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Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-006-00

Archive/File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-006-00
Last-Modified: 1997/01/29
Source: Department of Justice Canada

                                                 CHAPTER SIX
                                     TREATMENT OF MINORITIES
                             BY ADMINISTRATIVE BUREAUCRACIES


Most of the attention in the literature on ethnic minorities
and the law focuses on treatment within the criminal justice
system. However, there are indications from recent research
that problems involving administrative bureaucracies may be
widespread. The first study of legal problems of clients of
multicultural services agencies was recently carried out for
the Department of Justice Canada by the Social Planning and
Research Council of British Columbia.<197> The sample for
the study was drawn from the clients of six multicultural
services agencies in the Vancouver area, and represents
people from 84 countries, 67 ethnic backgrounds, and 17
languages. Data were gathered by counsellors dealing with
the clients problems on a sample of 4516 cases. A further
308 clients were interviewed to gather additional data.

Some 75 percent of the clients came to the services agencies
with legal problems or with problems with a legal aspect.
Only about 9 percent of the problems were of a criminal law
nature, probably since most people with such problems have
first contact with some element of the criminal justice
system. The remaining categories of problems in order of
priority were immigration and refugee status; problems
involving federal bureaucracies such as unemployment
insurance and pensions; tax filing; problems dealing with
provincial bureaucracies such as welfare and workman's
compensation; and citizenship and passport.

The research did not explore the seriousness of the problems
or the consequences for the individuals of unresolved
problems. It is a reasonable presumption, however, which
should be subject to empirical investigation, that any loss
of benefits or entitlements to people who are on the
economic margins, struggling to get established in a new
country, might have serious and lasting consequences.

Perceptions of unfairness were not explored either, but it
is an area that should be explored further because of the
possible implications for the justice system. This is based
on the hypothesis that perceived unfairness concerning
treatment by the government in administrative bureaucracies
would generate feelings of injustice. People generally do
not differentiate among the various divisions of law and
levels of responsibility. An injustice is an injustice, and
this constitutes a threat to the integrity of the justice
system as a whole. To the extent that this may reflect
generally on attitudes toward the rule of law and feelings
of confidence in the justice system,<198> it is an issue of
fundamental importance for the justice system in Canada.

Other recent research conducted by the Minority Advocacy
Rights Council for the Department of Justice Canada also
identifies problems with administrative bureaucracies as a
major area of concern. Key informants representing more than
300 ethnic community organizations, advocacy groups, and
multicultural services agencies frequently identified
problems with the immigration and refugee system and with a
variety of administrative tribunals.<199> Generally, the
informants highlighted deliberate acts reflecting racist
attitudes in the treatment of ethnocultural minorities, and
the absence of effective complaint and redress mechanisms
through which people could attempt to ensure treatment with
fairness and dignity.

Recent Canadian research on the use of alternative dispute
resolution (ADR) mechanisms appropriate for ethnocultural
communities provides similar evidence.<200> The key
informant respondents in this study of five ethnocultural
communities in British Columbia indicated that next to
family disputes, disputes between individuals and
institutions were most commonly experienced by members of
the communities. In particular, conflicts with government
departments were identified as serious problems.<201> The
report suggests that ADR mechanisms for resolving
institution-individual conflicts are virtually non-

6.1 Implications for Further Work

This brief analysis suggests that unequal treatment by
administrative bureaucracies may be a widespread
problem.<203> While contact with the criminal justice system
is relatively infrequent, if it occurs at all, contact with
various administrative bureaucracies is a regular occurrence
for a great many people. In view of the large number of
persons who may be affected, it is essential that this
potential area of justice problems be explored further.

The same cultural sensitivity training that is proposed for
criminal justice system actors should be provided for those
officials in administrative bureaucracies who deal with an
ethnoculturally diverse public. The development of such
training programs must be linked to research efforts to
develop effective cultural sensitization programs, and to
monitor their effectiveness.

The recruitment of members of minority groups to work at all
levels of administrative bureaucracies is seen by many as an
important first step. The cultural diversity of the society
should be reflected in the mix of those people providing
direct service to the public. Management, and those
responsible for the development of policy, should also
reflect the ethnic diversity of the country.

Administrative bureaucracies must do more to develop
effective and accessible complaint and redress mechanisms,
and related dispute resolution mechanisms, to expeditiously
deal with service provision problems. These should be
flexible enough to provide culturally appropriate procedures
that are sensitive to the needs of a variety of
ethnocultural groups.<204> Ideally, complaint and dispute
resolution mechanisms should utilize the resources available
within the various ethnic communities.

To coordinate and oversee these multistage efforts, large
administrative bureaucracies might implement, at the
appropriate regional or local levels, multicultural services
coordinators to assure effective implementation of
interrelated multicultural programs in cross-cultural
training, employment equity, and complaint and redress or
dispute resolution. This would signal their commitment, in
both the public and private sectors, to the multicultural
objectives of Canada and to justice in its broadest sense.
Given the relatively large volume of encounters per citizen
with administrative bureaucracies compared with encounters
with the criminal justice system, issues relating to
treatment by administrative bureaucracies may be even more
important to address than the more visible and dramatic
conflicts with the criminal justice system.


197. Nann and Goldberg, The Legal Problems.

198. See chapter one.

199. File, Gaps in Obtaining Justice.

200. Michel Lebaron-Duryea, Conflict and Culture.

201. Ibid, at xv.

202. Ibid, at chapter three.

203. We are not aware of any data with which to compare
problems with bureaucracies between members of minority
groups or recent irnrnigrants and the general population. In
theory, one might assume that the cultural barriers and
possibly discrimination affecting minorities and immigrants
make the problems with administrative bureaucracies more
daunting than for the native-born population.

204. Nann and Goldberg, The Legal Problems.

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