_PDF.pdf

City of Edmonton (2017). EDMONTON’S UPDATED PLAN TO PREVENT AND END HOMELESSNESS. Retrieved on December 1, 2017 from: http://endhomelessnessyeg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Edmonton-Full-Booklet-web.pdf

City of Edmonton (January 2009). A Place to Call Home: Edmonton’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. Retrieved December 2, 2017 from: https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/documents/PDF/A_Place_to_Call_Home.pdf

Dekker, S. W. A. (2004). Why we need new accident models. Human Factors and Aerospace Safety, 4(1), 1-18.

Jarvis, C and James, H (2014, November 24). ‘There’s no question we failed’: MPs commitment to end poverty is 25 years old. Global News Edmonton. Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/1688623/commons-commitment-to-end-poverty-is-25-years-old-whats-happened/

Lowman, E.B. and Barker, A.J. (2015). Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada. Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing.

End Poverty Edmonton. Public Documents:

End Poverty in a Generation: A Road Map to Guide our Journey – May 2016.

End Poverty Edmonton Strategy – December 2015.

End Poverty Edmonton Benchmark Survey – February 2015.

End Poverty Edmonton, An Overview – January 2017.

Retrieved from: https://www.endpovertyedmonton.ca/

Thistle, J. (2017). Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press. Retrieved on November 25, 2017 from: http://homelesshub.ca/IndigenousHomelessness

Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Drinking Water Advisories, Government of Canada. Retrieved on November 25, 2017 from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/topics/health-environment/water-quality-health/drinking-water/advisories-first-nations-south-60.html

The Collective Impact Framework. http://www.collaborationforimpact.com/collective-impact/

[1] The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, from the Federal Government perspective, is an example of this approach.

[2] No Change: After 25 Years of Promises it is Time to End Child Poverty. November 2014. Alberta College of Social Workers, Public Interest Alberta, and the Edmonton Social Planning Council. Retrieved November 25, 2017.

[3] Inferring from Bopp & Bopp’s assertion that, “building sustainable community…[is] a primary strategy for solving critical human problems…not merely as a means to an end… [but because] sustainable community is a basic human need.” (p. 4) This addresses the pattern I am addressing, where the same politically-led initiatives are undertaken with fanfare to address long-standing problems, with invariably the same outcome: failure. A different approach, one rooted in underlying issues and starting with community development is needed: an approach that is borne out through both Bopp and Bopp and Block.

[4] Called “the enemy of commitment” by Block.

[5] http://www.eco.gov.yk.ca/aboriginalrelations/ Read December 2, 2017.

[6] http://www.mandellpinder.com/the-first-nation-of-nacho-nyak-dun-case-summary/ or the original decision 2017 SCC 58 at paragraph 53, https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2017/2017scc58/2017scc58.html?autocompleteStr=2017%20scc%2058&autocompletePos=1

[7] The two-row wampum treaty is an example of what reconciliation might look like. This treaty from 1613 between the Haudenosaunee and Dutch settlers depicted two canoes moving in parallel paths down the same river. The river, and all of its bounty is shared between the two canoes (or communities) but the paths do not cross, so there is no interference. Reconciliation means more than an apology and ending of the legal processes, it means the re-establishment of the reality reflected in that two-row wampum.

[8] These organizations are creations of the City of Edmonton or exist primarily to distribute fund-raising proceeds including: End Poverty Edmonton, United Way Edmonton, Edmonton Community Foundation, Edmonton Mental Health Steering Committee, Edmonton Financial Empowerment Collaborative.

[9] https://www.endpovertyedmonton.ca/who-we-are/ Listing of stewardship table members.

[10] 44% of Indigenous children live in poverty. (EPE Overview, January 2017, p. 3)

51% of homeless surveyed in Edmonton’s 2016 homelessness census were Indigenous contrasted with Indigenous only representing 5% of the Edmonton population. (City of Edmonton, 2017, p. 29)

[11] End Poverty Strategy, December 2015, p. 4 lists these actions under “true reconciliation”: 1. Establish an Aboriginal culture and wellness centre 2. Initiate people-first and trauma-informed policy and practice 3. Implement a community witness program 4. Provide opportunities where Aboriginal people in poverty can “show and grow” their talents 5. Make systemic changes to better reflect the needs, interests and culture of Aboriginal people

[12] While Indigenous people account for 5% of Edmonton’s population, they account for 51% of the homeless population. 2016 Point-in-Time Homeless Count in Edmonton.

[13] This comment loosely from Duncan Campbell Scott’s writings about the “Indian problem”, “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duncan_Campbell_Scott

[14] http://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved/rethinking-housing-from-an-indigenous-perspective-1.4372047/from-street-to-scholar-jesse-thistle-creates-new-definition-of-indigenous-homelessness-1.4376118

[15] Thistle carried out a consultation process lasting 18 months involving visits to First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities.

[16] Cf. Glen McCabe, “Mind, body, emotions and spirit: reaching to the ancestors for healing.” Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 21:2, 143-152, June 2008. Also, Lars Charles Mazzola, (1988). The medicine wheel: Center and periphery. Journal of Popular Culture, 22(2), 63–73.


Written by sameo416

December 2, 2017 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Remembrance Sermon 2017

leave a comment »

Equitas Society held a press conference on 9 November about pensions and soldier suicides.

an addendum comment on lump sum vs lifetime pensions from my experience:

The pre-Veterans Charter (2006) Pension Act disabled soldier was entitled to a life-time indexed disability pension. The NVC brought in lump-sum payments, which means soldiers injured in the same way, in the same war, receive different benefits. The benefits are dramatically different in terms of the pension amount. My “low” impairment of just over 30%, assuming I live to 80, will pay me more than twice the lump sum that Maj (ret’d) Campbell received as a double amputee.

As a guy that worked with WCB lump sum payments and the actuarial calculation behind those sum, I have to say there is only one reason to switch to lump sum payments – to limit liability for the insurer. That’s the reason almost all WCBs in Canada transitioned to lump sums.

Actuarial calculations assume a lower lump sum based on ‘future value of money’ giving you an equivalent pay out as a lifetime pension. Only problem is you have to live off the lump sum while you’re investing it. The net impact is less dollars to the disabled, and the complete transfer of risk to the wounded soldier. If your investments tank, there’s no recalculation or top up, you carry all the risk.

I was challenged on my assertion that child welfare services unjustly pull Indigenous kids from homes at a much higher rate than settler children. The numbers are plain that this is factual. The argument was many of them were justified. That may be true, but it’s also correct that the colonial system continues to impose unreasonable standards on Indigenous parents that settler parents are not expected to meet. A good recent paper on the phenomena: “Turning a new page: cultural safety, critical creative literary interventions, truth and reconciliation, and the crisis of child welfare” My point was to ask people to be open to having their ‘comfortable dispensations’ challenged, as lots of our assumptions about the world are incorrect and need to be revised.

Remembrance Sunday, 12 November 2017, SJE Micah 4:1-4; Matthew 24:1-14; Psalm 2

We are pausing for a moment today as a community of faith to consider those who have suffered the violence of conflict and warfare.  Our national day of Remembrance is specifically focused on the memory of soldiers, but as Christians our call is broader as we are to intercede for the entire suffering of the creation.  I usually preach on this day at St John’s, partly because of twenty years of service as a soldier in Canada’s air force (not a chaplain), but also because of my own life-long engagement with the intersection between faith and violence and the cost of that violence.  Through the grace of God and this community, I’ve also been progressively working through the impact of military service on my life, as I seek God’s grace in that question of how violence shaped me.  These remembrance sermons are never easy to deliver, because it involves me opening parts of my life I would rather not deal with, and the evocation of memories that are more comfortable when forgotten.

