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Hidden intersections: research on race, crime, and criminal justice in Canada.


The issue of race and crime is one of the most controversial topics in Canada. This paper begins by exploring various theoretical models that have attempted to explain why some racial minority groups appear to be over-represented in official crime statistics. An effort is made to highlight the divergent policy implications associated with each model and how effective solutions must directly consider how race interacts with other identity markers--including gender, age, social class, religion, and immigration status. The paper then move s on to a discussion of facial discrimination within the justice system. It is argued that the intersection of race and lower class position may contribute to the apparent disadvantage many minorities face when dealing with the police, the courts, and corrections. The paper then turns to the issue of criminal victimisation. Emphasis is placed on the high rates of violent victimisation experienced by both minority men and women in this country and how researchers and governments should address the problem of hate crime. The next section of the paper examines how race may interact with both social class and linguistic ability to impede access to high quality justice services. The paper concludes with a detailed discussion of data needs and the many obstacles that researchers face when trying to conduct research on these issues in Canada. It is argued that the academic community must play more of a leadership role and help establish a research agenda that will facilitate the development of effective policy initiatives.

La question de la race et du crime est l'un des sujets les plus controverses au Canada. Ce document commence par explorer divers modeles theoriques qui ont tente d'expliquer pourquoi certains groupes de minorites raciales semblent etre surrepresentes dans les statistiques criminelles officielles. On s'efforce de souligner les implications politiques divergentes associees a chaque modele et comment des solutions efficaces doivent considerer directement la facon dont la race interagit avec d'autres marqueurs de l'identite, y compris le sexe, l'age, la classe sociale, la religion et le statut d'immigrant. Le document aborde ensuite la question de la discrimination raciale au sein du systeme judiciaire. On affirme que l'intersection de la race et du niveau inferieur de la classe sociale peut contribuer au desavantage apparent auquel plusieurs minorites font face lorsqu'ils ont a faire avec la police, les tribunaux et les services correctionnels. Le document traite ensuite de la question de la victimisation criminelle. L'auteur met l'accent sur les taux eleves de victimisation violente dont sont victimes les hommes et les femmes minoritaires dans ce pays et sur la facon dont Canadian Ethnic Studies/Etudes ethniques au Canada, XXXV, No. 3, 2003 les chercheurs et les gouvernements devraient s'attaquer au probleme des crimes motives par la haine. La prochaine section du document examine comment la race peut interagir avec la classe sociale et la capacite linguistique pour faire obstacle a l'acces a des services juridiques de haute qualite. Le document conclut avec une discussion detaillee sur les besoins en matiere de donnees et les nombreux obstacles auxquels se heurtent les chercheurs lorsqu'ils tentent de mener de la recherche sur ces questions au Canada. On soutient que la communaute universitaire doit jouer davantage un role de leader et aider a etablir un programme de recherche qui facilitera l'elaboration d'initiatives politiques efficaces.


In October, 2002, The Toronto Star began publication of a series of articles on the topic of race and crime (see Rankin et al., 2002a, 2002b, 2002c). The Star's analysis of arrest data from the Toronto Police Service revealed that black people are highly over-represented in certain offence categories--including drug possession, drug trafficking, and serious violence. The Star maintained that this pattern of overrepresentation is consistent with the idea that the Toronto police engage in racial profiling and that minority offenders are treated more harshly after arrest than their white counterparts (Rankin et al., 2002b; 2002c).

The articles created a firestorm of controversy. In response, criminal justice representatives vehemently denied all allegations of racial bias. Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino, for example, declared that: "There is no racism ... We don't look at, nor do we consider race or ethnicity, or any of that, as factors of how we dispose of cases, or individuals, or how we treat individuals" (The Toronto Star, 2002a:A14). Critics of the Star further argued that black people are over-represented in arrest statistics not because of differential treatment, but because they simply engage in much more criminal activity than people from other racial backgrounds. This perception was bolstered by a rash of black-on-black homicides that rocked the city later that year (see Christopoulos, 2002; Blizzard, 2002; Worthington, 2002; Rankin et al., 2002c, 2002d; Goldstein, 2002). Although the Star series once again brought the issue of race, crime, and criminal justice into the public spotlight, it should be stressed that the importance of this topic is not confined to the Toronto area. Indeed, over the past half century, similar "race/crime" controversies have emerged with respect to the treatment of black people in Nova Scotia and Quebec, the treatment of Asians and South Asians in British Columbia, and the treatment of aboriginal people throughout the country (see reviews in La Prairie, 2004; Wortley and McCalla, 2004; Chan and Mirchani, 2002; Hylton, 2002; Henry and Tator, 2000).


