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

Overview of the Engagement Process

In 2020, Justice Canada–in collaboration with the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat at the Department of Canadian Heritage–undertook an engagement process aimed at better understanding the challenges facing Black youth who have been in contact with the CJS. This process supports the federal government’s broader efforts under Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy to address access to justice issues. It is part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to the International Decade for People of African Descent, which has prioritized justice as one of three overarching pillars. This initiative also supports Justice Canada’s 2021 Mandate Letter commitment to address systemic discrimination and the overrepresentation of Black people in the CJS.

Focused engagement sessions and meetings were organized in six cities across the country with Black youth (aged 18-29) who have had experiences with the CJS as young persons (i.e., when they were 12 to 17 years old) under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). Discussions were also held with family members and other key stakeholders such as community leaders and professionals who could speak to the experiences of Black youth who have come into contact with the CJS.

The objectives of this engagement process were to:

The approach taken for this engagement process was community-based. The work was led by community liaisons at each of the engagement sites (one per site in Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, and two in Toronto, due to the size and diversity of Black communities). These community liaisons had lived experience as members of Black communities and were selected because they represented organizations with established relationships of trust with Black youth and their community. Community liaisons were responsible for determining the best approach to conduct the sessions and meetings based on their in-depth knowledge of their community and individual participants. A mix of one-on-one and group sessions were chosen for most sites. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the engagement sessions were conducted in a virtual format (i.e., by phone or videoconference).

The engagement sessions began in August 2020 and were completed by April 2021. The engagement questions and material were initially developed by Justice Canada and the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat, based on findings from previous consultations conducted with Black youth in Canada. Community liaisons were consulted on these materials and adapted them to meet the needs of their participants. Efforts were made to include Black youth with diverse intersectional backgrounds and experiences, including immigrants, the children of immigrants born in Canada, and youth from established Black communities.Footnote1 Youth in the community as well as those currently incarcerated in provincial facilities and federal institutions were included in the engagement. Table 1 provides details about the number of participants at each site.

Table 1. Description of participants across sites
  Youth (Male) Youth (Female) Families Stakeholders Total Participants
Calgary 7 1 8 19 35
Winnipeg 5 0 1 11 17
Toronto (1) 11 0 3 1 15
Toronto (2) 38 0 5 22 65
Ottawa 18 0 8 20 46
Montreal 9 1 4 19 33
Halifax 2 0 6 5 13
Total 90 2 35 97 224

Each of the community liaisons provided a site-specific summary that highlighted key findings and suggested priority areas for action from their sessions. This report summarizes the content of the seven site-specific summaries.