What I will not do is to attempt to give you absolute answers to some challenging questions…some Christians believe quite strongly that being a person of faith is entirely incompatible with being a soldier or a peace officer. All I can tell you is how much of my faith was formed in the crucible of military service…sure I’ve done a bunch of schooling and learned lots of fancy terms and theology, but the actual day-to-day hard work of being a Christian in a sometimes hostile world and of being a priest…well, that I learned through my formation as a soldier.  In particular, my time in uniform left me with a visceral theology of suffering, in fact, it is what keeps me going as a person who still bears the chronic pain and permanent disability of military injuries. This experience of service, like for first responders or police, reflects that those encounters often leave enduring marks on the person. For me it is in the experience of chronic pain, for others it is suffering that continues long after the guns have fallen silent.

This past month I’ve read two books by soldiers who continue to struggle with PTSD. One is Romeo Dallaire’s book, Waiting for First Light. The title is a powerful image for a soldier – first light is the most likely time for an attack, but it is also a sign that you have survived to see the dawn of another day. For Dallaire, he still lives very much in tension and each day is a struggle to survive. The second book is a bit closer to home, Among the Walking Wounded: Soldiers, Survival and PTSD by Colonel John Conrad. John and I went through undergraduate training together in the military college system. These accounts of suffering are compounded by the ever-present parallel account of how little support those soldiers have received from the organization that should be devoted to their health: Veterans Affairs and the Government of Canada.

It was announced just a month ago that finally, Veterans Affairs is going to begin tracking soldier suicides that occur after release from the military. It is thought that 130 veterans of Afghanistan have committed suicide. And now, years after the end of the combat mission, we’re going to start tracking soldier suicides so we can keep accurate statistics. Thanks to the Globe and Mail for highlighting these hidden war dead for the last few years, in its continuing series titled, “The Unremembered”. This turnabout by the military and the government was after insisting for years (as recently as 2011) that there was no increased rate of suicide among soldiers returning from deployment.[1]

The week leading up to this national act of remembrance is always a rough one for me. It’s a reflective time for soldiers, because we think about our experiences, our friends and coworkers who did not come home, and wonder why we were the lucky ones…even while many bear continued psychological wounds from their service. The reality of today’s military is that our soldiers face exceptional stresses as they encounter situations of immense ethical ambiguity: asymmetric warfare, genocide and child soldiers. It reflects an increasingly broken world, and in spite of our great knowledge and wisdom, we are more in need of Christ’s salvation than ever before – we simply cannot get it right.

We hear Jesus foretelling of the end times, this time after his disciples observe how grand and immense the temple complex was and wonder why Jesus does not share their amazement. In fact he turns their impressed attitude around by telling them that every stone would be displaced in the time to come. This is a powerful message for us to receive and particularly to be paid attention to whenever we begin to marvel at the signs of this age. As another person proclaims, look at this culture, look at all we’ve achieved, Jesus again points us to himself by saying, not one stone will remain upon another. This is a powerful and prophetic caution against the idolatry which appears to be the natural resting place for our hearts, to presume that our works will be what saves the world.

That caution is important as we consider Micah’s message, for sometimes the church has fallen into the trap of believing that we will be able to bring about the transformation of weapons of war into farm implements through our work. If we could spread the Gospel far enough, peace would break out everywhere! But, that’s the same trap of idolatry as standing in awe of the Temple. It is good to remember that the church has been highly complicit in horrors throughout human past, the sexual abuse scandals and the Residential Schools are only the most recent for us in Canada. An apology for the Catholic Church’s involvement in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was issued earlier this year.[2] I could go on. The physical church is composed of frail humans and apart from the mystical reality that links us to each other and Christ, the reality of humans in the equation means we will likely mess things up eventually. In fact, the only thing we hear clearly from Jesus in this discourse is his charge to be sober, level-headed, clear-thinking and warming loving.[3]

This is one of the reasons I’m not surprised when the social structures designed to protect people instead turn into structures which harm. We like to think we’ve left the Residential Schools saga behind us, except seizure of Indigenous children by the state is still commonplace.[4] It’s not called a Residential School anymore, but the impact is the same, children removed from their families. We remove one unjust structure and it is invariably replaced by another in a different form, almost as if we can’t avoid repeating the same mistakes again.

Jesus goes on in the discourse to provide a list of warnings for what will be coming. We are to watch out for tricks, to not be terrified at the noise and news of wars, to not be surprised when we are arrested, killed and hated by the nations because of devotion to His name. We are to beware of false prophets who arise to lead many astray, and the rise of lawlessness which will cause the love of many to grow cold. Our call is to stick with it to the end, to endure and to keep watch. We need to be particularly cautious because those false teachers will invariably come from within the church, and will come with the self-assuredness that they are the only true Christians left. This is another of those warning signs to us, that as soon as we start to feel like we’re the only real Christian left in the world, we are starting down that path of idolatry. That path characterised by placing as first importance not care for others, but the assertion that only this person, only this false prophet, retains a grasp of the true faith and what is truly essential to that faith. That false message will be compelling and attractive, and may very well be backed up with signs and wonders.

By contrast, the way of Jesus Christ is the way of the suffering servant, the man of sorrows who gives all, for all, with no expectation of anything in return except condemnation. If we are looking for a path to follow in confusing times, this is it. This is strongly contrary to the message of this world which shouts to us that unless we do it ourselves, we will end up slipping behind and losing what little we have. It is an important perspective to remember in this season of remembrance because the church has not always been a safe place for soldiers, who sometimes experience rejection or condemnation because of our conclusion that they had engaged in an immoral and anti-Christ activity. That is never the call of Christ, and to slip into a place of judgement which places some outside the umbrella of Christ’s redeeming act is exactly what we are being cautioned against doing. Such judgement displaces Jesus, and instead places us on the judge’s seat determining who is and who is not permitted to be holy.

This is not to say that we should slip into the equally dangerous terrain of aligning the church with the state in support of the military. We are called to stand outside the power structures to call everyone to a different way of being, but that way of being has at its core love, which means never working to exclude any person as being unworthy of the love of Christ and never assuming that we can fix things through our advocacy. Bishop NT Wright sets out that we have lost our way as a radical community of alternative action, and instead become a place of good advice instead of good news:

In many churches, the good news has subtly changed into good advice: Here’s how to live, they say. Here’s how to pray. Here are techniques for helping you become a better Christian, a better person, a better wife or husband. And in particular, here’s how to make sure you’re on the right track for what happens after death. Take this advice: say this prayer and you’ll be saved. You won’t go to hell; you’ll go to heaven. Here’s how to do it.  This is advice, not news.

What sort of faith is it that can answer a soldier’s need for peace and forgiveness? The same sort of faith that allows me to continue daily while living with physical pain. It is a faith that promises the inversion of all there is, as it is converted into the perfect creation. It is a faith that says the one path to true rebirth necessarily leads through death – which is why the world can only be saved by Christ once it has necessarily died.

Christ does not come to fix the universal folly of this world by using the tools of this world: as if by rewriting our mission and vision statements we could somehow change the fundamental nature of the human heart! Instead, Christ comes to save the world by allowing it to first fall into its death, and then bringing about the resurrection which can only take place from the place of the dead. This is perhaps the church’s greatest misdirection in the first world, is that we believe by being better organized, or having just the right fundraising campaign, or adopting business principles to guide our operations is the path to finally, finally get it right after all our failures. What that guarantees is that we will continue to pretend that we are really alive, which is the place we are most comfortable. Salvation does not come when you finally get your act together; instead it becomes possible when you accept that the only path to resurrection is when you can admit that you are fully and truly dead.

The reason the Body of Christ acts with charity and love is not because those things are going to gradually fix the world, but because we are called to love all even in the midst of tribulations, of wars and rumours of wars. We do not do it because we have faith in the ability of humanity to get it right this time, when we know that history paints a different picture. This is something else that our remembrance day should remind us of in stark terms, for there has never been a time of peace for all. While we of the first world are terrified at the thought of a possible mass shooting, we forget that at any given time there are large portions of the world are living that as a daily reality. If the church believes that anything else – politics, spirituality, exemplary moral behaviour – is able to save the world, it becomes just another false prophet that points the way away from Christ.

