Indigenous People in Criminal Court in Canada: An Exploration Using the Relative Rate Index
This report presents findings on the representation and outcomes of Indigenous people as accused in Canadian criminal courts. This is the first time that national statistics on Indigenous accused in criminal courts are reported in Canada.
This study addresses four key objectives:
- Identify whether the criminal court process itself contributes to the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system (CJS);
- Identify disproportionality in court outcomes of Indigenous accused, compared to White accused, at key stages/decision points of the criminal court process;
- Identify whether other sociodemographic variables (e.g., sex and age group) affect the level of disproportionate outcomes experienced by Indigenous people at key stages/decision points of the criminal court process; and,
- Identify areas that warrant further exploration and data development.
This study was a collaborative effort between the Research and Statistics Division at the Department of Justice Canada and the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics at Statistics Canada. The data used in this study were obtained through a data linkage whereby records from Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census of Population long-form (Census) and the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) were linked together to obtain the Indigenous identity of accused. The linked data were used to generate two types of metrics: 1) proportions of Indigenous and White accused in criminal courts; and 2) the Relative Rate Index (RRI).
RRIs were calculated to measure the likelihood of Indigenous accused encountering specific court outcomes relative to White accused. The study examines five key court outcomes (i.e., stages/decision points within the court process): 1) whether a preliminary inquiry occurred; 2) whether a trial occurred; 3) the final court decision (e.g., found guilty, acquitted); 4) the type of sentence received (e.g., custody, probation); and 5) the length of custodial sentence. The RRI method involves calculating the rate of Indigenous and White accused experiencing a specific court outcome based on the number of Indigenous and White accused “at risk” of experiencing that court outcome.
Key findings indicate that Indigenous people are overrepresented as accused in criminal courts relative to their representation in the Canadian population. Further, compared to their White counterparts, Indigenous accused are:
- more likely to have a preliminary inquiry;
- less likely to go to trial;
- less likely to encounter a withdrawal, dismissal or discharge and to be acquitted, and more likely to encounter a stay of proceedings and to be found guilty (including guilty pleas);
- less likely to receive a fine and probation, and more likely to receive a conditional sentence and to be sentenced to custody; and
- less likely to receive long-term custodial sentences of two or more years.
These findings suggest that Canadian criminal courts are contributing to differential and disproportionate outcomes for Indigenous accused. Some of these outcomes (e.g., more likely to be found guilty) result in prolonged involvement with the CJS, including entry into correctional supervision.
The report identifies a number of areas in which further research is necessary to better understand why disproportionality is occurring at specific stages/decision points in the criminal court process, most notably around findings of guilt. In addition, further analyses are required to better understand the representation of Indigenous people at other key stages/decision points in the criminal court process (e.g., bail, guilty pleas).
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