About the criminal justice system review
The Government of Canada has completed a broad examination of Canada’s criminal justice system. This work comes in response to the 2015 mandate letter to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to conduct a review of the changes made to the criminal justice system and of the sentencing reforms made in the last decade.
Over three years, people across the country were able to provide their views and feedback through a variety of platforms. Consultations examined ways to strengthen and modernize the system. This included working with multiple levels of government and civil society to find integrated solutions that could improve outcomes for people involved in, or at risk of becoming involved in, the criminal justice system.
What We Heard
From May 2016 to April 2018, the Government of Canada engaged with stakeholders, partners, and Canadians across the country to discuss how to transform the criminal justice system. The review of the criminal justice system summarizes what was heard from the more than 11,000 Canadians who participated, captured in four reports. The reports, including the final report, are available to Canadians.
Nineteen provincial and territorial roundtables, four community roundtables, and four roundtable discussions on the interaction of the criminal justice system with other social systems, took place as part of these consultations. Participants included representatives from non-governmental organizations representing victims, offenders, police, prosecutors, defence lawyers, members of professional legal associations, judges, provincial and territorial government officials, Indigenous leaders, academics and mental health professionals.
Why change is needed
Despite its many strengths, there are aspects of Canada’s criminal justice system that point to several challenges:
- Overrepresentation of Indigenous people
- Overrepresentation of vulnerable and marginalized people
- Victims and survivors of crime
- Criminal law and procedure
Overrepresentation of Indigenous people
In Canada, Indigenous people are most at-risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system, both as victims and offenders. Indigenous people make up only about four percent of the population, but account for more than one-quarter of those in federal correctional populations.
Indigenous people are also more likely to be victims of crime. Reducing the rate of incarceration and of victimization of Indigenous people is a priority for the federal government and responds to the calls to action related to justice from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
- JustFacts: Indigenous overrepresentation in the criminal justice system
- A report on the relationship between restorative justice and Indigenous legal traditions in Canada
- JustFacts: Indigenous overrepresentation in provincial/territorial corrections
- Spotlight on Gladue: Challenges, Experiences, and Possibilities in Canada’s Criminal Justice System
- Video: Indigenous over-representation - Jorgina
- Video: Indigenous over-representation - Devon
Overrepresentation of vulnerable and marginalized people
Individuals with mental illness and with problematic substance use, and others who are marginalized due to race, ethnicity, and socio-economic characteristics, are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.
- JustFacts: The impact of mandatory minimum penalties on Indigenous, Black and other visible minorities
- The mentally ill: How they became enmeshed in the criminal justice system and how we might get them out
- JustFacts: Drug Offences Subject to a Mandatory Minimum Penalty
- Drug treatment court funding program
- Video: Mental health and addictions
Victims and Survivors of Crime
Victims and survivors of crime can feel isolated, re-victimized, and voiceless as they seek justice for crimes perpetrated against them. This can have an impact on the willingness to report crimes such as sexual assault, which has a low reporting rate.
Criminal Law and Procedure
There are concerns that certain provisions and procedures disproportionately impact marginalized populations and may result in negative outcomes for many in contact with the system. Delays in the system also impact victims and their families, and can take a toll on their mental health.
- Research in brief: Assessments and analyses of Canada’s bail system
- The national justice survey 2017
- Essay on the reform of the objectives and principles of sentencing
- Video: Court delays
- Court discretion on federal victim surcharges
- JustFacts: Drug offences subject to a mandatory minimum penalty
- JustFacts: Firearm-related offences subject to a mandatory minimum penalty
- JustFacts: Child-related sexual offences subject to a mandatory minimum penalty
Services and information
Through a process of ongoing review, we’re working on transforming Canada’s criminal justice system.
Canada’s justice system is considered among the best in the world. Rates of crime and severity of crime have been declining, and Canadians generally feel safe.
Every person’s experience with Canada’s justice system is different, but based on available evidence, we can create examples of the kinds of situations that occur in the criminal justice system and how we can improve them.
As part of the broad review and reform of Canada’s criminal justice system, the Department of Justice has undertaken various initiatives to hear Canadians’ views of what a transformed criminal justice system could look like.
Find out more about how the Government of Canada and the Department of Justice are transforming the criminal justice system with the following information and resources.
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