But we fall into the trap of externalizing non-holiness constantly as a corporate church, as we point the finger away from ourselves to identify external sources of sin. The Anglican Church of Canada released a study package on money last year. You probably won’t see it as a teaching resource here, because the package is all about those who perpetuate the cycles of financial oppression. There is no irony intended in the package’s failure to point the figure back out of the page at the reader – because it is nearly impossible to be a first-world consumer and not to perpetuate financial oppression somewhere. And the package lets you off the hook by externalizing the person it is speaking of as the 3rd person, not the 1st person holding the document and reading it, invariably in a warm house on a safe street with no hunger or illness to content with. An example I’ve used previously is the ‘blood cobalt’ used in all of our smart phones and electronics. The blind spot is in our easy externalization of sin, to someone who is apart from us personally, and apart from our community.

So the question for we Christians as we engage in an act of national remembrance is not so much prayer for ‘those soldiers’ or ‘those war dead’ or for ‘the enemy’ or for ‘those who have suffered’, but prayer for ourselves for transformation so that we can stop being participants in a world that is predicated on violence, so that we can stop being agents of violence ourselves. The second caution in national remembrance is to not fall into the trap of externalizing that violence to a distant land, or a distant war, for that same violence is taking place right now, right here, in broken relationships, in destructive business relationships, in encounters with others who are created in God’s image where we seek not to see Christ, but instead to use power to get what it is we want from that person.

I’ll close with an ecumenical confession written by Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf as to our true allegiance as Christians – to Christ alone by His blood:

“You were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

One in Christ.  All of churches of Jesus Christ, scattered in diverse cultures, have been redeemed for God by the blood of the Lamb to form one multicultural community of faith. The “blood” that binds them as brothers and sisters is more precious than the “blood,” the language, the customs, political allegiances, or economic interests that may separate them.

We reject the false doctrine, as though a church should place allegiance to the culture it inhabits and the nation to which it belongs above the commitment to brothers and sisters from other cultures and nations, servants of the one Jesus Christ, their common Lord, and members of God’s new community.[5]


[1] https://sameo416.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/soldiers-give-up-their-rights-so-they-can-risk-their-lives/ You can find the 2011 expert report through the link on that page.

[2] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/03/pope-apologises-church-role-rwanda-genocide-170320132113667.html

[3] Bruner, Matthew Commentary, p. 475

[4] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/cfs-seizes-a-manitoba-newborn-a-day-first-nations-advocate-says-1.3211451

[5] Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 53-4.

Written by sameo416

November 11, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Leadership as Convening Other’s Gifts

leave a comment »

Peter Block, in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging, identifies that the role of the leader does not follow that which is sometimes referred to as the ‘great person’ theory of leadership. The leader is the one with the most power, decisiveness, charisma, etc – a view that is reinforced by most role-playing games…where success in a leadership task is weighed against a character’s rated charisma. Rather, Block identifies the leader as convener, the one who looks into the community and identifies people’s gifts, then provides them safe space in which they can exercise those gifts while the leader listens and supports. Block identifies also that the leader is responsible for naming the debate and identifying the questions which the community needs to consider.

This image of community presumes that any gathering of people will contain within it the range and depth of gifts necessary to allow that community to progress. My experience is that this is quite true, and sometimes the toughest leadership challenge is identifying those last few gifts you know are needed…sometimes requiring you to convince individuals that they actually hold those gifts and need to grow into that in order that the community may progress.

Block also takes a radical view of ‘accountability’. In a classic corporate sense, this means laying blame when a particular goal has not been achieved. In the really classical approach that usually means someone who will be shortly fired as a public show of ‘accountability’.

The interesting intersection of my reading draws this conversation into behavioural safety theory, which is promoting the same thing. Block speaks about ‘inversion’ of power structures as key, which is the same message which Sidney Dekker promotes in his writings, and in a recently released short film titled “Safety Differently”.

The film documents the inversion of classical safety management frameworks, where it is management around a conference table distant in space and perspective from the people actually turning wrenches who make the decisions about strategy and direction. It is not surprising that the classic approach has resulted in stagnating incident rates. Dekker’s inversion turns the authority for making the workspace safe over to the people doing the job, as philosophically they are in the best place to both identify what is dangerous, and to figure out how to mitigate that danger.

The move from a culture of blame, to a culture of true accountability is one which requires the slaying of many sacred cows, so entrenched is that approach in the corporate mind. If we believe that all problems are caused by human error, then the end of error becomes our primary objective – which means removing those who commit errors as quickly as possible, setting an example for others (so the argument goes). That culture of blame has one primary impact on people – and that is the encouragement to stay quiet about risky work practices, and indeed to cover up mistakes when they happen (lest you be made the latest example).

Block outlines this new approach in a series of three videos:

I find it fascinating that these three strands of study are all coming together: restorative justice, and the focus on community as the key; safety from a behaviour perspective and on giving the power to change things to those most at risk; my present job where I am looking at the challenge of organizational transformation in a place where distrust is the primary challenge (at least partly due to the use of punitive measures and the stifling of creativity).

Block says separately that this is a very patriarchal, American approach to the question of organization – an assumption that places the responsibility for awareness and direction entirely with the executives, and the role of follower becomes passive. By contrast, accountability in Block’s mind, requires each person in the organization to accept their responsibility for the transformation of the community. This requires a change in the narrative, in the language which is used in the community.

Block notes (2008, p. 96), “a place of belonging is one where all voices have value.”

It requires that each person in the organization start asking questions. Question-asking is the key to transformation because to a certain extent our engagement with reality can only take place in the form of the questions we can pose.  Neil Postman (1992) wrote:

[All] the knowledge we ever have is a result of questions. Indeed, it is a commonplace among scientists that they do not see nature as it is, but only through the questions they put to it. I should go further: we do not see anything as it is except through the questions we put to it. And there is a larger point even than this: since questions are the most important intellectual tool we have, is it not incredible that the art and science of question-asking is not systemically taught? (p. 26)

Block identifies that a great question has three qualities:

  • it is ambiguous
  • it is personal
  • it evokes anxiety (p. 106).

In Block’s approach the creation of conversation includes four aspects:

  • naming the distinctions
  • giving permission for unpopular answers
  • avoid giving (forcing) advice and replace it with curiosity
  • precisely naming the question (p. 107)

He goes on to identify six forms of conversation which have the potential to produce something valuable (p. 113):

  1. Invitation, is “the means through which hospitality is created” (2008, p. 113)
  2. Conversation towards structuring belonging is possibility, which offers a vision for the future.
  3. Ownership is the third theme, which invites citizens to commit to meaningful action.
  4. Openness to dissent is the fourth conversation, in which citizens are able to express their doubts, resentments.
  5. The commitment conversation that follows rests on a question for citizens: “What is the promise I am willing to make?” (p. 124).
  6. Finally, the sixth conversation focuses on the appreciation of the gifts we all bring to our relationships with, and connections to, others.


  • Postman, N. (1992). Conscientious objections: Stirring up trouble about language, technology, and education. New York, NY: Vintage Books.


Written by sameo416

November 5, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Individual Development and Community

leave a comment »

My most recent paper in Simon Fraser University’s Certificate in Restorative Justice – it has been an interesting journey.


Block asserts (2009, p. 30) that, “[c]ommunity is fundamentally an interdependent human system given form by the conversation it holds with itself.” Block identifies a number of facets of what constitutes community: individuals, existing in an interdependent system, engaged in a narrative which gives the interdependent system its form. Therefore, the individual and the community are inseparable because the formation of community creates a new reality which is more than just a sum of the parts that constitute it. Likewise, the question of how individuals develop is equally inseparable from the community which surrounds them, as community may impact the individual positively or negatively. The community narrative may either support the development of the individual or hinder that development.

Block’s focus on the narrative of community is a powerful concept which he identifies can either limit future possibility or awaken transformative opportunities (2009, p. 35). Narrative can be a powerful tool to identify where people are in their present situation. In training for chaplaincy I recall a speaker who introduced the concept of the metanarrative in counselling contexts.[1] He asserted that careful listening and reflection on the stories that we were told by patients could reveal to us deeper truths which were operating in their lives – deeper truths that caused behaviour and reaction, and deeper truths that most people were only vaguely aware of. He related that when you realized this you could often make startling observations about people. On more than one occasion he said he had been accused of being psychic because he was able to discern things about people’s personal situation that they had never told anyone previously.