Despite numerous government inquiries (see, for example, Commission on Systemic Racism, 1995), debate continues to rage in Canada over whether or not some racial/ ethnic groups are more involved in crime than others, whether or not there is systemic discrimination within the justice system, and whether or not people from all ethnic backgrounds have equal access to justice services. Unfortunately, compared to the United States and Europe, relatively few Canadian studies have directly addressed the complex, inter-related issues of race, crime, and criminal justice (see Bowling and Phillips, 2002; Mauer, 1999; Roberts and Doob, 1997; Commission on Systemic Racism, 1995). Furthermore, the little research that has been conducted has tended to focus on race in isolation--without considering the simultaneous impact of other socially relevant variables. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to briefly review the limited Canadian research on race, crime, and criminal justice and highlight that any understanding of this issue must explicitly focus on how race intersects with other important identity markers--including social class, gender, age, immigration status, religion, language, and sexual orientation. Although the focus is on intersections, it should be stressed that the discussion provided below is not organised by intersections. Rather, the paper is divided into four broad topic areas within criminology: 1) criminal offending; 2) bias within the justice system; 3) victimisation; and 4) access to justice. Important intersections between race and other identity markers are discussed within each of these broad topic areas. The paper concludes with a discussion of important data needs and the potential obstacles Canadian researchers face when trying to conduct research in this area.


International research has consistently revealed that, along with age and gender, race is one of the strongest correlates of criminal activity (Tonry, 1995; Walker et al., 1996; Hawkins, 1996). However, due to an informal ban on the release of race-based crime statistics in Canada, very little is known about the nature of the race-crime relationship in this country (see Roberts, 2002; Wortley, 1999; Yeager, 1996). Nonetheless, the sparse Canadian data that is available does suggest that some racial groups (i.e., Aboriginals and Blacks) are over-represented in both arrest and prison statistics, while others (i.e., Asians and South Asians) appear to be significantly under-represented. (1) For example, although Aboriginals represent only 3.9 percent of the Canadian population, they represent 14.5 percent of those held in federal penitentiaries (see Wortley, 1999). Similarly, while black people make up only 2 percent of the Canadian population, they represent over 6 percent of our federal prison population. Overall, the federal incarceration rate for aboriginal (185 per 100,000) and black Canadians (146 per 100,000) is many times higher than the rate for Whites (42 per 100,000) and Asians (16 per 100,000). Significantly, the racial disparities revealed by these Canadian incarceration statistics are very similar to those found in American prison data (Tonry, 1995; Mauer, 1999).

Unfortunately, such aggregate statistics are rather limited and produce many more questions than they answer. What racial/ethnic groups are most--and least--involved in crime? What types of crimes are racial minorities most likely to be involved with? Do racial patterns of criminal behaviour vary over time and place? Perhaps the most important question involves causality: Why do some racial groups appear to be more involved in criminal activity than others? First, I strongly believe that we need to ignore all genetic theories of crime which purport to explain any observed relationship between race and crime (see Rushton, 1988). Such overtly racist theories have been thoroughly discredited by the academic community and have absolutely no empirical or theoretical value (Roberts and Gabor, 1990; Gabor and Roberts, 1990). With this in mind, I propose that future research on race and crime focus on four different explanatory frameworks: 1) the Importation Model; 2) the Cultural-Conflict Model; 3) the Strain Model; and 4) the Bias Model. Each of these models provides very different explanations for the apparent relationship between race and crime--and each has dramatically different policy implications. Unfortunately, these models have yet to be adequately tested by Canada's research community.

The Importation Model focuses explicitly on the intersection of race and immigration status. It assumes that a large proportion of racial minorities in Canada are recent immigrants. It also assumes that some immigrants arrive in Canada with the explicit objective of engaging in criminal activity. This model is often used to explain the presence of international crime syndicates or gangs in Canada, organisations that frequently engage in various forms of illegal activity including drug trafficking, fraud, human trafficking, smuggling, extortion, home invasions, prostitution, and terrorism. Policy initiatives associated with the Importation Model include improved screening of potential immigrants and refugees, better tracking of international criminals through cooperation with foreign police agencies, the restriction of immigration from "crime-prone" countries, and the swift deportation of immigrants who are convicted of criminal offences. Clearly, the Importation Model may appeal to conservative policy-makers because it largely absolves Canadian society of responsibility for minority crime. Indeed, this theory holds that immigrant, racial minority offenders are already motivated criminals when they arrive in this country.

By contrast, the Cultural-Conflict Model focuses on the complex intersection between race and variables such as culture and religion. This explanatory framework holds that the vast majority of immigrants arrive in Canada with absolutely no intention of engaging in criminal activity. However, some immigrants maintain cultural or religious practices that come into conflict with Canadian law. For example, some cultures may condone certain forms of domestic violence as a means of ensuring strict adherence to religious scriptures. While these forms of corporal punishment may be acceptable in their country of origin, such behaviour may warrant criminal charges in Canada. Similarly, prostitution and the use of certain drugs may be culturally acceptable in some countries, but violate the law in Canada. Gambling is yet another cultural practice which may bring some minority groups into conflict with legal authorities in Canada (see discussion in Yeager, 1996). Clearly, policy initiatives based on this model should focus on either: 1) educating potential immigrants about Canadian law before they actually make the decision to immigrate; or 2) informing or educating recent immigrants about how certain cultural or religious traditions associated with their group may lead to conflicts with the law. Thus, under this model, the legal education of new arrivals is a more important policy option than heightened security at our borders.

