Racism in the Justice System

Racism in the Justice System


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Racism in the Justice System

The Canadian criminal justice system is writ with flaws in its operations. Hierarchically, the system is entrenched with racial inequality and stereotyping, which plays a very big role in determining the outcome of court cases. Moreover, there is consistent oversight on corrupt practices in the criminal justice system, which, according to reports, increases on an annual basis. There is also maltreatment against mild offenders, while the elite who have committed greater crimes receive preferential treatment. Many scholars and stakeholders alike have cited these disparities, with very little or no changes being witnessed (Asch, 2007). However, one of the most prevalent problems confronting the system is the presence of racism, which has spread from mainstream society into the networks of the justice system. The aim of this paper is to elaborate on the prevalence of racism in the Canadian criminal justice system, analyze the scope of its effects and suggest ways to solve the issue.

            For a long time throughout North American history, racism has remained a stumbling block in her development agenda towards equality. The issue, despite numerous efforts against it from lobbyists and civil rights activists and political intervention, has seemingly proved too difficult to eliminate from Canadian society. Its impacts in the justice system, nonetheless, have been far ranging, resulting in the imprisonment of one racial grouping based upon negative stereotyping (Asch, 2007).

            The former Supreme Court Justice, Frank Iacobucci has raised this issue before. According to him, throughout his long career in Canadian justice, there have been negligible efforts to eliminate the vice from the system. In contrast, the existing forces in the system actually tend to condone its existence, to the benefit of a few individuals in the system. Iacobucci has called the issue a ‘crisis’ that has consistently undermined the liberties of the people, which they are inherently accorded in the Canadian constitution (Chan & Chunn, 2014). According to the Companion of the Order of Canada, they are disproportionately fewer people serving in the Canadian justice system as judges, magistrates and lawyers, in comparison with those of the predominant race (Chan & Chunn, 2014). Due to such disparities in representation, the system is skewed towards bias in court rulings and jury oversights.

Causes of Racism

Many factors ensure that racism continues to thrive. A notable one is the lack of proportionality in crime rates, whose evidence shows that a significantly higher percentage of black Canadians than members of other races are likely to commit crime. According to research by Alfred Blumstein on racial representation in North American prisons, about 75 percent of the entire prison population was black (Denney, Ellis, & Barn, 2010). This percentage has reduced significantly over the years, though very minimally, by about 5 percent over a period of ten years. However, even though this representation has changed, the treatment of black Canadians, especially due to the compounded negative imaging in mainstream media continues to be biased and skewed against their interests.

With increased lobbying from civil rights activists, the representation of minority groups has significantly changed in its diversity to accommodate a fair representation of all races. However, this change has not transcended to all levels within its hierarchy, and most of the seats in the population in the top leadership are still predominantly white (inclusive of both French and English speakers). Decision making at the top level is, therefore, highly subjective, in favor of the majority population but discriminatory against the blacks. Additionally, the underrepresentation of minority groups has also grown to be a crucial issue among First Nations, according to the remarks and preceding research by Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci (Chan & Chunn, 2014). The aboriginal representation in the Canadian courts has continued to reduce, contrary to efforts to reduce the trend by lobbyist organizations. The negative image that blacks and First Natives have developed about the Canadian justice system has created an unwillingness to join the system, exacerbating the issue to greater degrees. Stemming from the treatment of minority groups as ‘objects’, racial profiling has continued to grow, much like in neighboring US where crime, drugs and violence are associated with distinctly Latinos and black Americans.

Another cause of racial disparities in the Canadian justice system is the overlapping of race and class effects. The Canadian constitution provides for a suspect to request the courts to find them legal representation should they not be able to afford one. Legal representation is in form of a public attorney who, in the discretion of the courts, can adequately represent the accused. However, recent research has found that these lawyers are often unable to fulfill their tasks due to a variety of reasons. Public defenders are products of sub-standard training in law institutions with inadequate resources at their disposal (Gerlach, 2004). They are, therefore, unable to maintain contact with their clients, in addition to their incompetence and inexperience in the courtroom. Inadequate resources also affect the defendants in court. For instance, a defendant that receives treatment from public treatment government programs is less likely to argue for, say, house arrest in place of prison, than those who use private insurance for treatment. This is due to the inadequacy associated with treatment programs.