[1] Victoria General Hospital, Clinical Pastoral Education training, 2002 personal conversation.

A few days later I was called in for a late-night emergency in the intensive care unit. While dealing with that situation, the charge nurse asked if I could also speak to the person in the adjacent bed who had just been brought in by ambulance. The older woman was terribly frightened at her present health situation. Rather than speaking about that, she told me a story about their family cabin and being there as a young girl when there was a horrible storm. The wind blew so strongly that it was uprooting trees. She spoke of remembering how powerless and helpless she was before the raging of the natural world. She related that she did not understand why her mind was on that situation from decades earlier when she should be thinking about her medical challenges. I recognized this as a metanarrative and that the storm account was a proxy for her intense fear and feeling of powerlessness in her present reality. While I did not attempt to convince her I was psychic, my recognition of what was going on in her metanarrative allowed me to focus on what she needed most – comfort and assurance that she would survive this storm, as she had survived it previously.

The anecdote emphasizes Block’s point about the central importance of narrative as either enabler or disabler in individual growth. It is not difficult to project how the individual could be equally impacted by community narratives, and by community metanarratives, particularly those which are occult to the members of the community. The power of narrative in community transformation, and concurrent individual transformation, was documented in Heidi Neumark’s work with a church in the South Bronx to revitalize the community. It was in recognizing and claiming then developing the intersection of the individual narratives that a new church community arose in a place where there had previously been only fear and division. In describing prayer, Neumark quotes Zora Hurston’s words which also accurately describe the impact of narrative:

There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought. (Neumark, p. 195, quoting Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God)

Narrative contains a depth of thought which is often beyond words and feelings, but which has huge influence on all the people who operate within the narrative. Neumark’s journey with that community reflected both individual and community transformation, through shared narrative which centred around Neumark’s Christian ministry. One of the ways she sought to develop the community was through breaking down the barriers between the inside of the church, and the street outside by moving the services out to the street. This was to overcome the sense of shame which prevented people from crossing the boundary where they perceived judgement waiting for them; when in reality those on the interior had the same sort of personal narratives operating: HIV-positive, recovering from addiction, homelessness, abuse and poverty. (Neumark, p. 248) Bringing that reality before people let them know that the perceived barrier did not exist, and allowed them to progress in working through a re-remembering of shared past in a more forgiving way. (Block, p. 36)

This theme is reflected throughout the literature surrounding restorative justice, particularly in the use of shame as a means of reintegrating offenders to the community. Karstedt references Braithwaite’s work that focusing shame on the offense rather than the offender would produce a positive force assisting in re-integration of the person to the community. (Karstedt, p 302) This requires a transformation in criminal justice which is instead focused on directing shame at the offender, so that shame can instead act as a restorative force. (Karstedt, p. 312)

I recently finished reading two books on military-duty related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where shame figures prominently. Shame may arise from having survived when others have died, and for leaders particularly shame related to not having been good enough to preserve the lives of those they were responsible for. (Conrad, p. 117, 216) That shame leads to the increased risk of suicide related to PTSD, but can also form a force which allows the individual to find new ways to live within the shame. Interestingly, one of the two PTSD authors, Romeo Dallaire has since identified shame as one of the principle tools for stopping the use of children soldiers. Dallaire stated in an interview:

“You hit (a commander’s) ego,” he said. “You stand your ground and continue to try to break that individual’s power base with his peers by insulting him as not a real commander if he has to use children to do his fighting.” (Edwards, 2013)

That provides an example of the use of shame as a positive corrective force, albeit in a context that has not been reflected in the restorative justice literature I have encountered. It reflects at least some of Dallaire’s personal encounters with intensive shame experienced through his continued struggle with PTSD. One observer sends Dallaire a copy of S.T. Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner when he recognizes that Dallaire and the protagonist in the poem both wrestle with deep guilt and anguish over what they have done, and failed to do. He also states with some foresight that Dallaire’s path to healing will be in recognizing that the shame and guilt would ultimately be turned into “providing succour to the victims of war.” (Dallaire, xiii). Dallaire’s turning point comes when he abandons the line he was briefed to use at a press conference about soldier suicides and instead directly relates the suicides to operational exposure to the horrors of war, revealing that he also was a casualty of that same situation.[2] (Dallaire, 77)

[2] The briefing package Dallaire was given instead stated that there was no relationship between deployments and suicide, and that it was the “psychological instability” of the soldiers which was causing them to take their own lives. (Dallaire, 75)

One of the dynamics which adversely impacts those soldiers with PTSD who are quickly released from the Canadian Forces, is the loss of that sustaining community. Colonel Conrad attempts to return to Edmonton for at least a year with the same troops he had deployed with to Afghanistan. Instead he is forced to conform to the normal posting routine which places a premium on the movement of senior officers on a regular schedule and has no concern for community support and unit cohesion focused on allowing traumatized soldiers to recover within the same community they deployed with. The result is a sense of abandonment in the soldiers that only serves to exacerbate the trauma. (Conrad, p. 82) The dynamic for reserve soldiers was even more profound, as they would leave full-time service overseas with a Regular Force (full-time) unit after a one or two-week decompression period to return to their civilian employment. (Conrad, pp. 32-33) Admittedly this is combined with a community dysfunction which tends to treat injuries, and particularly psychological injuries, as a sign of lacking toughness which is valued as an attribute in troops.[3] The community is also fearful of exposing itself to external criticism and tends to react to problems by first supressing or hiding them, which results in problems not being addressed in constructive ways, further driving the ability of individuals to seek help underground. Conrad highlights this by stating that we live in, “…an age of rhetorical leadership…” where problems are attacked through, “publish[ing] a thick deck of PowerPoint slides and declare[ing] early victory on things.” (Conrad, p. 34)

[3] A personal anecdote on this attitude. Anyone who did not report for duty in the morning and instead went to sick parade at the clinic was referred to as being on “spaz”. If you did this too many times you became known as a “spaz commando”, which was considered highly derogatory. The sense of shame associated with any medical release from the military led to many people I supervised being unwilling to report injuries for fear they would be regarded as weak.

Contrasting this approach of the Canadian Forces leadership to dealing with psychological injuries arising from operational deployments a restorative justice approach would bring different values to the discussion. Lederach and Lederach speak positively of Block’s model using the metaphor of the bowl as a model representing the model of insight, innovation and action: thinking to presencing, presencing to doing. (2010, pp. 101-2) A restorative approach would look at the presence of injured soldiers (both psychological and physical) as an opportunity for healing and the creation of new potentials. It would look to create the conditions necessary to bring about community success by creating the appropriate place, space and time. (Dale and Newman, p. 16) The approach would be soundly based in an understanding of the intrinsic interrelatedness of all reality, and that allowing a person to suffer causes harm to all people. There is an ethical imperative for all to act with the understanding of our responsibility to work to better others, because this will build a stronger community. (Ross, p. 30-31)

Dallarie and Conrad turned their trauma into new directions (Dallaire to his advocacy for child soldiers, and both of them to writing of their experiences to help others understand and to advocate for change), reflecting a restorative approach contained within both of their individual narratives although not named as such. Both have transitioned into becoming advocates for those suffering, Conrad points clearly at Veterans Affairs as an area requiring transformation, and identifies that the community has lost its focus on what should be a foundational value, “…the idea of Canada has become congruent with a bean-counting Treasury Board driven culture. Inside this culture, government officials and politicians are not even remotely on the same page as the men and women they are abandoning. Veterans are not insurance clients.” (Conrad, p. 221-222) A restorative approach looks to each situation of harm and hurt as a way to bring about healing and positive transformation. A restorative approach also acknowledges that all individual healing takes place within a community context, “Individual healing is thus a socially situated activity.” (Ross, p. 237) It is clear that both the health of the individual and the health of the community are intimately linked and inter-related, such that an individual’s health can be increased by a healthy community, and healthy individuals can increase the health of the community.


