Black Youth and the Criminal Justice System: Summary Report of an Engagement Process in Canada

Introduction

Black people have a long history in Canada and have played an integral role in the formation of the country (Winks, 1997). Despite their contributions, and Canada’s reputation as an open and tolerant nation, Black populations continue to experience various forms of discrimination and marginalization. Over the past two decades, the experiences and overrepresentation of Black people in Canada’s criminal justice system (CJS) have been increasingly acknowledged by policy makers and scholars as an important social issue and a legacy of Canada’s colonial past (Owusu-Bempah & Gabbidon, 2020). Despite decades of work on this topic, there is no comprehensive picture of Black youth’s views of and experiences with the youth CJS across Canada. To address this gap, the Department of Justice Canada (JUS), in collaboration with the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat at the Department of Canadian Heritage, initiated an engagement process in 2020 to better understand the challenges facing Black youth who have been in contact with and involved in the Canadian youth CJS. This report presents a summary of key findings and suggested priority areas for action, based on community-led engagement sessions held in six cities across the country: Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.

A note to readers: When reading the firsthand testimonies presented in this report, readers are invited to be conscious of their own racial biases through which they are conditioned to vilify Black youth and doubt the truthfulness of their words. Instead of judgement, readers are encouraged to practice curiosity.