Both the Importation and Cultural-Conflict Models anticipate that the relationship between race and crime can be explained by the complex intersections between race, culture, and immigration status. By contrast, the Strain Model holds that the most important intersection is that which exists between race and social class. Furthermore, unlike the Importation and Cultural-Conflict perspectives, the Strain Model maintains that it is the experiences of racial minorities within Canadian society that are the primary causes of minority crime. Native peoples and racial minorities, it is argued, frequently suffer from social, cultural, political, and economic marginalization. Indeed, studies suggests that racial minorities and Aboriginals are much more likely to be unemployed, have low household incomes, and often surfer from discrimination and institutional barriers with respect to housing, education, career opportunities, and political participation (see Henry and Tator, 2000; Ornstein, 2000; Foster, 1996). It is argued that these negative life experiences produce both absolute and relative deprivation and that such deprivation can push some people toward criminal activity. For example, impoverished minority youth who feel alienated from mainstream Canadian society may turn to youth gangs for both social acceptance and economic gain. Indeed, organised crime may directly benefit from the alienation of recent immigrants. Those who are disillusioned and frustrated with mainstream society are much more likely to be attracted to the illegitimate economic opportunities provided by such organisations. Poverty and deprivation may also cause some facial minority mothers to engage in petty theft and shoplifting in order to feed or clothe their children. Likewise, the extreme frustration caused by personal experiences of discrimination and joblessness may lead some men to engage in certain forms of expressive violence.

The Strain Model is very consistent with many of the classic theories of crime causation (Anomie Theory, Social Disorganisation Theory, Relative Deprivation Theory, Rational Choice Theory, Neutralisation Theory, etc.) that draw a direct line between criminal behaviour and conditions of poverty, frustration, and hopelessness (see reviews in Siegel and McCormick, 2003; Vold et al., 1998; Linden, 2000). According to this perspective, once researchers have empirically controlled for conditions of absolute and relative deprivation, any correlation between race and criminal behaviour will disappear. Clearly, the Strain Model has radically different policy implications than either the Importation or Cultural Conflict models. Rather than focus on law enforcement initiatives and legal education, this perspective suggests that crime will only be reduced by employing policies that eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, and increase both educational and employment opportunities. However, although they provide very different explanatory frameworks, the three models discussed above seem to take for granted that certain racial minority groups are actually more involved in crime than others. By contrast, the Bias Model argues that the over-representation of racial minorities in crime statistics is hOt the result of racial differences in criminal behaviour. Rather, such differences are the result of systemic and overt discrimination within the Canadian justice system. This issue is discussed further in the next section.


Is there discrimination within the Canadian criminal justice system? Do the police, criminal courts, and corrections treat Aboriginals and racial minorities more harshly than members of the white majority? Does racial bias account for the overrepresentation of minorities in official crime statistics? Unfortunately, as with research on the causes of minority crime, very little Canadian research has systematically explored the treatment of minorities by justice institutions. Even less research has explored how the intersection of race with other identity markers might impact various criminal justice outcomes.

One particularly understudied area involves the issue of racial profiling. In the criminological literature, racial profiling is said to exist when the members of certain racial groups become subject to greater levels of criminal justice surveillance than other citizens. Racial profiling, therefore, is typically defined as a racial disparity in police stop and search practices, racial differences in customs searches at airports and border-crossings, increased police patrols in racial minority neighbourhoods, and undercover activities or sting operations which selectively target particular ethnic groups (see Meehan and Ponder, 2002; Engel et al., 2002).

Do racial minorities come under greater criminal justice surveillance than people from other racial backgrounds? Official police data from both England and the United States suggests that they do (see Engel et al., 2002; Bowling, 2002; Harris, 1997). Unfortunately, the police in Canada are not required to report on the race of the people they target for field investigations. (2) However, a number of ethnographic studies (Neugebaur, 2000; James, 1998) and surveys (Wortley, 2003; Wortley and Tanner, 2003; Commission on Systemic Racism, 1995) have uncovered evidence that racial profiling may also exist in this country. For example, a 1994 survey of Toronto residents found that black people are much more likely to report police stop and search experiences than either Whites or Asians. Multivariate statistical analyses reveals that these racial differences in involuntary police contact cannot be explained by racial differences in social class, education, or other demographic variables (see Wortley, 2003a; Wortley and Tanner, 2003). In fact, the findings reveal that race frequently intersects with gender, age, and social class in a complex and somewhat surprising fashion. First of all, black males are much more vulnerable to police stop and search encounters than black females or men and women from all other racial categories. Furthermore, two factors that seem to protect white males from police contact--age and social class--do not protect black males. For example, older white males with high incomes are much less likely to report that they have been stopped and searched by the police than younger white males from lower-class backgrounds. By contrast, older, higher income black males are actually more likely to report frequent stop and search experiences than their younger, lower income counterparts. Indeed, middle- and upper-class black males frequently attribute the attention they receive from the police to their relative affluence. As one respondent states: "If you are Black and drive a nice car, the police think you are a drug dealer or that you stole the car. They always pull you over to check you out." These findings are quite consistent with American studies (see Meehan and Ponder, 2002) which also suggest that black people are much more likely to be stopped and investigated by the police when they reside in predominantly white neighbourhoods.