Reference List

Block, Peter (2009). Community: The Structure of Belonging. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Conrad, Colonel J. (2017). Among the Walking Wounded: Soldiers, Survival, and PTSD. Toronto: Dundurn.

Dale, A., Newmann, L.  (2010). Social Capital: a necessary and sufficient condition for sustainable community development? Community Development Journal. Vol. 45 No. 1, 5-21.

Dallaire, R. (2016). Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD. Toronto: Penguin Random House Canada.

Doolin, K. (2007). But What Does it Mean? Seeking Definitional Clarity in Restorative Justice. The Journal of Criminal Law. 71(5), 427-440.

Edwards, J. (2013). Best way to end use of child soldiers is to shame the commander: Dallaire. Calgary Herald, 29 November 2013. Found at: http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/Best+child+soldiers+shame+commander+Dallaire/9228724/story.html on 21 October 2017.

Karstedt, S. (2002). Emotions and Criminal Justice. Theoretical Criminology. Vol.6(3), 299-317.

Lederach, J.P. and Lederach, J.L. (2010). When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys Through the Soundscape of Healing & Reconciliation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heidi, N. (2003). Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. Boston: Beacon Press.

Ross, R. (2014). Indigenous Healing: Exploring Traditional Paths. Toronto: Penguin.

[1] Victoria General Hospital, Clinical Pastoral Education training, 2002 personal conversation.

[2] The briefing package Dallaire was given instead stated that there was no relationship between deployments and suicide, and that it was the “psychological instability” of the soldiers which was causing them to take their own lives. (Dallaire, 75)

[3] A personal anecdote on this attitude. Anyone who did not report for duty in the morning and instead went to sick parade at the clinic was referred to as being on “spaz”. If you did this too many times you became known as a “spaz commando”, which was considered highly derogatory. The sense of shame associated with any medical release from the military led to many people I supervised being unwilling to report injuries for fear they would be regarded as weak.

Written by sameo416

October 26, 2017 at 10:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Misogynist? Who me?

leave a comment »

I had a challenging experience the other night at a vendor social evening.

Before I describe the event, I need to say that I try to be very aware of my blind spots, including acknowledging that because of eho I am (white-passing Indigenous and male) there are realities I will never really understand. For example, while I’ve encounter racism when I have been public about my Metis heritage, that exposure itself is still cloaked in privilege. I am exposed to the racism when I choose to take that risk. This is much different than someone not white-coded who lives that reality as a default by virtue of an inescapable way they look.

So I try to be aware of that privilege.

Sitting and speaking with a health professional who commented on the female-dominated disciplines not having the title ‘doctor’ while the male dominated ones, for the same education, had the privilege of title. She related that her profession was by far female-dominated.

I commented, someone naively, that I was surprised as I had never been treated by a female in that discipline. I should have been on guard when her first question was if that was by my own choice. I speculated it was because of my medical complexity related to an injury to my back – to which she responded “like 80% of the population.” Still not clueing  in to what was happening I responded that I was disabled by virtue of an injury.

My next comment related to an article I had read about female faculty receiving poorer assessments than male faculty for better research performance. I related how I was concerned for my daughter, just beginning a graduate school in a STEM field. At ehich my conversation companion said angrily, “Don’t try to fix your daughter, worry about correcting your sons!” When I replied I only had a daughter, she said, “Then fix your colleagues!”

That was the end of the conversation, not surprisingly, as I pondered my ability to address all misogyny globally.

While I don’t fall into the ‘I’m an ally, why aren’t you nice to me?” trap, it did leave me wondering what else I was expected to do: raise a strong daughter, advocate for representation in my profession, attempt to counter all those societal dysfunctions, and what else?

This requires more reflection.

Written by sameo416

September 16, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Application of a Relational Lens to Workers’ Compensation Case Management

leave a comment »

And this presentation is the follow-on which looks at using relationality as a means of improving WCB case outcomes. In which I attempt to draw relevant parallels between criminal restoration and restoration in Indigenous contexts and the WCB system…


  • In the Hummingbird Project I outlined recommendations to improve WCB outcomes:
  • Include restorative justice training for WCB case managers as a way of transforming interactions
  • Carry out pre-screening of all WCB claimants to detect the presence of early-life trauma
  • Use that pre-screening to proactively intervene in at-risk cases
  • Creation of a supportive transitional community of healing with the ultimate goal of restoration to work
  • This was largely based on my nine years of experience within the appeal system, where I noted a pattern of cases involving the development of permanent disability from relatively minor injuries, usually because of chronic pain issues
  • That progression was often assisted by the presence of an adversarial relationship between worker and case manager; conversely it could be stopped by an unusually supportive relationship


  • There are many parallels between the typical starting conditions for restorative justice and an injured worker:
  • We have an injured party
  • There is an implicit injurer – the workplace
  • The injurer sometimes expands to include the employer and the WCB staff
  • There is a need for physical, emotional and sometimes spiritual healing
  • The path to restoration potentially transforms all parties
  • This axis: injured —- injurer reflects many of the case studies in the justice system with victim —- offender
  • The parallels suggest a restorative approach to injured worker case management might be appropriate
  • All workplace injury involves disassociation between person and place
  • All workplace injury requires a journey, not always to perfect health, but sometimes to a place of living with permanent injury and disability
  • The restoration from disassociation involves the journey to a new home
  • This parallel resonates deeply with restorative justice principles
  • The reality of some injured worker case management is not healing:
  • Highly policy-focused
  • Begins with a presumption of denial of benefits (rather than a generous system designed to facilitate return to work, a worker must prove the right to benefits).
  • Often the decision-making is predicated on denial first, when the statutory framework intends the contrary: approval first (Ison, 3.3.37, 3.3.38, 1989)+
    • My approach is based on a particular characterisation of the return to fitness:
    • The return to fitness is best characterised as a journey:

    Se hace comino al andar” “You make the way by walking” (Neumark, p. 271, 2004)

    • That journey may be made more healing, more restorative, by the participation of a community.
    • That community may improve outcomes; an adversarial relation will worsen outcomes.
    • That the ultimate goal of the WCB system is not minimizing costs or management of the accident fund, but the restoration of health and return to work.
    • To achieve this requires setting the right place, creating safety, and providing voice.
    • This approach is very different than what is reflected in most of the appeals cases I participated in. (over 500 over the course of 9 years)++
  • Propose that this system could be reconceived so as to become transformative through:
    • The Re-Creation of Context
    • The Re-Imagining of Place
    • The Creation of Real Safety
    • The Provision for Real Voice
  • Because this is literally a healing journey, an area rich for understanding through metaphor rather than policy

Re-Creation of Context

  • The existing WCB system is posed as a linear process only
  • …when the reality is some cases will have many recursions (return to an earlier stage)
  • Those recursions are negatively interpreted as a lack of injured worker commitment.
  • First change in context is to understand that healing is individual and unpredictable.
  • In spite of the WCB acknowledgement of the individual, not borne out in praxis.
  • That difference between lived-out reality and stated reality requires new context.
  • An injured worker enters liminal space analogous to a re-birth to a different reality (Lederach, 2011)
  • Liminal space is frequently frightening as it awakens fundamental questions of being.
  • As a disabled person, my first challenge was answering questions:
    • “Who am I now?”
    • “Does the disability define me, or do I define the disability?”
    • “What does this mean to my relations, my work, to all the external things that define me?”
    • “If my work defines me, and I can no longer do that work, where do I find new meaning?”
  • Some WCB case manager understanding of an injured worker does not reflect the liminal reality of their emotional and spiritual situation.
  • This context must be based holistically around the reality of each injured worker.
  • Stated another way (following Lederach’s presentation, 2011): how does this system demonstrate the love of neighbour above self (where self reflects both system and case manager)?
  • Healing and return to work conceived as a linear process only
  • Note that this is a creation of policy, as WCB medical therapists see reality differently
  • There is a shift in world-view between medical care-givers and case managers
  • Conceptual models and metaphors both “reveal and hide aspects of a complex reality” (Lederach and Lederach, p. 55, 2010)
  • Linear metaphor presupposes certain presumptions which are not helpful (Ibid, p. 56-7):
  • Forward progress is good
  • Backward movement is a setback (language in case management letters would speak of getting recovery ‘back on track’)
  • A more nuanced metaphoric model of restoration (rather than return-to-work) and true healing is needed.
  • Such a model could look at the violation of injury as central rather than the injury itself (Sharpe, p. 179)

