JustResearch Issue 15

Research in Profile

Research in Profile

Where we have been

Anna Paletta, Principal Researcher
Kimberly Burnett, Research Assistant

The following is an overview of the research conducted by the Research and Statistics Division (RSD) of the Department of Justice Canada with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples. In recent years this research has focussed on the North; research also has been conducted on Aboriginal youth, as well as victimization.

Nunavut Territory

In 1993, the Inuit of what is now called Nunavut, and the Government of Canada reached a comprehensive land claim agreement, and on April 1, 1999 the Nunavut Territory was established. The population of Nunavut at that time was 26,745 people who lived in twenty-six communities scattered over some two million square kilometres, most with no linkages other than by air. Following the creation of Nunavut as Canada’s third territory, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) made a commitment to assist the new territory in establishing a justice system in keeping with the Nunavut Act (1999). As part of this commitment, the Research and Statistics Division (RSD) undertook research in collaboration with the newly formed Nunavut Government Department of Justice to assist officials in building, monitoring and assessing the implementation of justice programs and initiatives. More specifically, research was undertaken to aid in the development of a system of justice that emphasizes local institutions which reflect the cultural and social realities of the Inuit people. This fulsome program of research is briefly discussed below.

A detailed analysis of RCMP crime data was one of the first research projects undertaken in Nunavut as an initial step. The analysis provided the data for each region, as well as for each of the 26 communities (Parriag and Clement, 2000). The authors found that the most frequent charges for each region across Nunavut were assault level 1, breaking and entering business premises, and “other” Criminal Code offences.[2] The majority of offenders were adult males. Male youth were also charged most frequently for breaking and entering business premises, and residences, and “other” Criminal Code offences. Although females were charged with assault level 1 offences, they were responsible for a significantly smaller number of offences. Female youth were charged with a negligible number of offences.

Parriag and Clement reported general trends with respect to the frequency with which reported offences, actual offences, and clearance rates occurred within all regions. One clear trend was the predominantly low clearance rates (such as convictions, or findings of not guilty) for sexual assault offences. The authors noted that this could in part be due to a greater likelihood of a relationship between the offender and the victim because of the relatively small sizes of the communities.

Correctional services in Nunavut also were examined (Landau, 2002) to provide a profile of the inmate population in Nunavut. Between April 1 and December 31, 2001 Landau completed face-to-face interviews, as well as a review of the institutional file data, in Baffin Correctional Centre (BCC) which houses adult males, and the Isumaqsunngittut Youth Centre for youth in custody. Both correctional services are in Iqaluit. This research linked the personal, correctional and community experiences of individuals under sentence and forms part of a larger agenda to map out the criminal justice system in Nunavut and develop a plan for future directions.

This research indicates that almost all inmates in both adult and youth correctional facilities are Inuit (as are the vast majority of Nunavummiut), including some adult inmates who are unilingual Inuktitut speakers. Whereas the offences for young offenders are more often non-violent, the majority of the adult inmate population are currently in prison for multiple convictions involving high rates of sexual and non-sexual violence. Given the seriousness of these offences, programs offered during incarceration must meet a variety of complex inmate needs, preparing them for release into communities. This is of particular concern given that these communities in Nunavut typically have few resources to provide ongoing support.

While there is a wide range of relevant programs offered to inmates in both BCC and Isumaqsunngittut Youth Centre, they were occurring in a context of limited Inuit cultural relevance, and were generally unavailable in Inuktitut. The Nunavut Corrections Planning Committee of BCC (1999) recognized the need for core programs that are designed specifically for Inuit offenders and delivered in culturally appropriate manners by trained Inuit who speak Iniuktitut. These programs were in the initial stages of program development at the time that this research was conducted. Notably, Landau spoke to the lack of facilities in Nunavut available to house female offenders; while female offenders comprise a small proportion of the offending population, the disadvantage experienced by female Inuit offenders is compounded by the consequent increased geographic, social and cultural dislocation. 

A number of research projects concerned changes in the justice systems. Amendments to the March 1999 Nunavut Act did away with the two-tier trial court system and implicitly encouraged an expanded role for justices of the peace. Research was undertaken on the unified court structure, justices of the peace and community-based justice committees. In their report, Crnkovich, Addario, and Archibald (2000) present the complex and multi-layered issues in relation to these three components of the justice system, including an analysis surrounding their impact upon Inuit women.

