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Race relations in Canada

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There is a widespread belief that race relations in Canada are characterized by tolerance and compassion, 1 however, one ought to sit down and speak with a racial minority group member before jumping to such erroneous conclusions. Canada's criminal justice system continues to be one of the most readily apparent examples of institutionalized racism. While Canada is a world leader in many fields, particularly in the areas of progressive social policy and human rights, our country is also distinguished as being a world leader at putting people in prison. 2 In a tolerant multicultural society one might hope that the prison population would represent considerable racial heterogeneity, however sadly, this is not the case. Racial minorities, particularly Black and Aboriginal people, are considerably and disproportionately over represented in Canada's criminal justice system, including Canada's incarceral institutions. Professor Tim Quigley suggests that the unemployed, transients and the poorly educated are all better candidates for imprisonment. When social, political and economic aspects of society disproportionately put both Aboriginals and Blacks in these ranks, our society literally sentences them to the jail. 3 Years of dislocation and economic development have translated for many aboriginals into low incomes, high unemployment substance abuse, loneliness and community fragmentation.4 Similarly, Blacks are more likely to possess such lower-class characteristics as residential mobility and high levels of unemployment.5 Bleak socio-cultural and economic conditions, coupled with personal, systemic and cultural racism, which pervades the Canadian community and then infiltrates all aspects of the criminal justice system, translates into higher levels of racial minority crime and presence in the justice system. ...read more.


In turn, within the justice system Aboriginal offenders and victims are often interpreted as being unresponsive, uncommunicative and uncooperative. In western justice maintaining eye contact conveys that one is being truthful. In many Aboriginal cultures, maintaining eye contact with a person of authority is a sign of disrespect.21 An Aboriginal offender who shows no remorse and is unable to look justice officials in the eye will in all probability look guilty and in need of 'reformation' in the eyes of a judge or jury that doesn't understand Aboriginal custom. Traditional sentencing ideals of deterrence, separation and denunciation are completely foreign to the understanding of sentencing held by the Aboriginal community. Aboriginal conceptions of sentencing place primary emphasis upon the ideals of restorative justice and the importance of community sanctions.22 A justice system that isn't sensitive to and understanding of the difficulties aboriginals face within society in general, and the criminal justice system in particular, is doomed to fail Aboriginal offenders and their communities. This failing is reflected in the extent that aboriginals are over-represented in Canadian prisons, more adversely affected by incarceration and less likely to be rehabilitated thereby, which in turn serves to perpetuate the cycle of aboriginal over representation in the criminal justice system. The law will not suppose the possibility of judicial bias in a judge who has sworn to administer impartial justice and whose authority largely depends upon this presumption.23 While, ideally we would hope that judges approach their duty with impartiality, overrepresentation of racial minorities in Canadian incarceral institutions begs us to question that presumption. ...read more.


It is crucial to burn into the minds of all Canadians notions of tolerance, compassion and respect for all. This will require continuous long-term commitment from all aspects of the community, the public and private sectors, the media, parents and teachers alike. As it is community members who staff all aspects of the justice system, this is vital if any authentic steps will be made in creating a criminal justice system that promotes egalitarian values. Providing cultural sensitivity training specifically for all justice system actors is imperative to achieve this goal. The Criminal justice system is largely a white upper-class man's playing field and this needs to changed. Making a conscious effort to recruit members of visible minorities to play the roles of the police, prosecutors, the judiciary, among other important justice system actors, will change the game significantly. Confidence in the justice system requires the presence of familiar faces, those that have shared experiences and understand the special circumstances that many minority members face.34 We also must work towards improving the social and economic conditions of all racial minorities in Canada. This will require significant investment in welfare initiatives such as housing, healthcare, education, and occupational skills training. Without addressing the social and economic conditions that foster over-representation of visible minorities in the criminal justice system, we will do little to remedy it. Finally, in lieu of the sharp disparity between Aboriginal concepts of justice and those of our current adversarial system perhaps the government should listen more attentively to Aboriginal pleas for self-government. The creation of a restorative Aboriginal justice system would work wonders for reducing both Aboriginal crime and Aboriginal over-representation in Canada's criminal justice system. ...read more.

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