Police Discretion with Young Offenders

V. Situational Factors Affecting Police Discretion

11.0 Race

Literature on the general tenor of relations between police and aboriginal Canadians is reviewed in Chapter III, Section 4.2.4. There is very little Canadian research specifically on police charging practices in relation to aboriginal youth. Harding (1991) argued that Canadian police are more likely to apprehend and charge aboriginal youth. According to Schissel (1993), aboriginals in Canadian cities tend to be located in areas where there are high levels of policing, thereby increasing their chances of arrest. The incomplete data available from the UCR2 Survey suggest that apprehended aboriginal youth have a much higher than average probability of being charged, even when other correlated variables, such as offence seriousness and use of alcohol or drugs, are controlled; however, this study was unable to control for two possibly crucial confounding variables: demeanour and prior record (Carrington, 1998a).

Concerning other racial groups, Canadian research in Toronto interviewed youth and found that young people, regardless of colour, believe that black youth are a focus of police harassment (Neugebauer-Visano, 1996). The Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System (1995) alleges racism directed against both black and aboriginal youth by police in Ontario, but relies on the opinions of community members, and indirect evidence such as the over-representation of minority groups among those charged and detained by police.

Almost everyone in our sample (96%) whom we asked about the effect of the young person’s race said that they do not take race into consideration when determining how to deal with a youth-related incident. The five respondents who did suggest that race was a minor or secondary factor referred to what might be called forms of “positive discrimination”. For example, in some places, there may be an alternative measures program that is dedicated to aboriginal youth. In that circumstance, they would take it into account and recommend the aboriginal youth be referred to this particular program. Another officer said that the living conditions of many aboriginal youth in her city were so terrible that she was not surprised that they got into trouble with the law, and she was therefore more inclined to “give a break” to an aboriginal youth than to a non-aboriginal. All five respondents who identified the youth’s race as a minor or secondary factor work in communities with a significant problem with serious property crime by youth.

Analysis of UCR2 data[104] shows a large difference (19%) between the charge rates for apprehended aboriginal and non-aboriginal youth (Table V.16). Some of this difference is due to related factors, but when these are controlled, apprehended aboriginal youth are still 12% more likely to be charged. It is possible that this substantial difference is due to other related factors which were not included in the statistical analysis, or it could be due to the race of the youth itself. Further analysis of this issue is warranted.


Table V.16 Proportion of apprehended youth charged, by the race of the youth, Canada (parts), 2001
Race % charged Adjusted % charged N
Aboriginal 70 58 1,272
Non-aboriginal 51 46 29,540

Source: UCR2 Survey, Trend Database.


[104]According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, results based on the 'aboriginal status' variable in UCR 2 Survey must be interpreted with caution, for two reasons:

  • (i) some police services which report to the UCR2 Survey do not report data for this variable; and
  • (ii) the variable is coded as "unknown" for many individuals.

Date modified: