A Review of Research on Criminal Victimization and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples 1990 to 2001

Part I: Literature Review

1. Introduction

Considerable attention and study have been focused on the impact of the Canadian criminal justice system on Aboriginal peoples over the last decade.[1]Commission and justice inquiries have been conducted in virtually every province and territory. These studies report on the unfair and oppressive nature of the existing system because of cultural differences and the impact of colonization on the over-representation of Aboriginal offenders.[2]The majority of recommendations from these inquiries and commissions focus on how to ameliorate the impact of the system on Aboriginal offenders.[3]

However, when one reviews these criminal justice studies and recommendations, one sees that they are largely "offender" focused.Significant attention is spent on addressing questions such as how we can make the criminal justice system more relevant and fair for Aboriginal offenders.Concern is focused on how to reduce the levels of over-representation of Aboriginal offenders in the correctional system. Less attention, however, has been focused on Aboriginal victims of crime. The perspective of the victim has often not been well addressed in these studies. This literature review is a step towards addressing this gap in our understanding and subsequent need for research of Aboriginal criminal victimization.

1.1 Scope

This research is being completed for the Department of Justice Canada (Policy Centre for Victim Issues and the Research and Statistics Division). The "Terms of Reference for Development of a Multi-Year Research Agenda for Victims Issues among First Nations, Métis and Inuit Populations" sets out the following background for this literature review:

During the 1990s, victims of crime and their advocates became more vocal in their call to enhance the role of victims of crime in the criminal justice system, and to achieve more of a balance between the rights of victims and offenders.In response, a comprehensive review of the role of victims in the criminal justice system was undertaken. The report of this review, Victims' Rights - A Voice, Not a Veto, made a number of recommendations, one of which was to establish an office of the Victims of Crime Initiative at the federal Department of Justice.This Initiative set up both the Policy Centre for Victim Issues (including policy development and consultation) and funding to support research, coordination, and communication activities. The intent is to work together with provinces and territories to bring about improvements that benefit victims.

While a research agenda has been developed for victims of crime for the general population, the victimization patterns among First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations have a number of unique components in Canadian history.

The first step of this project is to complete a literature review that identifies and summarizes the existing knowledge of, and gaps in, research on Aboriginal victimization in Canada.The objective is to then outline a research agenda to meet the needs of Aboriginal victims of crime in Canada to begin to address the gaps identified in this review.

There are several possible meanings of the term "victimization" as it is applied to Aboriginal peoples of Canada.A broad social science definition of Aboriginal victimization would attribute the term to the full historical and present day impact of colonization in Canada.[4]The idea of Aboriginal peoples as victims of genocide would be understood within this broader definition of victimization.[5]However, the mandate of this review is more limited in scope.This review is concerned with victimization from the perspective of the criminal justice system.The definition of "victim" that is adopted for this study is that used in s.722(4) of the Criminal Code of Canada.It defines victim as meaning "a person to whom harm was done or who suffered physical or emotional loss as a result of the commission of an offence." Although the narrow definition of criminal victimization is used in this review, it is still essential to understand how the impact of colonization on the nature and prevalence of Aboriginal criminal victimization in Canada is still very much relevant and must be taken into account in further research.

The importance of examining the issue of victimization from the perspectives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples is critical, as the historical explanation for victimization of Aboriginal people in Canada is different from other citizens and members of Canadian society.Indeed, Canada's history of colonization and its current manifestations are root causes of the disproportionately high level of involvement in the Canadian criminal justice system of Aboriginal peoples, both as victims and offenders.

In this review, we address several areas of victimization, including high rates of crime by Aboriginal peoples against Aboriginal peoples, both in general terms and specifically in terms of violence against children and violence against women.We then examine the impact of Aboriginal restorative justice alternatives on Aboriginal victimization.In addition, we will identify some of the victimization issues facing Aboriginal peoples with disabilities and in particular those who suffer from FASD. We will examine the impact of racism on Aboriginal victims, both by members of society at large, and by the various actors within the criminal justice system.Literature specific to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are addressed throughout where appropriate.

1.2 Terminology

In this literature review, Aboriginal peoples are defined as Indian (status and non-status), Métis and Inuit.Status Indians are those Indians who are registered as Indians under the Indian Act and may or may not live on a designated Indian reserve.The term "First Nations" has become a more popular term to describe status Indians and their communities.[6] However, for the purposes of this paper, "First Nations" refers to status and non-status Indians.[7]Non-status Indians are those who identify culturally with an Indian people or community but do not have official legal Indian status under the laws of Canada. Métis are those Aboriginal people who have a mixed Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry that identify with a Métis community and are accepted by such community as Métis.Inuit are those people who identify as Inuit and are accepted by an Inuit community as Inuit.

In studying the impact of victimization on Aboriginal peoples, it is important not to misunderstand the scope and application of various conclusions as applying to all Aboriginal peoples when in fact they are relevant to only a sub-group or certain specific communities.For example, there is a tendency in the literature to define Aboriginal peoples in reference to First Nations which is generally restricted to status Indians living on reserves or in some cases status Indians living on and off reserve and a few cases may include reference to non-status Indians.Thus, some of the literature on "Aboriginal" victimization is really about victimization of status Indians and often does not include Inuit or Métis peoples although authors may use the more general term "Aboriginal" to describe the scope of their research.This is misleading to the reader and unfair to Inuit and Métis peoples.

Researchers need to be more cautious about the categorizations they rely upon and to define the particular group of Aboriginal people studied.If they only study status Indians they ought to say so.Likewise, if a study involves Métis and First Nations peoples, the exclusion of Inuit people should be noted.It may be a worthwhile project in itself to assess the literature in light of this perceived tendency.Our impressions are based on an overview of the literature and we have not scientifically tested this observation.


  • [1] See Appendix A for a list of the various major justice inquires conducted in Canada within the last 15 years. Please note, this review was undertaken in 2002.
  • [2] Statistics Canada reports that in 1998/99 Aboriginal people comprise 2% of the adult population but account for 17% of the admissions to provincial/territorial custody (2001a).
  • [3] Recommendations range from improving the existing system by implementing, for example, cross-cultural programs for justice personnel, to the full recognition of the right of Aboriginal peoples to control and develop their own separate justice systems.
  • [4] See for example the presentation by Professor Mary Ellen Turpel (1992, November).
  • [5] In several instances, the actions of Europeans in North America towards the Indigenous populations would be found to be in violation of the Genocide Convention of 1948 (Berger, 1991, p. 124).The experience of the Beothuk in Newfoundland is an example of a successful campaign of genocide of an Aboriginal nation in North America (Dickason, 1997, p. 73).
  • [6] However, depending on the context some authors may define "First Nations" as including Métis and/or Inuit.This usage of the term "First Nations" can be confusing since legislation and the Assembly of First Nations define the term "First Nations" as restricted to status Indian communities. See for example the First Nations Land Management Act, S.C. 1999, c.24 and the proposed First Nations Governance Act, Bill C-7.
  • [7] We prefer to define First Nations as including non-status Indians because it is inclusive of those who culturally identify with a particular Indian community and is not dependent on the arbitrary definition of status Indian in the Indian Act.
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