The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-000-01

Archive/File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-000-01
Last-Modified: 1997/01/26
Source: Department of Justice Canada


The question which gave rise to this report, and the
background research in multiculturalism and justice
commissioned by the Department of Justice Canada, is: Is
there bias against members of ethnocultural and visible
minorities in the justice system? This was the issue
concerning access to justice and treatment with equity and
respect raised in the Minister's Reference<1> to the former
Law Reform Commission of Canada, which initiated this body
of research.

Because of the paucity of existing research in this area,
this report does not attempt to draw conclusions about the
quantum of bias or racism characterizing the justice system.
It is clear, however, that the perception of racism in the
justice system is strongly felt by members of many minority
groups. It will be important to document carefully through
further research and consultation with minority groups and
with justice system representatives on the nature and extent
of racism within the justice system, and to find ways to
eliminate it.

A convergence of social forces makes a review of
multiculturalism and justice extremely timely. Ethnocultural
diversity in Canada is becoming a more high-profile public
issue as the ethnic mix of the population changes with the
arrival of larger numbers of visible minorities. This change
in the demographic composition is occurring within a context
of cultural changes that may be shaping the impact of the
changes in ethnic composition on the justice system. One
such change is the rise of rights consciousness which
legitimizes more insistent demands by minorities for fair
and equitable treatment by the justice system. In this
connection, discrimination is defined as a more pressing
problem, and is tolerated to a far lesser extent than a few
decades ago. A second major cultural movement affecting
relations between the justice system and ethnocultural
minorities is ethnic pluralism. This cultural change, which
has taken root over the last few decades, has legitimized
the retention of cultural features and the characteristic
social patterns of members of ethnic groups. However,
ethnocultural groups, with considerable variations from one
group to the next and among segments within ethnic groups,
are expected to want to maintain aspects of their
traditional cultures and social practices. Thesecontextual
factors have important implications for how the justice
system might successfully come to terms with a multicultural

Even though existing research does not provide conclusive
evidence of racism in the justice system, the apparently
widely held perception that racism exists should be
addressed. The perception of racism, based on individual
experiences and other anecdotal evidence, cannot be without
foundation. The continued existence of perceived racism
undermines respect for the rule of law and confidence in the
justice system. There is still much to learn, but based on
current knowledge, significant efforts can be made to create
both the reality and perception of an accessible justice
system. Greater effort devoted to research and development
and to consultation with minority groups will be required to
more effectively address the problems faced by ethnocultural
minorities in the justice system.

A more accessible justice system must mean more than the
concept of access to justice as it is currently revealed in
practice. The main program elements of access to justice,
such as the current approaches to legal aid, public legal
information and alternativ dispute resolution, are now under
critical attack for-doing little more than propping up the
fundamental inadequacies of the existing justice system.<2>
Something new is needed.

In one study on multiculturalism and justice prepared for
the Department of Justice Canada, representatives of a large
number of ethnocultural organizations in Canada identified
what the study referred to as "gaps in justice."<3>
Identification of the gaps between what the justice system
provides and what the ethnocultural organizations expect,
represents a point of departure to redefine what access to
justice ought to embody in practice for ethnocultural
communities in Canada.

The first dimension of a renewed approach to greater access
to justice is the need for public legal education and
information (PLEI). This was identified by most of the
respondents representing ethnocultural organizations, in
nearly all of the documentary materials reviewed, and in
original research prepared for the Department. The needs for
PLEI are discussed in detail in Chapter Two and elsewhere
throughout the report. Newcomers to Canada experience an
extensive range of needs for legal information; they want
information about Canadian laws, on the availability of
justice-related services, on the functioning of the justice
system, and on fundamental Canadian values relating to
justice. The legal information needs of longer-term
immigrants appear to change over time, as they encounter
challenges in adapting to Canadian society. A better
understanding of the patterns linking legal information
needs to aspects of integration might enhance our capacity
to develop and deliver legal information to immigrant and
minority groups. The PLEI needs of indigenous minorities
have not been explored well, relative to those of
immigrants. There are many PLEI organizations and other
justice service organizations that provide legal information
to immigrants and minorities. They are serving an important
need, and their efforts should continue to be supported.
Several points should be highlighted. There should be more
focus on the "E" in PLEI -- i.e., more focus on the
educative function. Public legal education is required on
certain issues such as: family violence; how Canadian legal
culture is different from that of a country of origin; and,
how the Canadian justice system will respond differently
from what might be expected by someone from another country
with different experiences.

Some evidence suggests there is widespread fear of
approaching the justice system, of seeking the protection of
the justice system, or of cooperating with the justice
system among minorities. This is very important with respect
to relations between minority groups and the justice system.
The issue has many dimensions, of which legal information is

Ethnocultural communities should play a greater role, in
partnership with PLEI organizations and with other elements
of the justice system and administrative bureaucracies, in
developing PLEI programs. Communities are important
resources for defining the nature of problems and for
developing effective and culturally appropriate responses to
them. Rather than simply an end product, PLEI may be used as
a catalyst to mobilize community action to deal with justice
problems affecting them. Information about the law and about
how the justice system works, combined with empirical or
other documented information about the nature of certain
problems, might be used by community leaders or animators to
promote community responses to justice problems, thus
mobilizing the resources and capacities of ethnocultural

The second dimension of access to justice is the requirement
for cultural sensitivity in the administration of justice
and the provision of justice-related services. Treatment
with fairness, dignity and respect by a powerful institution
is the sine qua non of justice. It is the symbolic core of
the concept of justice. Members of ethnocultural minorities
expect that justice system actors will be sensitive to
cultural differences and to problems arising from language
difficulties or unfamiliarity with the justice system. It is
expected that cultural barriers will not limit the degree to
which individuals are treated with dignity and respect by
the justice system.

Providing cultural sensitivity training for all justice
system actors is important to achieve cultural sensitivity.
Over the past several years, there have been considerable
efforts to provide sensitivity training. The review of
existing literature indicates uncertainty on the
effectiveness of existing cultural sensitivity efforts.
Current efforts should be assessed from the perspective of
established and tested theory and methods of adult education
in order to assure the greatest degree of effectiveness for
this important activity.

[Balance & Footnotes: see ecg-000-02]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.