Understanding how different groups of people experience crime, as both victims/survivors and accused/offenders, is critical to achieving key criminal justice system outcomes. This knowledge promotes evidence-based program and policy development that is people-centred and responsive to the unique needs of individuals.
One way that society groups people is by gender. A long history of research shows that women and men tend to be impacted differently by crime, and interact differently with the CJS. Women are more likely than men to experience gender-based violence—violence targeted at them because of their gender, gender expression, gender identity or perceived gender. Certain violent crimes, including sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and intimate partner homicides, are particularly gendered, with women making up the vast majority of victims/survivors and men overwhelmingly the perpetrators (Burczycka 2019; Conroy and Cotter 2017; Department of Justice Canada 2019b). Recent findings from Statistics Canada have also shown that transgender and non-binary individuals are more likely to experience violent victimization in their lifetime (from the age of 15) (59%) compared with cisgender people (37%) (Jaffray 2020). Sexual minority people who self-identify as Indigenous also experience higher prevalence of physical (73%) and sexual assault (65%) in their lifetime compared with non-Indigenous sexual minorities (45% and 37%, respectively) (Jaffray 2020).
When women engage in crime, they tend to become involved for different reasons than men, are accused and convicted of less serious crimes, and are less likely to be incarcerated (Balfour 2020; Bloom et al. 2003; Gartner and Jung 2014; Hannah-Moffat 2017; Hannah-Moffat and Shaw 2001; Mahony 2015; Mahony et al. 2017; Savage 2019). Many correctional programs are based on research conducted with men offenders, given that they make up the large majority of the incarcerated population (Balfour 2020; Hannah-Moffat 2017; United Nations 2014), and may not be effective in meeting the needs of women offenders. That said, women, especially Indigenous women, make up a growing share of those incarcerated in Canada’s prisons and jails (Balfour 2020). Targeting interventions to prevent women’s offending and developing policies aimed at the fair and rehabilitative treatment of women offenders, requires assessing how they become involved in crime, and how their needs can be best addressed when in custody.
Women also have different experiences based on the intersectionality of various factors such as age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, Indigenous identity, race and ethnicity, geographical location, income and class, mental health, physical and cognitive disability, citizenship, immigration and refugee status, and family status (Creek and Dunn 2014; Crenshaw 1989). As conceptualized by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), intersectionality highlights how various forms of inequality can combine to create increasingly negative impacts. Employing an intersectional approach helps to fully understand and respond to the multiple, overlapping discrimination or privileges some individuals experience.1
The inaugural 2019 SOCJS Report provided a broad overview of performance on all SOCJS Framework indicators. The same type of report will be released on a five-year cycle. Annual interim reports will provide a more focused narrative and contextual details surrounding a particular topic or issue. This second edition of the SOCJS Report examines performance indicators through a gendered lens, specifically women’s perceptions of the CJS, and their interactions with this system both as victims/survivors and accused/offenders. It presents quantitative data on a subset of indicators that explore women’s perceptions and experiences of the CJS. When possible, the report also explores intersecting identity factors to better understand the diverse experiences of women living in Canada. This includes analysis of how interactions with the CJS may differ for Indigenous women compared with non-Indigenous women wherever data were available. The report looks beyond the Framework by including data from a variety of related sources and from the literature. It situates the Framework data in a broader context and provides more detail and nuance than what the Framework itself would allow.
The report begins by discussing the Framework’s various gaps, limitations and caveats, including those related to the concept of gender in CJS data. Next, the report presents Framework highlights that illustrate key differences between men and women relevant to CJS performance. The main sections of the report describe the performance of the CJS based on Canadians’ understanding and perceptions of the CJS, as well as the experiences of women as victims and survivors of crime, and as accused and offenders. The conclusion identifies key trends for women based on the information provided in the report and highlights some areas in need of further data collection and reporting.
Data gaps, limitations and caveats
The CJS is a complex grouping of systems, such as police, courts, corrections, parole, and oversight bodies as well as the myriad of programming within these systems. It is also administered differently by the provinces and territories across Canada. In many jurisdictions, these systems are independent of each other, and as a result this creates challenges in following individuals through the justice system within or across jurisdictions. The purpose of the SOCJS Framework, Dashboard and Report is to provide a national picture of Canada’s CJS, and may not represent some of the differences in processes and practices across the country. The data presented in the Framework do not take into consideration jurisdictions’ unique contexts and realities. Additionally, for some indicators, data for certain provinces and territories are not available and are therefore not included in the national estimate.2
It is also important to note that the current Framework is not exhaustive of all relevant indicators that could be used to monitor the performance of the CJS. Gaps in data availability have been highlighted as areas for future development (see the Department of Justice Canada 2020b). The Department of Justice is committed to working with partners to further refine the Framework and fill the data gaps it has identified.3 As new data are collected, statistical standards are developed and consultations with experts continue, it is expected that new indicators will be added to the Framework. Further, as new data breakdowns become available (e.g., sex, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, physical and cognitive disability), they will be added to highlight the experiences of different populations in contact with the CJS.
