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Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-001-00

Archive/File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-001-00
Last-Modified: 1997/01/26
Source: Department of Justice Canada

                                                 CHAPTER ONE


Canada has traditionally been an ethnically diverse society,
but today, the nature of ethnic diversity is changing.
Because of the socio-political context within which the
demographic changes are taking place, the demands placed on
the justice system by minority groups and the responsiveness
of the justice system to the demands of minorities are
changing significantly. The "conjuncture" of contextual
factors which appear to be providing pressure for change in
the relationship between the justice system and
ethnocultural minorities is discussed in this chapter.

Levels of immigration were very high in the early part of
this century.<1> The proportion of the foreign-born people
in the population was higher in the early and middle parts
of this century than it is at present. Until the 1960s, the
majority of immigrants were of European and United States
origin and the largest majority were white Europeans. The
non-British immigrants of the early and mid-20th century
were subjected to similar "racial" prejudice and
discrimination to that experienced by the non-white
immigrants of the latter part of the century. Canadian
sociologist John Porter explains the attitudes of the
majority Canadian population: "In a logical error, simple
but massive in its consequences (like so many spurious
social doctrines) the high level of development of certain
countries was taken as evidence of their superiority. They
were more advanced because they were innately superior."<2>

Beginning in the 1960s, principal countries of origin of
immigrants began to shift from Europe and the United States
to Asian, South American and Central American nations. About
80 percent of immigrants now come to Canada from third world
countries.<3> Most of these immigrants are people of colour.
At present some 8.5 percent of the Canadian population is
made up of visible minorities.<4> According to population
projections, given the current long-range plans for levels of
immigration, visible minorities will comprise about 20
percent of the Canadian population by the year 2015.<5> Given
the propensity for immigrants to concentrate in major urban
areas, the proportion of visible minorities in Canada's major
cities will be much higher than the national figure.<6>

The demographic changes in the composition of the Canadian
population are occurring within a changing socio-political
context. The ascendency of the social doctrine of ethnic
pluralism, the emergence of rights consciousness, and the
decline in the social legitimacy of overt discrimination are
among the main currents of this social change.

Following the breakup of the major European empires
following World War II, ethnic pluralism has gained
worldwide ideological hegemony,<7> and has gained
respectability as an empirically based social reality.<8>
This social reality is that in North America, while the
European immigrant groups have been assimilated into
society, there is still a significant retention of ethnic
group identities and institutional structures. The strength
and the social legitimacy of this ethnic persistence has
coalesced in the ethnic pluralist movement. Many ethnic
groups have come to demand that state policy should not
require assimilation as the price of equality and full
participation in the society, but facilitate the persistence
of ethnic cultures and promote equality within diversity.
This is the ideal expressed in Canada's multicultural
legislation and policy.<9>

A companion social moveme-nt to ethnic pluralism is
heightened rights consciousness. This is also a post-war
global phenomenon which has been given expression in the
1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
and in numerous subsequent international and national
declarations and charters. This movement reflects more
assertive demands for individual rights and protection
against discrimination. Combined with ethnic pluralism,
rights- consciousness presents the potential for novel
challenges to individual and collective rights. Although
there is a strong orientation toward individual-liberal
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees among
members of minority groups, there has been persistent
criticism of Canadian multicultural policy concerning an
alleged imbalance of constitutional guarantees for the
collective rights of the French and English "founding
peoples" as compared with collective rights of other ethnic

It is widely recognized by the general population and by
members of ethnic minorities that subtle forms of
discrimination are currently widespread throughout the
society. However, overt discrimination is much less evident
than in past decades. The hegemony of assimilationist
ideology has been replaced by a pluralist ideology more
tolerant of diversity. In turn, this has conferred
legitimacy on the claims of minorities for equal treatment
before and under the law.

Ethnic pluralism as a dominant social ideology, a heightened
rights consciousness, and the decline of institutionalized
discrimination make up a large part of the context within
which the new ethnocultural diversity is taking hold in
Canada. This social context is having a significant impact
on the expectations that may be placed on the justice system
to accommodate ethnic diversity. These implications are as
yet unclear, but not unimportant. For instance, there has
been pronounced racism and ethnic prejudice against Asian
and Southern European peoples in past decades. The racism of
earlier periods was more accepted and tolerated, if no less
harmful than it is today. At present, overt racism is
considered intolerable and would occasion a very strong
reaction by targeted minorities. Racism is thus more likely
to give rise to overt social conflict than in the past.

The social changes noted above, unfortunately, do not
represent a completely positive social climate. Racism is
considered to be an important social problem by
Canadians.<11> Following street violence related to racial
issues in Toronto and elsewhere, many Canadians feel that
racial unrest is likely to occur in their cities.<12>

Strong anecdotal evidence such as street protests following
police shootings of Blacks, the Toronto and Halifax riots
and sorne limited quantitative evidence<13> suggest that
minority groups feel the tensions in society. A 1993 study
of minority groups in Vancouver asked key informants from
five minority communities to rate the state of intergroup
relations in the lower mainland of British Columbia on a
scale from one (representing serene) to ten (representing
very tense). "Most key informants chose seven or higher. "

According to one recent survey of Canadian public opinion,
there is a recognition by the public that there is "built-in
bias" against ethnic and racial minorities in the justice
system.<15> Further, according to the same survey, there is
support within the population for race relations reforms in
the justice system.<16>

1.1 Canadian Multicultural Policy

Ethnic diversity became official government policy in Canada
in 1988, with the passage of The Canadian Multicalturalism
Act.<17> The policy objectives of the Act are to encourage
the recognition and preservation of culturally diverse
communities in a number of aspects, including ensuring that
all individuals enjoy equal treatment and equal protection
under the law, and to encourage and assist the social,
cultural, economic and political institutions of Canada to
be both respectful and inclusive of Canada's multicultural

1.2 Multiculturalism and Justice

The government recognizes the new demands placed on the
justice system by members of minority groups, and is
developing responses. Accessible justice is a policy theme
of the federal government. Speaking about accessible
justice, former Minister of Justice, the Honourable Kim
Campbell, said:

     In view of Canada's increasing ethnic diversity the
     Department of Justice Canada is taking steps to
     consider the multicultural nature of Canadian society
     in the development of laws, policy, programs and in the
     discharge of its responsibilities.
     Rather than fragmenting the system of justice to
     special interests and particular needs, I believe that
     an inclusive justice system must be broad enough to
     accommodate the needs of all Canadians. <19>

These comments reflect several important ideas: justice is a
central institution in Canadian society; direct contacts
with the police and other aspects of the justice system can
be confusing and unsettling, or even frightening, and can
have powerful consequences for people's lives; apart from
criminal justice, the justice system invisibly controls and
limits people's lives in a great many ways; and benefits may
be lost and people may be seriously disadvantaged in ways
which have life-long consequences, by the operations of our
modern regulatory bureaucracies.

The concept of justice carries a powerful symbolic value.
Fairness, equality, treatment with dignity and respect are
the embodiment of justice, and these form people's ideal
expectations of the justice system.<20> To the extent that
the justice system fails to give real meaning to this
symbolism by means of concrete action, respect for the rule
of law and confidence in the Canadian system of justice are
placed in jeopardy. If such a key national institution fails
in its mandate, the bonds of national unity become weaker.

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