A recent survey of approximately 3,500 Toronto high school students (Tanner and Wortley, 2002; Wortley and Tanner, 2003; Wortley, 2002) provides further evidence of racial profiling. For example, over 40 percent of black students report that they have been stopped and searched by the police in the past two years, compared to only 17 percent of their white counterparts. After statistically controlling for demographic characteristics, criminal activity, drug use, gang membership, and leisure activities, the relationship between race and police stops remains strong. The findings also reveal important intersections between race, gender, and social class. Regardless of racial background, male students are more likely to be stopped and searched than females. However, higher-class position seems to protect white males from police attention to a greater extent than it protects minorities. For example, lower-class white males are much more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than middle-class white males. By contrast, middle-class black males are actually more likely to receive police attention than their lower-class counterparts. Finally, there also appears to be a strong intersection between race, deviant behaviour, and police stops. In general, facial differences in police stop and search activities are greatest among youth with low levels of criminal activity. White youth who do not engage in deviant or gang activities are rarely stopped by the police. However, black youth who do not engage in crime are frequently the subject of police investigations. Race, in other words, appears to be a master status which often determines levels of police suspicion.

The implications of such findings are extremely important. If racial minorities are subject to much greater levels of police surveillance, they are also much more likely to be caught when they break the law than white people who engage in the same forms of criminal activity. For example, 65 percent of the black drug dealers in the above high school study report that they have been arrested at some time in their life, compared to only 35 percent of the white drug dealers. This illustrates how arrest statistics may have more to do with police surveillance practices than actual racial differences in criminal behaviour. In sum, racial profiling may help explain the over-representation of minorities in arrest statistics.

Canada has also experienced numerous allegations that the police are more likely to use force against Aboriginals and other racial minorities (see review in Pedicelli, 1998). Unfortunately, possible racial bias with respect to the police use of force is extremely difficult to examine. Official documentation regarding citizens killed or injured by the police is simply unavailable to Canadian researchers (Goff, 2001). However, an examination of newspaper stories suggests that minorities are indeed highly over-represented among those killed or injured by the police in Ontario and Quebec (see Pedicelli, 1998). For example, between 1978 and 2000, we were able to identify--through media coverage--34 separate shootings in which Ontario citizens were either killed or severely injured by the police. Nineteen of these cases (56%) involved black victims, 10 (29%) involved Whites, and 5 (16%) involved people from other racial backgrounds. Additional analysis reveals that 13 of the 23 people (57%) who were shot and killed by the police during this rime period were Black. Although overall numbers are low, the fact that black citizens represent over half of those killed or injured by the police is disturbing--particularly when you consider the fact that they make up only 4 percent of Ontario's total population. It is extremely important to note that any examination of the use of force issue must consider the crucial intersection of race and mental health status. American research, for example, has revealed that a disproportionate number of the victims of police shootings are racial minorities with severe mental health problems. Some scholars have speculated that the combination of minority status and mental illness may increase police fear and the probability that force will be used (Goff, 2004; Fyfe, 1988).

Additional evidence suggests that racial discrimination may extend from the streets into our criminal courts. The Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, for example, found that aboriginal accused are more likely to be denied ball and spend lengthier periods in pre-trial detention than white accused (see Hamilton and Sinclair, 1991). Similarly, two separate studies of the Toronto area criminal courts found that black accused are much more likely to be denied ball and held in custody before trial than accused from other racial backgrounds (see Kellough and Wortley, 2002; Roberts and Doob, 1997). Furthermore, even when released on ball, minority accused are often subject to a greater number of pre-trail release conditions--including curfews, area restrictions, and mandatory supervision requirements (Kellough and Wortley, 2001). These findings should not be taken lightly. Indeed, previous research suggests that accused remanded to custody before trial are more likely to be convicted and often receive longer sentences (Friedland, 1965; Roberts and Doob, 1997; Commission on Systemic Racism, 1995). Furthermore, evidence suggests that pre-trial detention is frequently used by the prosecution to coerce guilty pleas from accused persons (see Kellough and Wortley, 2002). Finally, since racial minorities are subject to a greater number of pre-trial release conditions--and are more likely to be arbitrarily stopped and investigated by the police--they are much more likely to re-enter the system with a breach of condition charge (Kellough and Wortley, 2001). In sure, bias at the pre-trial stage may help explain the over-representation of certain facial groups in prison statistics. It is also important to examine how the intersection of race and social class may further contribute to the disadvantage of minorities at the pre-trial stage. For example, racial minorities--particularly Aboriginals and Blacks--have higher levels of unemployment, lower household incomes, are less likely to have a permanent address, and are less likely to prove strong ties in the community. All of these factors may be used to justify pretrial detention and the application of pre-trial release conditions (Commission on Systemic Racism, 1995). Lower-class minority accused are also less likely to have the financial resources needed to hire their own lawyer--a fact that could also hurt them at the pre-trial stage.