Moving forward on the inclusion of race and ethno-cultural disaggregated data
The need for data on Indigenous and ethno-cultural groups has been a subject of discussion for decades. Disaggregated data for these groups can help increase knowledge and understanding of individuals’ experiences in the CJS. These conversations gained rapid momentum with the #BlackLivesMatter social movement against systemic racism, especially in the context of police brutality. The need for disaggregated data was also accelerated by the current global COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, Statistics Canada and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police announced they would will be working together to enable police to report statistics on Indigenous identity, race, and ethno-cultural identities in police-reported crime statistics for victims/survivors and accused persons.4
With respect to the CJS, there are currently limited national statistics available on gender and other intersecting identity factors such as age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, Indigenous identity, race and ethnicity, geographical location, income and class, mental health, physical and cognitive disability, citizenship and immigration status, and family status. The lack of national statistics with respect to these indicators is due to a number of factors including differences in the way in which jurisdictions capture data, lack of national collection strategies, data quality issues, and lack of resources. For the purpose of this report, only indicators with a sex or gender breakdown available are presented. Where feasible, the report also explores women’s intersecting identity factors.
While it is recognized that not everyone in Canada is considered Canadian (e.g., non-permanent residents) and that some Indigenous individuals do not identify as Canadian, for the purpose of analysis and reporting, the report uses the term “Canadians” to refer to all people living in Canada regardless of citizenship.
Indigenous peoples in Canada and in the CJS
Indigenous peoples in Canada are not a homeogeneous population. Instead, they have distinct nations with different histories, cultures, identities, knowledges, languages, understandings of the world, and social experiences. In the 2016 Census, over 1.6 million people, or 5% of Canada’s total population, self-identified as Indigenous. This represents an increase from 4% in 2006 and 3% in 1996. Within this population, in 2016, 58% were First Nations, 35% were Métis, and 4% were Inuit. A small proportion (3%) identified as having multiple Indigenous identities. Three-quarters (76%) of Indigenous individuals had Registered or Treaty Indian status, with 44% of this population living on reserve (Statistics Canada 2017a).
The Indigenous population in Canada is younger than the non-Indigenous population, with an average age of 32 years versus 41 years, respectively (Statistics Canada 2017a). Inuit are, on average, younger than First Nations and Métis people (with an average age of 28 years compared with 31 years and 35 years, respectively).
In 2016, Indigneous women comprised 4% of the total population of adult women in Canada. They were also, on average, younger than non-Indigenous women (average age of 33 years compared with 41 years), less frequently married or living common-law (35% compared with 48%), and less likely to have a highschool diploma or equivalent5 (70% compared with 84%) (Statistics Canada 2018).
Where possible, a distinctions-based approach is used to present information about different Indigenous groups. However, most of the statistical data related to Indigenous identity is unavailable by Indigenous group. For more information on Indigenous peoples in the CJS, see the “Learn More” page on the State of the Criminal Justice System Dashboard.
A final caveat is that the CJS, as referred to in the Framework and online Dashboard, encompasses both the adult6 and youth CJSs. However, the two systems are distinct. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) (2002) is an act that governs Canada’s youth CJS. It applies to youth, 12 to 17 years of age, who are alleged to have committed a criminal offence. The youth system is different from the adult system in many respects: measures of accountability are consistent with young persons’ reduced level of maturity; procedural protections are enhanced; rehabilitation and reintegration are given special emphasis; and, the importance of timely intervention is explicitly recognized. As a result of these inherent differences, the intention is to add to the existing Framework by developing a youth specific Framework in the coming years. It should be noted that the current report is focused on the adult population.
CJS indicators are useful in providing information on the system’s performance and directing attention to areas in need of improvement. However, they cannot, on their own, explain the system’s performance, nor can an indicator explain trends in data. To understand the reasons behind performance and trends, the data must be situated in the context of social, political and economic events. Although a full analysis of the drivers of performance is beyond the scope of this paper, some effort is made to contextualize the data within these broader systems.
