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Whitewashing Criminal Justice in Canada: Preventing Research through Data Suppression

  • Paul Millar (a1) and Akwasi Owusu-Bempah (a2)
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Race and racism have long played an important role in Canadian law and continue to do so. However, conducting research on race and criminal justice in Canada is difficult given the lack of readily available data that include information about race. We show that data on the race of victims and accused persons are being suppressed by police organizations in Canada and argue that suppression of race prevents quantitative anti-racism research while not preventing the use of these data by the police for racial profiling. We also argue that when powerful institutions, such as the police, have knowledge that they keep secret or refuse to discover, it serves the interests of those institutions at the expense of the public. Fears that reporting of racial data will result in racial profiling or the stigmatization of racialized communities are not assuaged by the repression of this information. Stigmatization may still occur, and racial profiling can continue to happen, but without public knowledge. Quantitative anti-racist research requires consistent, institutionalized reporting of race data through all aspects of Canadian justice. We outline what data are available, what data are needed, and where consistency is lacking. It is argued that institutional preferences for white-washed data, with race and ethnicity removed, should be subrogated to transparency.

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1 Backhouse, C., “Racial Segregation in Canadian Legal History: Viola Desmond's Challenge, Nova Scotia, 1946,” Dalhousie Law Journal 17, 3 (1994), 299; Bauriess, G., “Chinese Immigration, Chinese Stereotypes, and Chinese Labour,” Canadian Ethnic Studies 19, 3 (1987), 15; Khan, S., “Influences Shaping Relations Between the East Indians and the Anglo Canadians in Canada: 1903–1947,” Journal of Ethnic Studies 19, 1 (1991), 101; Knowles, C., “The Symbolic Empire and the History of Racial Inequality,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 19, 4 (1996), 898; Sunahara, A.G., The Politics of Racism (Toronto: Lorimer, 1981); Taylor, K.W., “Racism in Canadian Immigration Policy,” Canadian Ethnic Studies 33, 1 (1991), 1.

2 Wortley, S., “A Northern Taboo: Research on Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Canada,” Canadian Journal of Criminology 41 (1999), 261; Mosher, C., “Minorities and Misdemeanours: The Treatment of Black Public Order Offenders in Ontario's Criminal Justice System-1892–1930,” Canadian Journal of Criminology 38 (1996); Kong, R and Beattie, K., Collecting Data on Aboriginal People in the Criminal Justice System: Methods and Challenges (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2005).

3 Closs, W.J. and McKenna, P.F., “Profiling a problem in Canadian police leadership: the Kingston Police data collection project,” Canadian Public Administration 49, 2 (2006), 143; Gittens, M., Cole, D., Williams, T., Sri-Skanda, S., and Tarn, M., Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System (Toronto: Queen's Printer, 1995); Tanovich, D.M., The Colour of Justice: Policing Race in Canada (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2006).

4 Lundman, R.J. and Kaufman, R.L., “Driving While Black: Effects of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender on Citizen Self-reports of Traffic Stops and Police Actions,” Criminology 41, 1 (2003), 195.

5 Bowling, B. and Phillips, C., Racism, Crime and Justice (London: Pearson Education, 2002).

6 Perreault, S., “The Incarceration of Aboriginal People in Adult Correctional Services,” Juristat 29, 3 (2009), 1; Quann, N.L. and Trevethan, S., Police-Reported Aboriginal Crime in Saskatchewan (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2000), catalogue no. 85F0031-XIE); Trevethan, S., Kowalski, M., Finn, A. and Carriere, G., “Female Inmates, Aboriginal Inmates, and Inmates Serving Life Sentences: A One Day Snapshot [October 5, 1996],” Juristat 19, 5 (1999), 1.

7 Millar, P., “Punishing Our Way Out of Poverty: The Incarceration of Debtors in Alberta, Canada,” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 25, 2 (2010), 149.

8 Kellough, G. and Wortley, S., “Remand for Plea: Bail Decisions and Plea Bargaining as Commensurate Decisions,” British Journal of Criminology 42 (2002), 186.

9 R. v. Gladue [1999] 1 S.C.R. 688; Criminal Code (RS., 1985, c. C-46) §718.2.

10 Fitzgerald, R.T. and Carrington, P.J.The Neighbourhood Context of Urban Aboriginal Crime,” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Crimimal Justice 50, 5 (2008), 523.

11 In the matter involving a complaint under the Human Rights Act by Kirk Johnson against the Halifax Regional Police Service and/or Constable Michael Sanford, Human Rights Commission of Nova Scotia (2003); Nassiah v. Peel (Regional Municipality) Services Board 14, Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario 2007; Phipps v. Toronto Police Services Board 877, Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario 2009.

