The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-002-00

Archive/File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-002-00
Last-Modified: 1997/01/27
Source: Department of Justice Canada

                                                 CHAPTER TWO
                                      PUBLIC LEGAL EDUCATION
                                             AND INFORMATION

Public legal education and information (PLEI) can be called
the "front door" of the justice system. It is necessary to
help people avoid legal problems when a problem with the law
arises. While the public does not generally have information
about the law, it is important to ensure they become aware
of it, especially immigrants and disadvantaged members of
indigenous minorities.  Problems relating to the justice
system affect both immigrants and indigenous minorities in
different ways. For recent imm grants, not having basic
legal information must be daunting. A recent immigrant
without the same familiarity of the society as a native-born
or a long-term resident may have culturally based
misinformation or apprehensions from a country of origin
with a repressive and corrupt justice system, a language
barrier, or be facing systemic and overt discrimination.
This immigrant may then be bewildered or even frightened by
his or her ignorance about the law and how the legal system
works in everyday life.<33>

A frequently stated truism is that the law touches the daily
lives of people in a myriad of ways. This relates not so
much to contact with the criminal justice system as it does
to the nurnerous regulations in civil and administrative law
such as requirements and qualifications, benefits and
entitlements of many kinds relating to administrative
bureaucracies, and other non-criminal law domains. The
frequency of occurrence of lawrelated problems, and the
broad variety of legal problems revealed in the "Client's
Study" testifies to the extent to which the law affects many
aspects of the lives of immigrants in concrete ways.<34>

Because the law is such an integral part of our daily lives,
it is important to make PLEI an essential aspect of the
process of integration and adaptation to a new society. In
this regard, PLEI has more than one layer of importance. At
one level, legal knowledge is important for people to be
aware of the legal aspects of problems, to know where and
how to seek help, to be aware of benefits and entitlements,
and to be able to interact with the numerous administrative
systems in a modern society with a complex legal system that
extensively regulates relations between people and between
people and institutions.<35>

At another level, legal knowledge speaks to the issues of
integration into society, and to national unity. It was
argued in Chapter One that the justice system is a key
social institution in society. Justice as a concept is
highly symbolic and of fundamental importance to people. If
racism is widespread, or is perceived to be widespread in a
multiethnic society, justice, in the broad sense where
social justice and the justice system blend, is critically
important to the social harmony of the nation. No student of
history or modern society can ignore the power there is in
ethnic conflict to disrupt the peace and order of a society.
Through legal knowledge, such factors as the comfort derived
from familiarity with the system, the lack of fear of public
authorities, the experienced avoidance of disadvantage,- the
positive experience of rights or entitlements claimed and
enjoyed, and the perception of treatment with fairness and-
with dignity by a powerful social system lead to
identification with, rather than alienation from, the
justice system. Because of the encompassing importance of
the concept of justice and the central position of the
justice system in the institutional framework of society,
integrating people into the society through the education of
the justice system can significantly contribute to social
harmony and national unity.

Although most of the arguments above reflect the immigrant
experience, they could also be said about indigenous ethnic
minorities. Most of the research relating to PLEI and
ethnocultural groups, however, has focussed on immigrants.
There has been little research on ethnic minorities like
native-born peoples or Blacks who are descendants of those
who came to Canada with the Loyalist migration more than 200
years ago. More research effort on indigenous groups is
essential by policy and research divisions in government, by
program developers in public legal information organizations
and in all public and private organizations that must
address the legal information requirements of their

2.1 Major Issues

In his comprehensive review of the literature on
multiculturalism and justice,<36> Etherington identifies
several recurrent themes relating to public legal education
and information. A number of the more important ones are
discussed below.

2.1.1 More Culturally Sensitive and Accessible PLEI

Etherington identifies the need for more culturally
sensitive and accessible PLEI repeatedly in his review of
public legal information issues.<37> More recently, Burtch
and Reid point out that with an expected quarter million
immigrants coming to Canada each year, there must be an on-
going priority to continually examine the experiences,
barriers and needs with respect to immigrants and legal
information.<38> Thus cultural sensitivity and
appropriateness, and accessibility in its many aspects, are
the sine qua non of the issue of PLEI for immigrants.

2.1.2 Eliminating Fears about the Canadian Justice System

A recent study on the needs of immigrants in British
Columbia concludes that "negative experience with law-
enforce] lent agencies in the country of origin was
identified as the primary reason for not cooperating with,
or seeking the protection of, Canadian justice system."<39>
The Law Courts Education Society in Vancouver has recognized
this problem and has initiated some research to determine
what elements of justice systems in the countries of origin
of certain ethnocultural groups form the basis of
misperceptions about the Canadian justice system. The
Society has started to develop programs based on this
information to overcome culturally based misperceptions of
the Canadian justice system that inhibit contact with the
justice system or lead to inappropriate behaviour toward
justice system actors.<40> These misperceptions can inhibit
participation in the justice system as witnesses or jurors,
or prevent people from accessing the system for services
available to victims or to seek protection. Ultimately, it
relates to confidence in the rule of law and the Canadian
system of justice, and is an area that PLEI programming
should continue to address.

2.1.3 Emphasis on Canadian Legal Culture

There are many aspects of Canadian law and legal processes
which are unfamiliar to immigrants and indigenous
minorities. With respect to immigrants, some behaviours
which are illegal in most countries may be "more honoured in
the breach" in countries of origin. It is not a question of
being unaware that Canadian law prohibits certain acts, but
of knowing how the Canadian legal system is likely to
respond to certain acts. Impaired driving and spousal
assault,<41> for example, are two areas where immigrants are
often unaware of the severe reaction within the Canadian
justice system which is influenced by such social movements
as gender equality or emerging norms against impaired
driving. Prostitution is another type of illegal behaviour
where some immigrants do not understand the efforts to
discourage the activity, at least in certain areas.<42>
Further, new immigrants may not understand Canadian "legal
culture" as it is affected by other general social movements
or cultural changes.

This lack of understanding which may be accompanied by a
sense of indignation and unfairness about having been
charged, can lead to further problems for accused as they
are drawn into the legal system. In a case of family
violence, for example, an accused person may feel indignant
about the justice system invading the private domain of the
home and family. Such indignation may affect the behaviour
of the accused in police custody and in court, which may be
perceived by justice system actors as "an attitude problem," and 
thereby lead to harsher treatment than what might otherwise have 
occured.<43> This suggests that PLEI programs should attempt to 
identify and focus on these broader aspects of legal culture to help 
new Canadians better understand Canadian society and its legal culture, 
as well as to be able to anticipate the actions and responses of the 
justice system.

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