The purpose of this report was to examine CJS performance through a gendered lens, drawing on the research literature to place performance indicator data in a broader social context. This approach demonstrates what general performance indicators cannot – that women perceive and experience the criminal justice system differently than men. Further, the report shows that women may experience multiple layers of systemic disadvantage based on age, socioeconomic status, Indigeneity, racialization, sexual and gender identity. The frequency and reasons for which women interact with the criminal justice system vary substantially based on these and other identity characteristics. This final section provides an overview of key findings, highlights possible relationships between indicators, and builds on the contextual details provided in the body of the report.
Canadians’ confidence in the CJS has increased over time, and the most recent data suggest that confidence in the CJS is generally high. And yet, despite overall confidence in the CJS—and in particular, in police—less than half of robberies and physical assaults are reported to police. Even more striking, only about 5% of sexual assaults—of which women are the large majority of victims/survivors—are reported to police. The reasons that victims/survivors choose not to report are complex, and may involve a number of factors such as feelings of shame and guilt, concerns about personal safety, whether they will be believed, or more generally how they will be treated. In one report, sizeable proportions of victims/survivors who did not report an incident of sexual assault indicated that they did not think the incident was serious enough, did not think the police would consider the incident important enough, or did not think the offender would be convicted, or adequately punished. Importantly, those who experienced sexual assault also reported lower confidence in police, in court processes, and in the CJS more generally. Some recent findings have suggested that social movements such as #MeToo have increased women’s reporting of sexual assault to police, which accounts for at least some of the increase in incidents of sexual assault in crime statistics in recent years (Rotenberg and Cotter 2018).
The rate of police-reported violent crime over the last five years has been increasing more quickly for women than for men. Women are generally more likely than men to be victims/survivors of violence and make up the large majority of victims/survivors of sexual assault and police-reported intimate partner violence—both crimes that are most frequently perpetrated by men. Women are more likely than men to be victimized by someone they know. Although women are less likely than men to be victims of homicide, they make up the vast majority of people killed by an intimate partner. These gender differences in accused-victim relationships signal gender differences in power that are characteristic of gender-based violence. Other imbalances in the distribution of power in society make certain groups of women particularly at risk of violent crime—this includes, Indigenous women, those from racialized groups, women with disabilities, young and LGBTQ2 women, among others who face systemic disadvantage.
While women are overrepresented among victims/survivors of violent crime, they account for a small minority of accused and offenders. This means that general performance data for accused and offenders may mask the experiences of women in the system. Women who are navigating the CJS as accused/offenders tend to spend fewer days in remand and have, on average, shorter case completion times than men. These data may partially be explained by the fact that women are typically accused of non-violent crimes, most frequently property crimes, which tend to take the shortest amount of time to complete (Department of Justice Canada 2019e). Women are also less likely than men to be found guilty and less likely to be sentenced to custody. It is possible that the CJS is more efficient and fair in its treatment of women in that they may spend less time away from home, their family, and their role as primary caregivers, all of which have been shown to disproportionately affect justice-involved women. Alternatively, less time spent in the court system may simply be a reflection of the less serious crimes that are commited by women. It could also indicate inadequate access to legal aid or higher rates of self-representation among women, which would suggest less fair treatment. While the Framework does include an indicator on approved legal aid applications, the breakdown by sex is currently not available. Indicators of self-representation broken down by sex and identity factors would allow for a more nuanced understanding of the experiences of women in the courts system. Additionally, courts data typically cannot be disaggregated to capture intersecting identity factors such as Indigenous identity or ethnicity. Thus, no conclusions can be drawn regarding how the courts are performing for diverse groups of women and men.
While there may generally be less reliance on custody sentences for women accused, the number of women in both provincial/territorial and federal custody is increasing. At the same time, the number of men in federal corrections is decreasing. Incarcerated women are more likely than men to complete programming, though they are slightly less likely to secure employment before release. This is particularly interesting, considering women are more likely than men to be granted release into the community (on both day and full parole), and the proportion of federally incarcerated women being granted parole has been increasing over time. This supports the literature that women tend to pose a lower risk to the community and so are more likely to be released. However, a lack of employment may elevate the risk of criminal behaviour after release. Further study on the employment needs of incarcerated women would allow for a greater understanding of the challenges women face upon release.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has called for action to eliminate the overrepresentation of Indigenous individuals in custody over the next decade, and to reduce the rate of criminal victimization of Indigenous individuals, including violent victimization. The MMIWG National Inquiry recommends a national action plan to address the staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2 people. Findings in this report emphasize that the CJS has a long way to go for Indigenous women in particular, as they continue to be overrepresented as both victims/survivors and accused/offenders. Indigenous women are more likely than non-Indigenous women to be victims of all types of crime, including violent crime such as sexual assault, intimate partner violence and homicide. The number of Indigenous women being incarcerated is increasing dramatically, both in provincial/territorial and federal custody and they represent the fastest growing adult prisoner population in Canada. Indigenous women offenders also fare more poorly on most corrections-based indicators than non-Indigenous women. There is still much that is unclear about the challenges faced by Indigenous women as accused/offenders in the CJS. Current and future data collection efforts will help build a clearer picture of the experiences of Indigenous women in all areas of the CJS from police through to courts and provincial/territorial corrections.
In conclusion, this report highlights that efforts to improve the workings of the criminal justice system cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. Ensuring a fair, accessible, effective and efficicent CJS requires taking a people-centered approach to understanding system performance. This means looking at how the system is performing for different groups of people, in order to better target programs, policies and initatives to meet diverse needs. This report examined how women perceive and experience the criminal justice system, and how gender and other identity characteristics interact to make certain groups of people more or less likely to engage with the CJS as victims/survivors or as accused/offenders. It also points to where certain key data are still missing to be able to comprehensively assess how gender and other characteristics like Indigeneity and racialization influence whether and how individuals interact with the CJS. The reporting and collection of various identity factors will be crucial in examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the CJS, as well as its disproportionate impact on groups that already face systemic disadvantage. Regular performance monitoring and ongoing efforts to address data gaps within the CJS improve our ability to make decisions driven by data and evidence, which will have a positive effect on the lives of Canadians.
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