Furthermore, the seemingly neglectful treatment of people of a particular race in mainstream society has been noted to have a profound effect on their interrelationship with the criminal justice system (Gerlach, 2004). For instance, contemporary Canadian society does not treat the deaths of members of other racial groups equally across all races. Young children and youth identified as First Nations have drowned in Lake Superior. However, they received little attention from the government, instead being left in a continual state of isolation. Additionally, the Canadian government maintains that their associations with blacks are predominantly related to crime-related activities than pro-social contact such as attending college or engaging in honest employment. Members of these communities are aware of the negative impression and neglect. Consequently, there is reluctance to engage in activities that would enhance cohesiveness with the other races, especially if there is a hint that the other race is a recipient of preferential treatment. The reluctance to participate in the operations of the system has contributed to maintaining the status quo (Gerlach, 2004). Considering all these factors, it is difficult for the First Nations and blacks to get equal treatment in the criminal justice system.


Some of the Latinos that immigrate into the United States trickle over to Canada. The image of Latinos throughout North America is that of drug dealers; another contributory factor to the negative stereotyping. Consequently, therefore, it is becoming increasingly difficult to win the war against drugs in Canada. Rather than focusing on the race of drug dealers, there should be a shift towards creating policies to curb the issue. The government, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, should introduce balance between enforcement strategies and demand reduction approaches. This implies a shift to prevention and treatment of drug abuse. Public health systems should be more community-based rather than justice system-based (Gerlach, 2004). All the objectives for eliminating drug abuse should include increasing the participation of state institutions such as prisons. This can be done through reducing the length of prison sentences when a patient of a drug abuse rehabilitation program shows significant improvement in their recovery.

            Moreover, the Canadian government should strive to ensure that all members of their society have equal access to justice, irrespective of their ethnic or racial backgrounds. This entails ensuring that there is equitable distribution of public defendants across the whole country. There is also need to increase resource allocation throughout the system. This involves accepting that the white population, First Nations as well as blacks are all human beings require equal treatment in the unequal society. This also means standardizing prison sentences across all regions as well as laying down plans to increase diverse participation. Additionally, the need to maintain a stable community and family requires that the justice system incorporate the views of the community in enacting the necessary legislations to suit the interests of the community best. It would be even more effective to especially source the views of the First Nations and blacks – the discriminated category.

            In addition, the criminal justice system, in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders should consider introducing projected impact assessments for legislations before their enactment. Consequently, it would be possible to estimate the effects the legislation would have on the society, and the timeline within which it would have the said impact. If the project impact of the proposed legislation is likely to be negative, then it is dropped before advancing any further. For instance, the proposal for more inclusion of First Nations should be ascertained to have the projected effects. Some of the pertinent issues in this regard include whether this wider inclusion would have the reverse effect of discriminating against the whites.

            Finally, the criminal justice system should regularly assess the racial impact of all decisions made within their precincts. This can be done through introducing task forces within the country. These would then review data on a number of prosecutions, nature of the crime, duration of prison sentences with regard to race; and help develop initiatives to help curb the diverse differences in racial representation. In effect, this will ensure that there is sufficient information on the distribution of crime across races.

            The Canadian criminal justice system faces similar challenges as those in other predominantly white populated nations with a significant amount of minority groups. To date, there exists racial discrimination in the system, often tilted in favor of the majority, while the minority groups such as the black and First Nations continue to suffer. The cause of this is the lack of fair representation of all the minorities, meaning the jury’s presiding judges’ and magistrates’ decisions are often subject to bias. There is also an inadequacy of public defendants, who are often trained in low-tier law schools. This favors those who can afford a personal attorney. Some of the solutions that can help reduce the disparities of race in the criminal justice system include assessing the impact of proposed changes, providing equal access to justice, and shifting the focus on crime, say, drug trafficking from subjectivity to policy implementation.


Asch, M. (2007). Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada: Essays on law, equity, and respect for difference. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Chan, W., & Chunn, D. E. (2014). Racism, crime, and criminal justice in Canada.

Denney, D., Ellis, T., & Barn, R. (2010). Race, Diversity and Criminal Justice in Canada: A view from the UK.

Gerlach, N. (2004). The genetic imaginary: DNA in the Canadian criminal justice system. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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