Overall, international research on race and sentencing has produced mixed results. Some studies have found that minorities are treated more harshly, some studies have found that they are treated more leniently, and others have found no evidence of racial differences in sentencing outcomes (Lauritsen and Sampson, 1998). Canadian research has also produced contradictory findings. For example, while aboriginal offenders are more likely to receive prison sentences for minor offences, they often receive more lenient sentences when convicted of more serious crimes (LaPrairie, 1990; Moyer et al., 1985). Research from Ontario reveals that black offenders, particularly those convicted of drug offences, are more likely to be sentenced to prison--even when criminal history has been taken into statistical account (Williams, 1999; Roberts and Doob, 1997). It is extremely important that future Canadian research on sentencing focus on the crucial intersections which might exist between the offender's race, the victim's race, and the victim's social class. American research, for example, suggests that regardless of their own race, offenders who victimize middle- or upper-class Whites are sentenced much more harshly than those who victimise Blacks or other racial minorities (Cole, 1999). This fact might help explain why facial minority offenders in Canada--who typically victimise people from their own ethnic background--sometimes appear to be treated more leniently at the sentencing stage than Whites. In other words, the failure to properly explore the nature of the offender-victim relationship may help explain apparent inconsistencies in the research findings.

Compared to policing and the courts, even less research has examined the treatment of minorities within Canadian corrections. However, the research that has been conducted suggests that racial bias may also exist behind prison walls. For example, evidence suggests that racist language and attitudes plague the environments of many Ontario prisons (Commission on Systemic Racism, 1994; Commission on Systemic Racism, 1995). Additional evidence suggests that minority inmates are over-represented among prisoners charged with prison misconducts--particularly misconducts in which correctional officers exercise considerable discretionary judgement. This fact is important because a record of misconduct can be used to deny parole and limit access to temporary release programs. Unfortunately, Canadian research has yet to explore possible racial discrimination in parole decisions. Finally, critics have highlighted the fact that current rehabilitation programs often do not meet the cultural and linguistic needs of many ethnic minority inmates (Commission on Systemic Racism, 1995). The current correctional system, it is argued, caters to white, Euro-Canadian norms. The treatment needs of minority prisoners, it is argued, are either unacknowledged or completely ignored. Ultimately, inadequate or inappropriate rehabilitation services for minority inmates may translate into higher recidivism rates for non-white offenders--a fact that may further contribute to their over-representation in Canadian crime statistics.

In response to such criticism, Corrections Canada has recently introduced numerous programs in order to address minority needs. These initiatives include the development of a strong, multi-faith chaplaincy, enlisting specific ethno-racial community organizations (e.g., the Black Inmates' Family Association) for assistance in the rehabilitation of minority offenders, and the development of special projects like the Maple Creek Sweat Lodge, designed to assist female inmates of aboriginal descent (see Correctional Services of Canada, 2002; Goff, 2004; Griffiths and Cunningham, 2000). Unfortunately, to date there has been no comprehensive evaluation study on the overall effectiveness of these innovative programs. Thus, we have no empirical evidence to illustrate whether or not minority offenders have benefited from such initiatives.

Clearly, much more research is needed with respect to the treatment of minorities by the Canadian criminal justice system. It is also important that future research focus on when and how race intersects with other important identity markers in determining justice outcomes. For example, linguistic minorities may have a particularly difficult time in our courts and prisons due to a lack of effective interpretation services. Likewise, racial minorities from lower-class backgrounds may be doubly disadvantaged. On the one hand, they may surfer from racial discrimination. On the other hand, they may not have the financial resources needed to pay for ball, retain high quality legal representation, or pay for optional rehabilitation programs. This is a particularly important issue when you consider the fact that many provincial governments are considering dramatic cutbacks to legal aid and other programs designed to address the needs of economically challenged offenders. These cutbacks are likely to have a negative impact on many racial minority accused. Finally, research must consider how variables like age and gender may further influence the criminal justice outcomes for people from different racial backgrounds. For example, although studies suggest that women tend to receive slightly lighter sentences than men (see Boritch, 1999), the question remains whether women from all racial backgrounds benefit from this gender advantage. In fact, there is evidence that, across North America, racial minority women represent the fastest growing segment of the correctional population. In addition, researchers have yet to explore whether young offenders from different racial backgrounds are equally likely to be diverted into alternative measures programs or sent to secure custody facilities. These are but a few of the many issues that deal with possible bias in the Canadian criminal justice system. I now turn to a discussion of another important issue: race and criminal victimisation.


