Searching for equity in the Justice System
A criminology and criminal justice professor at St. Thomas University says the justice system needs to do a better job of handling the cases of marginalized populations, including indigenous people.
Josephine Savarese, who dedicates much of her time to examining law- and society-related issues, will present her research during the 80th Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences being co-hosted by STU and the University of New Brunswick beginning May 28.
A common focus of Prof. Savarese’s work is examining examples of court cases involving the mistreatment of indigenous people. She says they are often scrutinized and treated differently because their lives don’t conform to the norms of the dominate society.
“I feel my role is largely to highlight the limitations of our current system with the hope that it supports indigenous scholars as they try to rethink and suggest ways to restructure the justice system,” Prof. Savarese said. “Because I am a member of the dominate society and not an aboriginal person, I see my role as highlighting concerns and problems with the system and working collaboratively with others towards solutions.”
Savarese’s Congress presentation, which takes place Sunday, May 29, at 2 p.m., examines a Saskatchewan case that began in 2004 when a five-year-old girl disappeared from her family home in Regina. The Ministry of Social Services enforced an apprehension order and placed the other children from the same family into care. The mother fought the order and won, but the Court of Appeal reversed that lower court decision to return the children to their mother. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial judge’s application of the legislation and ordered a re-hearing in the case.
Savarese uses A Vicious Circle: Child Welfare and First Nations, written by Patricia Monture, to argue that the Appeal Court’s emphasis on the “correct” application of the law is an example of the dominate society’s denial of Aboriginal knowledge and justice. The reasoning in the case undermines First Nations children and families, she said, because it is fixated on formal, legal justice. Savarese is also part of a panel during Congress that recognizes the work of Monture, a leading indigenous scholar who died in the fall of 2010.
“Even though this case is out of Saskatchewan, I’m sharing this research at Congress because I think there’s widespread preoccupation with the justice system across Canada,” she said. “I believe New Brunswickers and others in the Maritimes do have a sensibility around fairness and equality and will be just as interested and passionate about this as people in western Canada.”
Savarese, who has a master of laws from McGill University, said this research bridges to a case she presented on in the United Kingdom in April. It involved the tragic death of a 17-year-old Aboriginal youth named Neil Stonechild. He was dropped at the edge of town after being last seen alive in police custody. His was one of several similar cases that began to make front-page news in 2000.
“I examine the Stonechild case through the works of Giorgio Agamben, who writes about the homo sacer – a figure from Roman Law who can be killed but not sacrificed. The muted law enforcement response to Stonechild’s death suggested that his life was seen as having no value. In keeping with Agamben’s theory, the incident showcased authority exercised with limited accountability,” she said. “This case was buried for 10 years. It’s a riveting case with all the components of an incredible murder mystery. The elements of human drama and tragedy are fascinating.”
More of Savarese’s research will be displayed as part of the Congress 2011 Research Showcase. For more information on her work, contact Jennifer Gavin, Congress Communications Officer, at 506-453-4990.
About Josephine Savarese
Professor Josephine L. Savarese has been an Assistant Professor in the department of criminology and criminal justice since 2006. Prior to Joining St. Thomas University, she served in a limited-term appointment and as a part-time instructor at the University of Regina where she was instrumental in the development of online programming. In 2002, she developed a course called Introduction to Justice – the first online course offered for Justice Studies and Pre-Policing students.
She earned a master’s degree in law in 2000 from McGill University and bachelor’s degrees in law and sociology from the University of Saskatchewan. A short contract with the Saskatchewan Legal Aid Commission galvanized her interest in criminal law and justice.
Her work has been presented internationally and she has published on law- and society-related issues in book chapters and law journals.
Prof. Savarese teaches Criminal Law, Introduction to Criminology, and Contemporary Issues in a Criminal Justice System at St. Thomas.
In her spare time, she enjoys writing poetry and working on mixed media art projects.
“The Maritimes have given me licence to pursue this research. The liberal arts focus of St. Thomas University, where engaged teaching and quality research are promoted, captivated me and inspired me to live here.” – J. Savarese.