Crnkovich et al. highlighted that while the expanded role of the community justice and justices of the peace embrace Inuit culture and the unified court structure helps bridge the distance between the mainstream justice system and justice in Inuit culture, the pace of these changes may inhibit the involvement of Inuit women. And, where the planned changes to a more community-based justice system addresses the need for cultural sensitivity, these reforms can result in the exclusion of gender sensitivity. A fundamental lesson learned here is that reforms must be undertaken with due regard for a process of community involvement that is accountable and community-based, representative and sensitive to gender, as well. 

Crnckovich, et al., provided a series of recommendations. They indicate that requiring the provision of training to all justice personnel, including justices of the peace, members of the Community Justice Committees, and judicial candidates and that such training would need to address Inuit traditions and practices, and the dynamics of abuse, in addition to legal rules, procedures and practices is a crucial element of changing the justice system.

Additional research was undertaken to provide a needs assessment for community justice to succeed in small communities, especially those with few resources as was the case in Nunavut (Giff, 2000). Giff included voices from across Canada, representing a cross-section of scholars, community justice workers, and government representatives to share some of the key elements that require consideration for community-based justice in the North, and specifically in Nunavut. This review addresses the Northern socio-economic environment (social issues, crime and justice issues), lessons learned (the nature and results of community-based justice projects in Canada), the nature of community relationships and the dynamics of community mobilization, as well as the inter-relationships between community-based justice and mainstream justice.

While the literature review indicates that hard and fast answers regarding community-based justice development, implementation, and operation are complex, the research included in this report highlights a number of key areas that play a fundamental role in facilitating success in community-based justice programming. Most importantly, as discussed in Crnckovich et al., Giff highlights that a community-driven approach needs to address any power dynamics that may operate in the community in order to enable those who are vulnerable to come forward. In addition, a clear articulation of the process, and that a holistic focus which understands and incorporates the role of health and housing in crime prevention are imperative.

As part of the ongoing process of community justice development, a review of Nunavut’s Community Justice Program was undertaken in 2005. The purpose of the NU Community Justice Program is to assist communities in building their capacity and to attend to their own justice issues in a manner that meets their unique needs while maintaining security within their communities. Inuit Quajimajatuqangit, or Inuit traditional knowledge and world view, are to be an integral part of this process.

Data for this review were gathered through document reviews, as well as interviews and group consultations (Scott Clark, 2005). Participants included Nunavut Justice officials; Justice Canada officials; community consultees working directly with the justice system (e.g., Community Justice Committee Coordinators, Community Justice Specialists, RCMP officers, etc.); and, community consultees not working directly with the formal justice system (e.g., Hamlet officials; and Community Justice Committees). Data was gathered on  the role of each of these, as well as the role of the hamlets, the infrastructure, victim involvement, reporting, and planning, and outcome measures and monitoring. Detailed recommendations are provided on funding, training, infrastructure development, committee membership, committee process, etc. Findings from this research were an integral part of developing a training manual for the Program.

Research was also completed in preparation for the Government of Nunavut’s drafting of its own family violence legislation. In order to inform this process, RSD reviewed existing provincial and territorial domestic violence legislation and implementation strategies (Roberts, 2002). At that time, five jurisdictions had such legislation: Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.[3] The research included extensive document reviews, interviews and consultations with key individuals in these jurisdictions. The report provides details on the requirements that are paramount to the success of family violence legislation and implementation. These fall within the categories of the need for a comprehensive infrastructure equipped to respond to calls, training as an ongoing part for all professionals involved in prevention and prosecution, and public educationon the harms and the law. (The Nunavut Family Abuse Intervention Act was assented to on December 5, 2006.)

The Nunavut Family Abuse Intervention Act is a key piece of legislation for Nunavut as rates of family violence are high. Moreover, victim services are scarce, partly because of the small sizes of communities which can hinder development of an adequate infrastructure, including sufficient operational budgets and professional staff for social and community services. Because of the lack of adequate resources in many of the communities in the north, research specifically on victim services available in the communities was undertaken (Levan, 2003). This research began in Nunavut, and was later extended to include the remaining two territories. This research had a number of inter-related tasks and objectives. In addition to developing a complete inventory of services available to victims of crime in each of the territories, this research also identified challenges and gaps in the delivery of victim services, and provided best practices as well as recommendations on how to best address these gaps.

While the exact nature of the support required varies across each territory, they do share commonalities: extensive training; increased public awareness and education campaigns; increased support to networks; support through legislation, policy and the criminal justice system; and increased support to community-based resources were needed to varying degrees across communities in the territories. Grounded in a community development model of understanding the issues, the author concludes that the service providers in the communities (whether volunteer or paid) are experts in what needs to be done and what they need is more support to do it; the over-arching recommendations for each territory are grounded in this need to support local people and local programs.