Most of the public discussion about race and crime has focused on either minority offending or the possibility of discrimination within the criminal justice system. By contrast, very little research has focused on the criminal victimisation of racial minorities in Canada. Are some racial groups more vulnerable to criminal victimisation than others? Are racial minorities more or less likely to report their victimisation experiences to the police? What impact does victimisation have on minority communities? One particularly important area of investigation involves the intersections of race, gender, and age. For example, preliminary evidence suggests that among Canadian youth, black and aboriginal males have much higher homicide victimisation rates than their white counterparts (see Doob et al., 1994; Moyer, 1992; Greene, 2003; Rankin et al., 2002c, 2003d). This finding is consistent with evidence from the United States, where murder among minority youth has been identified as a national health problem (Anderson, 1999; Hawkins, 1999; Parker and Johns, 2002). Unfortunately, the current ban on race-crime statistics in Canada has greatly hindered the identification of such trends in Canada and subsequently stalled the development of effective violence prevention programs for specific ethno-racial communities. I am not calling for increased budgets for law enforcement agencies so they can increase efforts to apprehend and punish minority offenders. Rather, I am referring to monies for programs that would operate within the community to stop violence before it develops.

Another important issue involves the intersections of race, social class, and gender. International evidence, for example, suggests that impoverished minority women may suffer from higher rates of both domestic violence and sexual assault than middle- and upper-class Whites (see reviews in Johnson, 1996; Belknap, 2001). Furthermore, it appears that minority women are less likely to report such victimisation experiences to the police. Reasons for non-reporting include cultural restrictions, economic pressures (i.e., a fear that a partner's arrest will hurt the family's financial situation), and a general distrust of the police and criminal courts. Clearly, more detailed research is needed to explore why many minority women continue to suffer in silence and to develop programs that will reduce female victimisation within specific ethnic communities.

Hate crime is another relatively unexplored issue in Canada (see Faulkner, 2003). However, police data suggest that racial minorities, particularly minority women, are the most common victims of this type of behaviour (Bowling, 1998). What proportion of racial minorities have been the victim of a hate crime? Who are the offenders in hate-crime cases? Who are the victims (i.e., race, age, gender, class, etc.)? Do hate crimes have a greater impact on victims (in terms of fear of crime, mental health, etc.) than other forms of victimisation? Will enhanced sentencing legislation reduce the incidence of hate crimes in Canada? A particularly important area of inquiry involves the intersection of race and sexual orientation. Indeed, evidence suggests that racial minorities from the gay community are especially vulnerable to hate-crime victimisation. Research indicates that they often must be viewed as double victims--because they are vulnerable to both racial hatred and homophobia. Furthermore, ethnographic data suggests that visible minority gays and lesbians are often maligned and ostracised by members of their own ethnic group (see Crichlow, 2003).

The need to focus on minority victimisation cannot be ignored. Indeed, research demonstrates that criminal victimisation often has a negative impact on mental health and can cause serious harm to both educational performance and occupational attainment (Macmillan, 2001). It should also be stressed that the impact of crime is not limited to individual victims. Indeed, exposure to victimisation stories through personal contacts and the media can dramatically increase fear of crime and reduce feelings of community safety among the general public. Fear of crime can subsequently influence personal lifestyle choices and reduce the amount of time citizens spend in public spaces. A decline in the use of public space, in turn, can dramatically reduce the quality of life in urban areas and actually lead to the very conditions of social disorder that are highly correlated with criminal activity.


Surveys conducted in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain have found that racial minorities tend to evaluate the criminal justice system much more negatively than members of the white majority (Bowling and Phillips, 2002; Wortley, 1996; Wortley et al., 1997; Weitzer and Tuch, 2002). This finding suggests that minorities may experience serious problems in terms of access to justice. Access to justice is a term that refers to a broad range of mechanisms by which citizens are able to acquire information about legal matters, obtain legal services, resolve disputes through informal mechanisms, and take full advantage of their legal rights. Access to justice issues in Canada include: 1) legal aid and/or the ability to obtain high quality legal representation (an issue that involves the intersection of race and social class); 2) access to quality interpretation services when dealing with the police and the criminal courts (an issue that often involves the intersection of race and language); 3) access to culturally sensitive drug treatment and rehabilitative programs; 4) the under-representation of minorities in law enforcement, the legal profession, and corrections; 5) the implementation of effective public complaints procedures and civilian oversight of criminal justice institutions; 6) public legal education that is accessible to all ethnic/cultural groups; and 7) mechanisms by which the public can have a voice with respect to issues of policing and community safety.