Re-Imagining of Place

  • Workplace injury is a violent act, analogous to an attack on person.
  • Particularly when disability results, focus turns to personal safety. (Lederach and Lederach, p. 63)
  • Compounded with an adversarial relationship with a case manager, WCB facilities become places of further threat and possible injury.
  • Combined with the focus on personal safety, this limits the possibility of healing, and makes the WCB the new source of workplace injury.
  • The place should support the development of a revised personal narrative as the foundation of identity. (Sharpe, p. 188)
  • In some cases surveillance of workers began with scheduled appointments at WCB rehabilitation centres.
  • Worker response once revealed was to see the rehabilitation centre as a place of danger.
  • The fundamental violation of place destroys creation of a place of healing. (Sharpe, p. 188)
  • Similar violation of relationship by case manager ordering surveillance.
  • Worker conclusion is similar to Australian aboriginal’s feeling of ‘not being seen’ and needing to ‘feel like a person again’. (Lederarch, 2011 quoting Judy Atkinson)
  • Paradoxically surveillance has the effect of leaving the worker “present but invisible”. (Lederarch, 2011 quoting Judy Atkinson)
  • Places of healing should be focused on achieving that end goal.
  • WCB rehabilitation centres should be centres of holistic healing (place seen to be multidimensional, including spiritual and emotional connections). (Ross, p. 45)
  • The case manager’s office should also be a place of holistic healing.
  • The metaphor of the circle, manifested as the Medicine Wheel, reflects healing places better than the linear, western, scientific model. (Monchalin, p. 33-5)
  • This ‘great wheel of relationship’ incorporates all places and all persons in the care cycle. (Monchalin, p. 27)
  • Shifts the dominant question from ‘What is my job?’ to ‘How am I related to all others in the healing process?’ and ‘How do I create safe space for all people?’
  • The need is to create physical places that are communities of total healing.

The Creation of Real Safety

  • Injured workers have been violated once, in the workplace injury.
  • Real danger in future violation because of vulnerability in recovery.
  • The entire WCB apparatus needs to become a place of safety, so healing can result.
  • This requires a focus on all relationships so a safe, restorative place may be created. (Llewelyn et al, p. 284)
  • This leads to the need for a relationship founded in equality and mutual respect for all parties, if the process is to be restorative (Ibid, p. 299).
  • Healing will result from a team, in relation, all focused on the end goal – a process which is inclusive and participative (subsidiarity). (Ibid, p. 302)
  • This allows the creation of real safety for the injured person, so they may engage in the risky processes of healing and development of a new personal narrative. (Sharpe, p. 188)
  • Sharpe also provides us an image of what those safe relationships will manifest (Sharpe, p. 187):
  • Inclusive, reflecting all impacted interconnections (for example, the family and friends of the injured person are usually not included).
  • Voluntary.
  • Dialogic, allowing open communication between all.
  • Supported, building safety in all aspects.
  • Without the sense of real safety, the ability for healing and restoration is compromised.

The Provision for Real Voice

  • “Victims need an opportunity to tell their stories in their own way, in a setting of their choice…” the alternative breaks down, “…any personal attempt to construct a coherent and meaningful narrative.” (Sharpe, p. 190 quoting Herman, J. 2005)
  • Part of the healing and restoration process is re-building a personal narrative or personal identity.
  • This also must acknowledge that the entire extended circle of relationship is wounded by the workplace injury.
  • “Individual healing is thus a socially situated activity.” Includes giving voice to the entire community of injury. (Ross, p. 237)
  • The voices of the injured are sometimes suppressed to follow policy. Such an approach reverses the proper order of questions:
  • How does this person fit into our process; versus,
  • How can we best fit our process to this person’s (community’s) needs?
  • The healing journey is most effective relationally, including repair of fractured relationships. (Sharpe, p. 192)
  • This will require overhaul of the present client-centred process, which is in reality a process-centred process (i.e., it is the process’ needs which are the focus of all activity).
  • Only through the provision of real voice to the community of injury (worker and extended circle of family and friends and co-workers) and the community of rehabilitation (the extended care team) is real restoration possible.


  • A more nuanced metaphoric model of restoration (rather than return-to-work) and true healing is needed.
  • Physical places involved with rehabilitation need to be safe places of total healing, considering the inter-relationship of all participants.
  • Without the sense of real safety, the ability for healing and restoration is compromised.
  • Only through the provision of real voice to the community of injury (worker and extended circle of family and friends and co-workers) and the community of rehabilitation (the extended care team) is real restoration possible.
  • The WCB claim process is one that fundamentally involves restoration and development of new personal narrative (e.g., new identity).
  • The WCB first encounters the worker in liminal space, where past definitions no longer apply.
  • The goal of the entire healing team (medical and case management) is to journey with that individual through liminality and out to new reality. That new reality will usually include some return to work.
  • This fundamental restructuring of interactions would result in better outcomes in compensation cases.


+Profession Ison wrote (1989) about the WCB tendency to deny as the first step in adjudicating some claims. This is particularly present in the opinions provided by WCB-employed physicians:

Where an injury arose in the course of employment, the claim must be allowed unless there is affirmative evidence of an alternative cause, and evidence that the employment was not contributory.


In practice, this statutory presumption has commonly been ignored, and it has even been replaced by contrary presumptions in the process of adjudication.

This was used as a pivotal assertion in assessing a worker’s claim for compensation based on the rupture of a subarachnoid aneurysm that occurred at work.

Decision No: 2011-698, 2011 CanLII 48880 (AB WCAC), <http://canlii.ca/t/fmllh>, retrieved on 2017-08-07

++ A startling encounter I had with a WCB case manager at a public meeting outside of the WCB context started me thinking about this injured worker – case manager relationship. When she found I was in the appeal system she very proudly said, “I have never had an appeal filed for one of my cases.”  I had seen already that there were case managers whose names seemed to frequently appear in appeal cases, and often in the context of an adversarial relationship that used destructive words to describe the worker’s symptoms: malingering, somatic, and also included the use of surveillance by private investigators. That interaction was the first time I had conceived there was a different way to deal with injured workers.

This was later reinforced in a discussion with a colleague who had previously worked as a rehabilitation counsellor at the WCB rehabilitation centre. He related that in his day, part of his job was to keep an injured worker connected with the work community, often starting with bringing them back into the workplace for coffee breaks. He sadly related that this work had all ceased as a cost-cutting measure, replaced by policy-driven requirements which placed all the onus on the worker. If the worker did not respond to that onus, they were sometimes marked as ‘uncooperative’ and had benefits restricted or eliminated.


Ison, Terence G. (1989). Workers’ Compensation in Canada, 2nd ed. Toronto: Butterworths.

Lederach, J.P (2011). Narratives of Care: The Social Echo of Community Transformation, http://emu.edu/now/attachment/2011/john-paul-lederach/ viewed 19 June 2017.

Lederach, J.P. & Lederach, A.J. (2010). When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of   Healing & Reconciliation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Llewelyn, J., Archibold, B., Clairmon, D., Crocker, D (2013). Imagining Success for a Restorative Approach to Justice, Dalhousie Law Journal, 36(2), 281-316.

Monchalin, Lisa, (2016). The Colonial Problem An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada.   Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Neumark, Heidi B. (2003). Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. Boston: Beacon Press.

Ross, R. (2014). Indigenous Healing: Seeing Justice Relationally. Toronto: Penguin.

Sharpe, S. (2013). Relationality in Justice and Repair: Implications for Restorative Justice in T. Gavrielides and V.   Artinopoulou (Eds.), Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy.

