We have a lot of data showing that Indigenous and Black people are the subjects of unfair treatment throughout the criminal justice system, from contact with police to sentencing and parole. That evidence is well summarized in a recent (2014) book chapter on inequalities in the Canadian justice system. The article, by Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Scot Wortley, both at the University of Toronto, appeared in the Oxford Handbook on Ethnicity, Crime and Immigration. The article brings together data from many source showing the extent to which Canada’s criminal justice system systematically disadvantages people based on their background and appearance, even though Canada does not do a good job of collecting or analyzing data based on background or ethnicity.
Victims of crime: Aboriginal and Black people are more likely to be victims of crime. The Aboriginal murder rate in Canada is 7 to 8 times higher than the overall rate. In Toronto, where Black people are 4% of the population, they account for as many as 40% of murder victims.
Participation in crime: The limited evidence, mostly from a Toronto youth survey about 15 years ago, shows that Black young people are not notably more likely to be taking part in crimes. Black youth report more involvement than white youth in crimes such as robbery, fighting, or carrying a weapon, but less involvement in using various drugs or selling drugs. In most cases the differences are fairly small.
Contact with police: Very high numbers of Black youth, especially males, report being stopped regularly or searched by police – approximately double the rate for white youth.
Arrests: An analysis of 10,000 arrests in Toronto showed that Blacks were 50% more likely to be taken to a police station for processing after arrest, and 100% more likely to be held overnight than were whites, even taking into account criminal history and age. When given bail, they had more conditions imposed.
Jail: “The extent to which blacks and Aboriginals are over represented in Canadian correctional institutions is similar to that of African Americans in the United States”. Blacks are over represented in federal prisons by more than 300% vs their population, while for Aboriginals the over representation is nearly 500%. The same disparities exist in provincial jails. In Nova Scotia Blacks are 2% of the population but 14% of the jail population. In Manitoba Aboriginals are 16% of the population but 70% of the jail population. In Alberta the numbers for Aboriginals are 6% and 39%. Moreover, these imbalances are getting worse, not better.
Once in jail, these minorities are more likely to be subject to disciplinary procedures and less likely to be paroled. Aboriginal people make up more than 21% of federal prisoners but less than 14% of parolees, a 50% under representation.
Public feelings: The perception of bias in the system is widespread, and not only among minorities: “…, available evidence indicates that a significant proportion of Canada’s racial minority populations and a sizable proportion of the white population perceive bias in the criminal justice system.”
Sadly, none of these findings are new. Previous reports such as the 1991 Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, the 1994 Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, and the 2005 Roots of Youth Violence in Ontario report drew similar conclusions. Regular reports from the federal Correctional Investigator 2005 have also drawn attention to some of these issue. A great deal of improvement is still needed.