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

Part I: Literature Review (continued)

4. Demographic Profile of Aboriginal Peoples

In this section we provide some basic demographic information and some data regarding involvement of Aboriginal peoples in the criminal justice system. In particular, we examine data on Aboriginal victimization generally and more specifically from urban, gender, and youth perspectives.

4.1 General Demographic Information

Chart 1: Percentage of Aboriginal Population: Indian 69%, Métis 26 %, Inuit 5%

Chart 1: Percentage of Aboriginal Population: Indian 69%, Metis26 %, Inuit 5%

[Description of Chart 1]

According to the 1996 Census, the Aboriginal population in Canada comprises 3% of the total population in Canada.[10] Chart 1 illustrates the proportion of the Aboriginal population who identify as Indian, Métis and Inuit.[11] Statistics Canada's (2001a) profile of Aboriginal peoples has found that the largest concentrations of Aboriginal people live in the West.[12] They are a relatively rural population with an increasing urban presence. In 1996, 67% of the Métis, 43% of Indian people and 28% of Inuit people lived in urban centres. Aboriginal people are also a young population relative to the overall Canadian population. The average age of Aboriginal people is 25.5 years compared to 35.4 years for the general Canadian population. Aboriginal children are twice as likely than non-Aboriginal children to be living in lone-parent families. Aboriginal women head 86 % of the lone-parent families.

In terms of social and economic indicators, Aboriginal people are a very disadvantaged population within Canada. Although Aboriginal peoples have been making important gains in educational achievement they are still significantly underrepresented in educational attainment. For example, 3% of Aboriginal people have a university degree compared to 13% of the non-Aboriginal population. They are also much less likely than non-Aboriginal people to be in the paid workforce and unemployment rates continue to be extremely high – more than double the rate of non-Aboriginal people. Not surprisingly then, Aboriginal people have low average incomes and are disproportionately represented in low-income categories. In 1995, 46% of all Aboriginal people had incomes below $10,000 compared to 27% of non-Aboriginal people.

The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs maintains a yearly overview of basic demographic information in a series entitled Basic Departmental Data. This data refers to status Indians and Inuit only. Given that the federal government typically does not claim responsibility over the Métis, nor do the provincial governments for the most part, this group is often ignored in research initiatives. General demographic data regarding the health status of Métis, for example, is practically non-existent (RCAP,1996d).

The Basic Departmental Data of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC, 2001) provides some useful demographic data regarding status Indians. For example, in terms of health status, despite gains over the years, life expectancy of status Indians continues to be 6.3 years less than the general Canadian population. Tuberculosis remains a serious problem with Indian communities having a rate eight times that of the national average. The National Population Health Survey (1996/7) found that the prevalence of diabetes among Aboriginal peoples is at least three times the general population.[13]

The number of children in non-family care (needing protection from abuse) increased from 4% in 1994 to 6% in 2000 (INAC, 2001). The Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (Trocmé et al., 2001) found that 8% of child maltreatment investigations involved households with at least one parent who was Aboriginal.[14] In 2000, only 56% of houses on reserve were considered to be in adequate condition (INAC, 2001).[15]

4.2 Criminal Involvement

The social breakdown caused by a history of colonization and current levels of impoverishment have resulted in an over-representation of Aboriginal peoples (youth, women and men) as offenders in the Canadian justice system. Statistics Canada's 2001 profile on Aboriginal peoples in Canada found that Aboriginal peoples accounted for 17% of persons in custody yet they represented only 2% of the adult population in 1998-99 (Statistics Canada, 2001a). This disproportionate incarceration rate was particularly acute in the Western provinces. For example, in 1998-99 the proportion of Aboriginal persons admitted to adult provincial facilities in Saskatchewan (76%) was almost ten times that of their proportion in the provincial adult population (8%) (Statistics Canada, 2001a). The extent of disproportionate incarceration has prompted many commissions and inquiries and all have reported that such circumstances are a national crisis. This reality has also motivated a variety of reforms such as amending the Criminal Code of Canada to require judges who sentence Aboriginal offenders to avoid imposing a sentence of incarceration if at all possible under the circumstances (R.v. Gladue, 1999). Other reforms have focused on implementing various alternatives to deal with offenders. These include sentencing circles, diversion programs and Aboriginal courts. Such reforms continue to be of central concern to the government as is reflected in the most recent Speech From the Throne.[16] It was stated that the government will "expand community-based justice approaches". Some of these developments have important implications for Aboriginal victims which we shall review in the section on alternative justice processes in Part 9 below.


  • [10] This demographic profile is very general and the reader is cautioned to not make generalizations for all Aboriginal people because there are often important differences between Aboriginal communities in their demographic profiles.
  • [11] Source: Statistics Canada (2001a).
  • [12] Unless otherwise noted, the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada profile (Statistics Canada, 2001a) regarding general demographic information are based on the 1996 Census. Statistics relating directly to criminal justice issues and victimization are largely based on the 1999 General Social Survey.
  • [13] See http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hpb/lcdc/publicat/diabet99/d04_e.html#6
  • [14] See http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/search/results. Note: Aboriginal identity was based on self-disclosure regarding ethno-cultural status.
  • [15] Adequate condition is defined as the number of houses that do not require any minor or major renovations or replacement.
  • [16] See: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1033417414133_28826614///?hub=Specials or http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca
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