12 Wortley, S.. “Justice for All? Race and Perceptions of Bias in the Ontario Criminal Justice System-A Toronto Survey,” Canadian Journal of Criminology 38 (1996), 439; MacQueen, K., “Everybody Loves Us,” Maclean's (November 21, 2007).

13 We are not alone in calling for these data and their disclosure. See, e.g., Wortley, “A Northern Taboo”; Mosher, “Minorities and Misdemeanours”; Kong and Beattie, Collecting Data on Aboriginal People in the Criminal Justice System.

14 Auditor General of Canada, Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, Chapter 4: The Criminal Justice System: Significant Challenges (April 2004).

15 The socially constructed nature of the concept of race makes it subject to ontological challenges. Yet it is clear that it has important social and criminal justice consequences. In terms of crime, race has been shown to be socially predictive and biologically non-determinative. In other words, it matters in criminal justice, but it should not.

16 There is also a precursor to these surveys that, although not national, surveyed seven of Canada's largest cities: The Canadian Urban Victimization Survey conducted by the federal department of the Solicitor General in 1982.

17 Statistics Canada, General Social Survey Cycle 13: Victimization (1999)—Public Use Microdata File Documentation and User's Guide (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2000), catalogue no. 12 M0013GPE.

18 Van Kesteren, J.N., Integrated Database from the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) 1989–2005, codebook and data (Tilburg: INTERVICT, 2007).

19 Béchard, M. and Marchand, I.. General Social Survey Cycle 20: Family Transitions (2006)— Public Use Microdata File Documentation and User's Guide (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2008), catalogue no. 12M0020G.

20 Although the categories for response are the same (e.g., White, Chinese, South Asian, Black, and so on), the GSS words the question differently from the census.

21 Called Public Use Micro-Files (PUMFs) by Statistics Canada.

22 The Canadian Employment Equity Act defines “visible minorities” as “persons, other than Aboriginal persons, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” Under this definition, regulations specify that the following groups are included in the visible minority population: Chinese, South Asians, Blacks, Arabs, West Asians, Filipinos, Southeast Asians, Latin Americans, Japanese, Koreans, and other visible minority groups, such as Pacific Islanders. Chui, T., Tran, K., and Maheux, H., Canada's Ethnocultural Mosaic: The 2006 Census (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2008), catalogue no. 97-562-X.

23 Statistics Canada, Application Process and Guidelines, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/rdc-cdr/ process-eng.htm (accessed July 21, 2010).

24 Statistics Canada also periodically publishes studies derived from these surveys. See, e.g., AuCoin, K. and Beauchamp, D., “Impacts and Consequences of Victimization, GSS 2004,” Juristat 27, 1 (2007); Gannon, M. and Mihorean, K., “Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2004,” Juristat 25, 7 (2005), 1; Gannon, M. and Taylor-Butts, A., Canadians' Use of Crime Prevention Measures (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2006), catalogue no. 85F0033MIE, no. 12.

25 Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Policing Services Program, Uniform Crime Reporting Incident-Based Survey Reporting Manual (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2008).

26 A person could be a suspect as well as the person charged: Statistics Canada uses the term “Charged/Suspect-Chargeable” or CSC.

27 Statistics Canada, Summary of Changes Over Time-Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR) (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2010).

28 Race data may or may not be collected: the data we show indicate whether it is reported to the Centre for Justice Statistics (CJS): police departments in Canada provide all data to CJS voluntarily.

29 See Owusu-Bempah, A. and Millar, P., “Research Note: Revisiting the Collection of ‘Justice Statistics by Race’ in Canada,” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 25, 1 (2010): 97104.

30 Statistics Canada, Homicide Survey, online: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/cgi-bin/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey' 's Report-Findings and Recommendations (Halifax: The Province of Nova Scotia, 1989): 148.

33 Gabor, Thomas, “The Suppression of Crime Statistics on Race and Ethnicity: The price of Political Correctness,” Canadian Journal of Criminology 36, 2 (1994), 153.

34 Meehan, Albert J. and Ponder, Michael C., “Race and Place: The Ecology of Racial Profiling African American Motorists,” Justice Quarterly 19, 3 (2002), 399.

35 Kong and Beattie, Collecting Data on Aboriginal People in the Criminal Justice System.

37 Public Safety Canada, Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview: 2008 (Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2009).

38 Chase, Steven, “Can Access to Information Be Fixed?” Globe & Mail [Toronto] (January 15, 2011), A4.

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Canadian Journal of Law and Society / La Revue Canadienne Droit et Société
  • ISSN: 0829-3201
  • EISSN: 1911-0227
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-law-and-society-la-revue-canadienne-droit-et-societe
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