It cannot be denied that the criminal justice system in Canada has made at least some effort at increasing access to justice for immigrants and racial minorities. In most jurisdictions, for example, criminal justice institutions--including the police, the courts, and corrections--have mandated race relations and cultural sensitivity training. In order to better serve minority communities, most law enforcement agencies have also implemented programs to increase minority recruitment, established liaison committees with specific minority groups, and formally instituted community policing. Furthermore, some governments have established special agencies--like the African Canadian Legal Clinic--to better serve the legal needs of specific ethnic groups (see Ornstein, 2001; Working Group on Racial Equality in the Legal Profession, 1999). However, the unfortunate fact is that such programs and initiatives have yet to be subjected to appropriate evaluation research (see Stenning, 2002). Thus, we cannot really determine whether such policies actually improve access to justice for specific racial groups or increase minority confidence in the Canadian criminal justice system. It might be argued that, without effective evaluation strategies, many race relations policies are likely to be seen by the public as nothing more than public relations. Clearly, without proper evaluation research, policy-makers will not be able to distinguish between those programs that truly have a positive impact on race relations and those that merely serve as window dressing. Furthermore, without a focus on intersections, evaluation research will be unable to determine if the effectiveness of race relations programming varies by such important variables as social class, education, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation.


Research on race, crime, and the criminal justice system in Canada is still in its infancy. The major problem researchers face when trying to investigate criminal justice issues involves lack of access: lack of access to official police and court records, lack of access to correctional settings, and lack of access to minority offenders, victims, and community members. Below I provide a brief list of the types of data that would greatly assist academics and policy researchers interested in this topic:

1) Valid race/ethnicity data with respect to all aspects of the criminal justice system including police stop and search incidents, arrest decisions, police use of force, criminal victimisation, hate crime victimisation, complaints against the police, court proceedings (including ball and sentencing decisions), and correctional operations. Such measures should be standardised in order to enable regional comparisons. Regional data, for example, would permit researchers to directly compare the experiences of racial minorities from coast to coast. To date, most research on these issues has only been conducted at the local level.

2) Valid race/ethnicity data on other demographic characteristics (i.e., age, gender, immigration status, first-language, sexual orientation, income, occupation, education, etc.). We need to match such data with criminal justice data in order to test various theories (i.e., the Strain Model) and explore how race and ethnicity intersect with other identity markers in determining criminal justice outcomes.

3) Official data should be supplemented by surveys and ethnographic studies that will further capture information on criminal offending, victimisation experiences, personal experiences with the police and courts, fear of crime, and attitudes toward the criminal justice system. The comparison of official and unofficial crime data serves as a validity check and helps determine important crime trends.

4) Personal interviews need to be conducted with both citizens and criminal justice personnel in order to determine how different stakeholders view issues of race, crime, and criminal justice. Both citizens and justice personnel may provide valuable insights that could aid in the development of effective crime prevention and anti-discrimination policies.

5) Data collection should be on-going, not limited to short-term projects. Only by collecting longitudinal data will we be able to target periodic crime problems and identify criminal justice trends. Importantly, trend data might also serve as a form of self-policing for criminal justice institutions. For example, the collection and release of data on sentencing outcomes, parole decisions, and police stop and search activities will help researchers, policy-makers, and community representatives monitor criminal justice activities. Such monitoring could subsequently reduce racially-biased decision-making by justice personnel.

6) Finally, evaluation research is required on all major race relations and crime prevention projects. This is the only way to determine which programs are effective and which programs fail to meet their major objectives. Unfortunately, although numerous criminal justice programs have been initiated in Canada, funding for high quality evaluation studies have yet to be allocated.


The issue of race and crime continues to provoke great controversy in Canada. Unfortunately, despite the importance of the topic, relatively little research has been conducted in this area. In my opinion, much more research is needed in order to: 1) clarify the relationship between race/ethnicity and crime and examine how this relationship changes over time and place; 2) provide explanations for any observed relationship between race and crime and develop effective crime prevention programs based on these explanations; 3) identify and eliminate discriminatory practices within the criminal justice system; 4) identify barriers to justice and develop programs that will improve access to various criminal justice services; 5) identify patterns of minority victimisation (with an emphasis on hate crime) and develop policies that will aid racial minority victims; and 6) develop policies that will reduce fear of crime and improve public perceptions of the police and other criminal justice institutions. As illustrated above, any understanding of these complex issues must focus on how variables like race and ethnicity interact with other important identity markers to influence crime and criminal justice outcomes. A focus on race and ethnicity in isolation will only produce simplistic policy solutions that, in my opinion, are doomed to fail. Furthermore, it must be stressed that all policy solutions must be developed within a social context that involves close consultation with affected minority communities. For example, law enforcement solutions that focus exclusively on the apprehension of racial minority offenders will further alienate minority communities and ultimately fall to address the social conditions that lead to high crime rates.