There are justice issues which required issue-specific research. In Nunavut. R. v. Suwarak (1999) raised the issue of providing Inuktituut sign language interpretation in court. In the provinces sign language interpretation using American Sign Language (ASL) for the English speaking community, and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) for the French speaking community, are routinely provided by the courts to people who are hearing impaired who require it. The issue confronted in this case was that the man who was hearing impaired before the court did not know ASL nor LSQ. In addition, the individual had limited ability to speak, read or write. The man did, however, appear to have knowledge of a signing system which he apparently used with facility to communicate with people in his immediate environment. Consequently, research was undertaken to provide a preliminary examination of Indigenous signing systems for possible use in court (MacDougall, 2000).

Victimization and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples

Much of the research conducted focused on Aboriginal offenders; there is less known about the overrepresentation of Aboriginal victims. Whereas Levan (2003) looked at victim issues in the territories, Chartrand and McKay (2006) undertook research on the criminal victimization of First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples.  Through their extensive review of the literature, Chartrand and McKay found that criminal victimization of Aboriginal people was found to be disproportionately higher than the criminal victimization of the general Canadian population. Personal violence experienced by Aboriginal women, youth, and people with disabilities was highlighted by the authors as particularly problematic. Indeed, the authors indicated that victimization rates of Aboriginal women in some communities were reported as high as 80%. Although the rates of victimization are quite high, Chartrand and McKay noted indications that victimization of women, children, and men often goes underreported in Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal Youth

A plethora of Canadian empirical research focuses on experiences related to adult Aboriginal overrepresentation at various stages in the criminal justice process; there is less empirical knowledge surrounding the experiences Aboriginal youth in custody.  Bittle et al. (2002), and later, Latimer and Foss (2004) (through a snapshot, one day survey) sought to fill this gap by analyzing incarceration rates of Aboriginal youths in custody.

In 2002, Bittle et al. found that the typical Aboriginal youth in (open, secure or remanded) custody on the day of the survey was a male between the ages of 16 and 17 who had been convicted of a property offence in an urban area. This study also includes more detailed data by jurisdiction, as well as information surrounding where Aboriginal youth were living prior to their current admission, and where youth planned to relocate upon release.

Latimer and Foss (2004) included a comparison group consisting of non-Aboriginal youth in custody to offer much needed perspective by juxtaposing the situation of Aboriginal youths in custody with that of non-Aboriginal youths in custody. The authors reported substantial reductions of incarceration rates of Aboriginal youth since 2000. Despite these reductions, Aboriginal youth experience a higher rate of incarceration than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Indeed, the authors found the incarceration rate of Aboriginal youth was 64.5 per 10,000 population while the incarceration rate for non-Aboriginal youth was 8.2 per 10,000 population: Aboriginal youth were almost eight times more likely to be in custody compared to non-Aboriginal youths, despite only representing 7% of the total population of youth in Canada.

Latimer and Foss posited that a complex of interacting variables likely contribute to the gross overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth in custody. In particular, the authors indicated that high rates of poverty, substance abuse, and victimization can lead to a breakdown of the family as well as serious offending at a young age. Moreover, they noted that discrimination toward Aboriginal youth in the criminal justice system may contribute to overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth in custody.

The 2004 Latimer and Foss study also included ‘Sharing Circles’ – a forum which permitted Aboriginal youth to speak to their experiences prior to entering custody and the criminal justice system (for their current offence) in a manner akin to a focus group. During the Sharing Circles, topics were introduced by an Elder; youth were passed a ‘talking stone’ and given the opportunity to share their opinion on particular subjects and their experiences. Group participants discussed issues such as substance abuse, organized crime, and racism. Moreover, respondents conveyed their opinions surrounding effective correctional programming for Aboriginal youth in custody. Sharing Circle members indicated Aboriginal youth in custody could benefit from Aboriginal cultural and spiritual programming and one-on-one mentoring.

Legal Aid

The Department of Justice commissioned three studies relating to legal aid services in the Northwest Territories (Focus Consultants, 2002), Nunavut (IER and Dennis Glen Patterson, 2002), and Yukon (Focus Consultants, 2002). These studies were later summarized collectively (de Jong, 2003). The reports employed both qualitative and quantitative techniques, utilizing interviews, focus groups, document and file reviews, as well as a variety of quantitative sources to provide a picture of legal service provisions in Northern Canada.

