Overrepresentation of Indigenous People in the Canadian Criminal Justice System: Causes and Responses

Introduction

This report addresses the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the Canadian criminal justice system. Footnote 3 It examines the extent of overrepresentation, its underlying causes, and some initiatives taken to address the issue. The report also identifies gaps in the efforts to address overrepresentation and suggests potential ways to mitigate the problem. Understanding overrepresentation along these lines should be of interest to people looking to learn more about the relationship between Indigenous people and the criminal justice system, and should provide policy makers and program experts with useful information to assist in their work.

This is a literature review and, as such, it is based on published and unpublished materials already in the public realm, as well as on a recent case law review. Most of the sources for the report are dated from the mid-1990s to present.

The report is structured in the following way. First, it presents some high level views indicating the seriousness of the problem of overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. Second, the report addresses the nature and extent of overrepresentation. It then turns to the factors leading to overrepresentation, focussing on colonialism, socio-economic marginalization, systemic discrimination, and culture clash. Next the report examines specific initiatives implemented to address the problem: (i) amendments to the Criminal Code regarding the sentencing of Indigenous offenders, together with the subsequent Supreme Court of Canada rulings in R. v. Gladue and R. v. Ipeelee; (ii) the establishment of Gladue Courts; (iii) issues of bail and remand; (iv) case law review; and (v) community initiatives and relevant government programs aimed at mitigating the problem of overrepresentation. The report also discusses gaps: what are we missing in our attempts to solve the overrepresentation problem? The report ends with a brief conclusion.

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