Unfortunately, the prospects for future research on the issue of race, crime, and criminal justice system are not encouraging at the present time. Unlike the United States--where such criminal justice data is widely available--Canadian researchers will likely experience resistance from two sources. First of all, history suggests that many racial minority groups will strongly disagree with attempts to systematically collect and release race-based arrest data. The concern is that such data--which may reveal that some groups are over-represented in crime statistics--will be misinterpreted and used to justify racial discrimination in policing, housing, education, employment, and other important areas of social existence. On the other hand, critics argue that the ban prevents the identification and discussion of serious victimisation issues and impedes the investigation and monitoring of discriminatory practices within the justice system. I think the important question is whether the current ban works. Does it prevent Canadians from discussing issues of race and crime? Does it impede the development of racial stereotypes? I would say that it does not. First of all, the current ban does not extend to race-crime information from the United States and other countries. For example, race-crime statistics from America are freely available in most Canadian libraries. Interestingly, foreign data often presents an image of race and crime that is far worse than the situation in Canada. Furthermore, discussions of race and crime are often presented in major sociology, political science, and criminology journals--all of which are accessible to Canadians. In other words, despite the ban on our own data, Canadians still have access to official race-crime data that could be used to promote hatred and support racist theories of crime causation (see Rushton, 1988). More importantly, images that exaggerate and distort the extent of minority crime are also presented--on a frequent basis--by the Canadian media (see Henry and Tator, 2002; Wortley, 2003b; Fieras and Kunz, 2001). Scholars maintain that these media images have far more impact on what the average citizen thinks about minority crime than official statistics or articles that appear in refereed academic publications. Thus, unless we also ban the media from presenting images of race and crime to the general public, any ban on official crime statistics is unlikely to prevent stereotypical associations between crime and membership in certain racial groups.

The second source of opposition to race-crime data is likely to come from the criminal justice system. Indeed, the current ban on race/ethnicity data has, in my opinion, been used as a convenient excuse for hOt investigating charges of facial bias in policing, the courts, and corrections. For example, the Toronto Police Service has recently used the ban as a justification for not collecting data on racial profiling. The ban has also impeded investigations into the study of racial differences in police use of force, complaints against the police, pre-trial decision-making, sentencing, and treatment within the correctional system. Only by lifting the ban will researchers and community members have access to the information needed to monitor basic patterns of discrimination and evaluate programs designed to eliminate various forms of bias.

In conclusion, it is clear that the academic community must take the lead in this controversy. We can no longer abdicate responsibility to the media, community organisations, or justice representatives. As trained social scientists, we are the citizens who supposedly have both the research skills and the objectivity needed to work with various stakeholders and address issues of race, crime, and criminal justice in an appropriate and sensitive fashion. Furthermore, we are also probably more aware than other stakeholders of the many complex ways that race may interact with other identity markers in determining crucial justice outcomes. Although both minority communities and criminal justice representatives need to be extensively consulted with respect to how race/crime data should be collected and disseminated, the academic community needs to take a central role in this consultation process. The quality of future research in this important area depends on it.

In many ways we are at a crossroads in Canada when it comes to crime and criminal justice issues. Will we develop crime problems in poor, minority neighbourhoods that will rival the problems long experienced in the inner-city areas of the United States? Or will we be able to maintain out existing social welfare policies and programs that have traditionally kept out crime rates lower than those of our American neighbour? Will charges of racial discrimination in policing, the courts, and corrections continue to resurface in Canada every few years because we as a society have failed to treat these issues in a serious manner? Rather than looking to America and its "tough on crime" political agenda for answers, I believe that Canadians should ask what is it about out own society that has kept our crime rates relatively low by international standards. It is this legacy that we need to understand, maintain, and improve upon--not solutions that have proven unsuccessful in other countries.


I would like to thank the Multicultural Program, Department of Canadian Heritage, for providing me with the financial assistance needed to research and complete this paper. In addition, I would like to thank both the reviewers and journal editors for their valuable comments on a previous draft of this manuscript. I would also like to thank both Metropolis and the Centre for Excellence on Immigration and Settlement (CERIS) for their ongoing support of my research into issues of immigration, race, and criminal justice. Finally, I would also like to thank Andrea McCalla, Sara Thompson, and Terry Roswell--Ph.D. students at the Centre of Criminology--for their excellent research support.


(1.) It is important to note that official crime statistics often ignore information on white-collar/corporate crime. These are the types of crime that most often involve white offenders.

(2.) It is important to note that the Kingston Police Service is currently collecting data--on a trial basis--with respect to the race/ethnicity of all citizens stopped and/or searched by officers on patrol. This is the first police agency in Canada to collect "profiling" data.


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Date:Sep 22, 2003
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