De Jong notes contextual differences between the territories that affect the legal aid service and delivery in the North; for example, the mandate of the Yukon Legal Services Society is different from those of the Legal Services Board (LSB) of NWT and the Nunavut Legal Services Board (NSLB). There are also a number of similarities between the three territories, such as the circuit court structure, distances between communities, high crime rates, and a lack of local resources.

The author indicated geography tends to impact service provision inasmuch as geography is related to difficulty accessing communities. Culture and language differently impact the pattern and quality of service delivery as well as the demand for service in different communities.

The NWT, NU, and the YT have both resident and circuit courts. The circuit court structure was found to be characterized by heavy dockets, compressed schedules, time pressures, and – particularly in the NWT and Nunavut – a difficulty with respect to accessing clients for case preparation. Respondents in Nunavut indicated that circuit courts cause substantial delay in service provision. Moreover, respondents in Nunavut were concerned with the discontinuity of counsel that arises from the use of circuit courts.

Respondents in all three jurisdictions reported insufficient representation for family and civil law issues. In addition, respondents in all three jurisdictions were concerned with the level of representation prior to first court appearances – this was especially a concern in the NWT and YT. Quality of telephone representation was also identified as an issue in all three jurisdictions.

De Jong’s report also speaks to the role of the Court Work Program, Justices of the Peace, as well as drivers of cost, public legal education and information, and proposed solutions to unmet needs.

In December 1998, a project designed to improve legal aid services to Aboriginal people was launched in Kent County, New Brunswick (Currie, 2000). A large number of adjournments of first appearances required by Aboriginal accused persons was observed in this County. Anecdotal evidence suggested the large number of adjournments was due, in part, to a language barrier between Aboriginal accused persons and non-Aboriginal lawyers. The duty counsel project was initiated to curb this situation; an Aboriginal lawyer who spoke Mi’Kmaq, the language of the region, was hired to provide duty counsel services to Aboriginal people at the Richibucto provincial court. In the first year of the duty counsel project adjournments for Aboriginal accused persons were significantly reduced. Notably, the decrease in adjournments did not lead to an increase in guilty pleas; instead, the program resulted in an increase of not guilty pleas. Currie (2000) concluded the duty counsel project was successful in the first year of its operation.

Centralized Safe Firearm Storage in Manitoba

Centralized safe firearm storage programs provide a venue for community members to voluntarily store their firearms in a centralized facility when they are not required for hunting. Cormier’s (1998) exploratory study reviews central firearm storage programs in four Aboriginal communities (God’s Lake First Nation, God’s River First Nation, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, and Shamattawa First Nation) in Manitoba. This exploratory research involved telephone and on-site interviews with program administrators as well as community members. Three rationales for centralized firearm storage were put forth by program administrators: firstly, that firearms should not be readily available where their use may be inappropriate or threatening; secondly, that firearms should not be available to those persons who are not skilled or knowledgeable in the safe handling of firearms, such as children; and finally, that safe firearm storage prevents firearm theft. The author found that central firearm storage can be achieved with little inconvenience to community members, and can substantially benefit the community; for example, in God’s Lake the main benefit of the storage program was a reduction in the prevalence of firearm usage during the commission of offences. Cormier identified four elements of successful safe firearm facilities: that there is community will to use the program, that the public is aware of the program, that there is public confidence in the program and that the program is convenient.


Based on the work of Parriag and Clement (2002), and Landau (2002) we were able to map out what types of crime were common in Nunavut at the time of its inception, and what correctional facilities were available. From Giff (2000) we have learned what facilitates the success of community-based justice programs in Nunavut. Bittle et al. (2002) and Latimer and Foss (2004) empirically confirmed that Aboriginal youths are overrepresented in custody; indeed, the latter study demonstrated that Aboriginal youths are almost eight times more likely than their non-Aboriginal counterparts to be in custody. Similarly, Chartrand and McKay (2006) found Aboriginal victimization rates to be disproportionately high compared to the general population, and highlighted personal violence experienced by Aboriginal women, youth, and people with disabilities as especially problematic. Currie (2000) concluded the duty counsel project in New Brunswick was successful in the first year of its operation. Cormier (1998) revealed that safe firearm storage can be of substantial benefit and can be employed with relatively little inconvenience to community members. Clark (2004) found the Nunavut Community Justice Program to be effective at providing an alternative to the formal justice system, although concerns and recommendations to improve the program are noted.