Written by sameo416

August 7, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Use of Restorative Justice Principles to improve outcomes of Workers’ Compensation Cases

leave a comment »

I prepared this presentation as the end project in an introductory course on restorative justice through Simon Fraser University. The idea is to use a new approach to dealing with injured workers that 1) includes screening of all workers for the existence of early-life severe trauma so intervention can be made before the workplace injuries causes a total decompensation and total disability 2) training case managers to use RJ principles in dealing with injured workers to avoid re-traumatizing them through adversarial interaction with the WCB (in the person of the case manager). I saw those two dynamics repeatedly in appeal cases.

The original presentation in pdf: Humingbird Project RJ Intro Course April 2017

This is the text from the PowerPoint slides laid out for reading. This wasn’t a formal paper, but a presentation on an application of RJ.

Workers’ Compensation Injuries
Detection and Early Intervention in Cases of Pre-existing Complex Trauma


  • Case manager: WCB employee responsible for management of the case, and the principle approver for most financial and treatment benefits
  • Compensable injury: the work-related injury which is the cause of the WCB claim
  • Non-compensable injury: anything which pre-existed the workplace injury and was not in any way impacted by the workplace injury
  • WCB benefits: include both treatment and financial (wage replacement, compensation for loss of function, medical aid)
  • Disabling injury: any injury which results in a loss of time at work
  • Permanent disability: any injury which limits an ability to work permanently, meaning no hope of recovery

Experience from the WCB Appeal Process

  • I served as an Appeal Commission on the appeal tribunal for the Alberta WCB for nine years, sat on over 500 hearings, wrote over 350 decisions
  • I am a disabled veteran who experiences chronic pain (19 years so far)
  • Chronic pain cases form a large portion of complex WCB appeal cases
  • Several years in to my term, a pattern started to emerge in appeals:
    • Middle-age injured workers (more women than men)
    • Relatively minor injuries (sprains, soft tissue, bruises)
    • An adversarial experience with the WCB case manager that resulted in benefits being stopped
    • Later development of a seriously disabling chronic pain condition, far out of proportion to injury
    • In many cases, the medical file would contain evidence of early-life complex trauma (abuse usually)
  • Idea 1: If there had been an early psychological intervention, it might forestall development of chronic pain
  • Idea 2: If there had been a healthy relationship with the WCB case manager, this may have lessened severity
  • There is very little research into this phenomena
  • This suspicion is highly anecdotal, but the pattern occurred so often that I could anticipate the outcome of a particular medical history by assessing:
  • The early-life medical history (we reviewed the complete WCB medical file prior to appeal)
  • The lack of a supportive relationship with the case manager
  • The existence of an overall adversarial relationship with the WCB
  • The elimination of wage replacement benefits, and the failure to return to some form of employment (because of the presence of claimed complete disability)
  • In managing the hearing process, we could often become a source of some healing which stabilized and improved the overall outcome of the case to date (but most cases the damage had already been done).
  • An adversarial relationship served as a source of re-traumatization of an injured worker who had already been through at least two sets of trauma (early life; the accident at work).
  • The existence of an adversarial relationship with the employer would exacerbate the re-traumatization.
  • Worst cases were when an adversarial case manager and an adversarial employer appeared to work together against the worker.
  • This represented a further re-injury which sometimes awakened complex, untreated, early life complex trauma.
  • In general, processes intended to heal (and achieve a return to work) should not cause further injury.
  • One factor which could derail this trajectory was the presence of a supportive case manager.
  • Many of those cases did not make it to appeal, as the worker was receiving benefits.
  • We did see some where it was an issue beyond the case manager’s authority.
  • Even with the existence of the pre-disposing conditions, a caring case manager was often able to facilitate a return to some type of employment.
  • An adversarial relationship with the case manger became the defining event that moved the minor injury to serious disability.
  • The benefit of a supportive relationship was often attested to in the appeal process.
  • A worker would say, “I do not want my case manager to get into trouble, as she has been doing an awesome job. But I think I am entitled to this benefit, and she told me her supervisor would not allow it to be granted.”
  • The injured worker becoming an advocate for their case manager reflects an underlying significant relationship between patient and care provider.
  • In the limited sample I observed, this relationship was pivotal in determining outcome

Relation to Restorative Justice

  • When considered with the content of this course, and particularly the article by Green, Johnstone and Lambert, it is apparent that restorative principles have a place before things fall apart in any relationship. (Green et al, 2014)
  • Restorative Justice training of case managers assigned to cases screened to be ‘high-risk’ could serve to improve outcomes, and potentially limit or eliminate development of chronic pain conditions.
  • An admittedly cursory literature review revealed very little specific research in this area. Most investigation involves the efficacy of physical intervention programs such as work hardening.
  • Very few studies dealt with the detection of early-life trauma as a means of early intervention in cases which ended up with serious disabling chronic pain.
  • My goal is not to prove anything, but to highlight an area worthy of focused research.


  • Restorative Justice techniques have been presented as a means of resolving damaged relationship post-incident (after crime, after conflict, after injury).
  • The post-incident approaches appear to have good preventative value, and have merit if applied pre-incident.
  • In this case the initiating incident is the development of an adversarial relationship with the WCB, so post-injury, pre-case management is the intervention location.
  • With restorative principles governing relationship between injured worker and WCB case manager, the potential re-traumatization which awakens early-life complex trauma may be avoided.
  • Restorative principles may improve the skill of the case manager to intervene constructively rather than destructively.


  • Early/Earlier Complex Trauma pre-disposes injured workers to the development of chronic pain conditions
  • Early screening and detection of the presence of complex trauma would permit intervention
  • That intervention, if done promptly after the injury, could forestall the development of a chronic pain condition
  • Restorative principles, applied to the case manager/worker ,would lessen the potential of the case manager exacerbating the development of disabling injury
  • Early screening could also lead to assignment to special restorative-trained case managers who could use restorative principles

Research into the Phenomena

  • Evidence exists that early-life or earlier complex trauma can exacerbate or predispose to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Chronic pain conditions

“…somewhat higher levels of PTSD symptoms were reported by those who reported experiencing a traumatic event prior to the target stressor…” and particularly an occurrence during childhood.  (Ozer et al, 2003, p. 57)

“A clear finding was that childhood physical abuse, stressful life events, and depression were generally associated with chronic pain…” (Roy, 2006, p. 56)

“[Somatization] is sometimes expressed as diffuse physical pain, sometimes as particular conditions.” (Randall et all, 2013, p. 513)

  • Detecting a pre-disposition to chronic pain in the existence of early-life complex trauma can forestall development of chronic pain

“…patients at greater risk of increased pain severity and chronic pain can be detected in the acute hospital with enough accuracy to warrant their identification prior to discharge.”  (Holmes et al, 2010, p. 1603)

  • A relationship exists between prior-life events and length of absence from work.

“A prior history of psychiatric illness or post-trauma morbidity have been shown to increase length of absence from work.” (Hensel, et al, 2011, p. 553)

“…the presence of secondary psychiatric diagnoses was significantly associated with not working.” (Hensel, et al, 2011, p. 558)

  • While this study did not explicitly look at early-life complex trauma, it did establish a linkage between secondary diagnoses (i.e. those not related to the injury, and pre-existing the injury) and worse outcomes for injured workers.
  • Early intervention can reduce length of disability.

“Early intervention has been associated with more rapid recovery and return to work.” (Hensel, et al, 2011, p. 553)

  • The entire injured worker must be considered in the treatment process, not just the compensable injury.

“So psychosocial factors must be taken into consideration in treating patients with chronic pain.” (Roy, 2006, p. 56)

  • Patients who had reported early-life physical and sexual abuse were more likely to develop chronic pain syndromes.

“Abused subjects reported a higher number of areas of pain in the body, more diffuse pain; also, there were more frequent diagnoses of fibromyalgia…Clearly, abuse had far-reaching health consequences in these persons’ adulthood as compared with psychiatric patients and normal persons.” (Roy, 2006, p. 58)

  • The linkage between early-life trauma and later development of chronic pain conditions was demonstrated by some studies.