A note on the concept of gender in criminal justice system data
Gender refers to the socially-derived constructs that describe the categories of “men” and “women” including expected behaviours, roles, and attributes. Gender identity refers to a deeply felt sense of being a man, a woman, both, or neither (Women and Gender Equality Canada). Traditionally, national statistical agencies, including Statistics Canada (STC), have collected and disaggregated data by sex assigned at birth (or ”sex”) (male and female), and these data continue to be used as the basis for a large part of gender-based analysis. However, the Western concept of gender has evolved to recognize that gender exists on a continuum with individuals identifying as women, men, neither, or both. In addition, an individual’s gender identity (internal sense of gender) and gender expression (external expression of gender) may change or shift along the continuum over time.
Within many Indigenous nations, the understanding of gender and sexuality has been different from Western concepts. The term Two-Spirit person is an umbrella term for some Indigenous individuals who identify as having both a female and male spirit within them or whose gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or spiritual identity is not limited by the binary classification of gender as woman or man.7
In response to evolving social contexts and data needs, statistical agencies around the world have begun altering the way that they collect information on sex and gender to be more inclusive of gender diversity. As part of the Government of Canada’s efforts to modernize sex and gender information practices,8 Statistics Canada designed the 2016 Census so that respondents who were unable or unwilling to respond to the binary sex question could skip the question and leave a comment instead.9 In order to fully capture the population of transgender and other gender diverse people, Canada’s 2021 Census questionnaire will ask people to indicate both their sex assigned at birth (male or female), as well as their current gender (male, female or please specify).10 STC has begun including a gender question with three options (male, female and please specify) in some surveys to better capture gender diversity in the population (e.g., 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS)11 and the General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety [Victimization]).12 The GSS and SSPPS also collect information on sexual orientation and the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR)13 collects information on hate crimes targeting individuals’ sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Estimates from the 2018 SSPPS found that the transgender population in Canada (which included other gender-diverse individuals, such as those who identified as non-binary) is quite small (0.24% of population ages 15 years and older) (Jaffray 2020). Given requirements for confidentiality and data quality that are in part based on sample size, the small size of the transgender and gender-diverse population will likely present challenges for producing official statistical estimates. It is also expected to be even more challenging to produce estimates for the various identities included under the gender-diverse umbrella. Very little is known about the experiences of transgender and other gender-diverse individuals in the courts and in correctional contexts. Even less is known about how gender intersects with other characteristics to impact individuals’ experiences with the CJS. The collection of new quantitative and qualitative data is therefore essential to fully understand how intersectionality may be related to one’s experience with the CJS.
The terms “men” and “women” used throughout the report may refer to individuals who have either self-identified as such in a survey or have been assigned a gender (i.e., based on the perceptions of those capturing the data or based on already existing information). The data presented in the report are collected from a number of sources, each may be capturing or defining these terms differently. For more information, please refer to the original data source.
4 See the following link for more information about this commitment: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200715/dq200715g-eng.htm?CMP=mstatcan.
5 Data on educational attainment includes women aged 25 and over.
7 To learn more about Indigenous gender and sexuality, refer to Hunt’s (2016) report An Introduction to the Health of Two-Spirit People: https://www.ccnsa-nccah.ca/docs/emerging/RPT-HealthTwoSpirit-Hunt-EN.pdf.
8 For more information, see: https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/corporate/reports/summary-modernizing-info-sex-gender.html#h-3.
9 See the following link for more information: https://unstats.un.org/unsd/classifications/expertgroup/egm2017/ac340-21.PDF
10 See the following link for more information: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200717/dq200717e-eng.htm.
11 The 2018 SSPPS was the first national survey to include a three-option gender question. This survey collects information on experiences, perceptions and attitudes related to gender-based violence among people ages 15 and over. It was the first national survey to release provincial estimates of the size of the gender diverse population (including transgender and other gender diverse identities). For more information, see https://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&SDDS=5256.
12 The GSS on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) examines issues related to the safety and security of Canadians, including perceptions of crime and the justice system, experiences of IPV, and how safe people feel in their communities. As an important source of information for monitoring self-reported victimization, it was changed in 2019 to include the three-option question on gender in addition to the traditional question on sex. It also collects information on sexual orientation. For more information, see https://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&Id=148641.
13 For more information, see https://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&SDDS=3302.
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