“…(2) patients with chronic pain were more likely to report childhood abuse than health controls; (3) patients with chronic pain were more likely to report childhood abuse than nonabused patients with chronic pain… The conclusion was that childhood experience of abuse and neglect increased the risk of later life chronic pain as compared with individuals who were not abused.” (Roy, 2006, p. 59)

WCB-particular situation

  • An injured worker has a single point of contact with the organization, this being the case manager.
  • The case manager is presented as a trusted agent who will explain, assist and provide treatment and financial support.
  • Injured workers present with a wide variety of pre-existing conditions.
  • When an adversarial relationship develops, the care-giver becomes an enemy.
  • This can fracture trust and relationship, and converts the worker from a client to someone engaged in battle with the WCB.
  • That shattered human connection will exacerbate prior trauma that involved violation of trust, so the case manager/WCB becomes a proxy for events that occurred years earlier.

Research into the Phenomena

  • Traumatic pre-events are common in the worker population

“…somewhere between fifty-five per cent and ninety per cent of people have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.” (Randall et al, 2013, p. 503)

  • A ‘traumatic event’ is any which is, “subjectively experienced as a threat to the person’s survival.” (Randall et al, 2013, p. 507)
  • The injured worker becomes dependent on the WCB for financial survival.
  • Therefore further trauma can occur which meets Randall’s definition, as the WCB money becomes necessary for survival.
  • The primary determinant is the person’s perception of the threat. (Ibid)

Conclusions so far…

  • Early-life trauma may pre-dispose injured workers to more complicated post-accident outcomes.
  • Particularly in cases of childhood abuse, individuals were pre-disposed to the development of pain conditions and chronic pain.
  • That those pre-disposing conditions could be detected immediately after the presenting acute injury.
  • While there was some call for early screening, no study has yet assessed the effectiveness of such a program.

What can RJ offer?

  • Zehr’s model of threes illustrates the applicability:
  • When people and relationships are harmed, needs are created
  • The key to successful intervention is a supportive and trusting relationship between case-manager and worker. Adversarial relations by someone with the authority to provide or withhold money and care causes great harm.
  • The needs created lead to obligations
  • Unfortunately, the obligation is sometimes submerged in the focus on policy and procedure before care. A case manager challenged by a distraught worker has two options: to be relational, or to protect self by using the power of policy and process to displace responsibility for doing what is right on “the system”.
  • A just response is to heal and put right what has been wronged
  • Following policy becomes a “just” outcome in itself, regardless of the impact of the person seeking service. (Zehr, 2015, pp 92-3)
  • Zehr highlights a fundamental difference between supportive and non-supportive case managers – their mission
  • Is the mission to ensure policy is satisfied, but no more?
  • Is the mission to provide as much benefit as possible without exceeding that permitted?
  • Stated another way…is a case manager’s primary role to say:
    • Yes? Or
    • No?
  • Too often a focus on customer-service is submerged in the protection of quoting policy to explain why something is not possible.
  • Is the fundamental truth the interconnectedness of individuals, or the protection of the corporation? (Zehr, 2015, p. 48)
  • Can a process which is all about the negative (injury, loss of income, loss of identity, awakening of previous suppressed trauma) become one which is positive?
  • This is foundational RJ: conflict transformation explicitly creating positives from the difficult or negative (Lederach , 2003, p. 19)
  • The workplace injury could thus become an occasion of healing other traumas, not related to the work injury.
  • The fracturing of a work community by injury, is replaced by a supportive recovery community which aims at a restoration of the work community.
  • This transformation could ultimately reduce costs to the system.
  • Elliott discusses post-battle rituals (cf. Grossman) as a necessary transition for soldiers returning from combat.
  • This identifies a potential parallel: workers returning from the ‘battle’ of a workplace injury. (Elliott, 2011, p. 175)
  • Multiple traumatic experiences have more than an additive effect, so intervention is important. (Elliott, 2011, p. 176)
  • Harm caused by a person expected to be a care-giver can exacerbate a person’s experience with fractured trust from prior injury.
  • But, those exposed to harm respond when “buoyed by relational support”. (Elliott, 2011, p. 187)
  • “Dependency erodes the sense of personal power…”. Need to focus on services which lead people out of dependency and into community; contrasted with those which create dependency. (Pranis, 2001, p. 299)
  • Can cause particular trauma as the injured worker becomes dependent on the WCB for sustenance and care, and then those benefits are removed suddenly without a transition from dependency.
  • Injured workers are often isolated from all prior support systems, and have no place to turn after the final relationship (with the WCB) is severed.
  • The training of service providers to screen for indicators of complex trauma before the workplace injury could allow early intervention. (Randall et al, 2013, p. 523)
  • The ‘misbehaviour’ of workers previously traumatized can lead to an assumption that they are deliberately being difficult, as they are not behaving as a “real” injured worker should behave. (Ibid)
  • RJ principles offer a relational response to such misbehaviour.
  • A new concept for WCB case management is present in the concept of organizations which build “restorative capital”. (Green et al, 2014, p. 44)
  • The new approach must be very self-aware to avoid re-creating symbolic violence which it seeks to displace (Ibid, p. 45)
  • Rebuilding of fractured community needs to be key, to allow worker recovery and transition back into the work community. (Ibid, p. 62)


  • The pre-screening of injured workers for the presence of early-life complex trauma could identify cases with high potential for serious disability.
  • The assignment of such cases to case managers specifically trained in restorative justice principles could provide the recovery support system.
  • That would allow the development of a supportive transitional community of healing with the ultimate goal of restoration to the work community.
  • This could result in healthier outcomes and lower costs to the system overall.


Braithwaite, J. (2014).  Evidence for restorative justice. View in a new window. The Vermont Bar Journal,   Summer 2014, 18-22.

Elliott, E. M. (2011). Security, with care: restorative justice and healthy societies. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Pub.

Green, S., Johnstone, G., & Lambert, C. (2014). Reshaping the field: building restorative capital. Restorative   Justice, 2(1), 43-63. doi:10.5235/20504721.2.1.43

Hensel, J. M., Bender, A., Bacchiochi, J., & Dewa, C. S. (2011). Factors associated with working status among   workers assessed at a specialized worker’s compensation board psychological trauma program.   American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 54(7), 552-559. doi:10.1002/ajim.20944

Holmes, A., Williamson, O., Hogg, M., Arnold, C., Prosser, A., Clements, J., . . . O‘Donnell, M. (2010). Predictors   of Pain 12 Months after Serious Injury. Pain Medicine, 11(11), 1599-1611. doi:10.1111/j.1526-  4637.2010.00955.x

Lederach, J. P. (2003). The little book of conflict transformation. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

Ozer, E. J., Best, S. R., Lipsey, T. L., & Weiss, D. S. (2003). Predictors of   posttraumatic stress disorder and   symptoms in adults: A meta-  analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 129(1), 52-73. doi:10.1037/0033-  2909.129.1.52

Pranis, K. (2001). Restorative Justice, Social Justice, and the Empowerment of Marginalized Populations View in   a new window. In G. Bazemore & M. Schiff (Eds.), Restorative Community Justice: Repairing Harm   and Transforming Communities (pp. 287-306). Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co.

Randall, M. & Haskell, L (2013). Trauma-Informed Approaches to Law: Why Restorative Justice Must   Understand Trauma and Psychological Coping. Dalhousie Law Journal. 36(2), 501-533.

Roy, R. (2010). Psychosocial interventions for chronic pain: in search of evidence. New York: Springer.

Zehr, H. (2015). The little book of restorative justice. New York: Good Books.

Written by sameo416

August 5, 2017 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî

thoughts of an urban Métis scholar (and sometimes a Mouthy Michif, PhD)

Joshua 1:9

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Engineering Ethics Blog

Reflection on life as a person of faith.


Today, the Future and the Past all kinda rolled up in one.


For Those Courageous in Standing for Truth


Law, language, life: A Plains Cree speaking Métis woman in Montreal

Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.