The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-013-00

Archive/File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-013-00
Last-Modified: 1997/01/29
Source: Department of Justice Canada

                                            CHAPTER THIRTEEN

In the l9th century, miners took canaries in cages into the
mines to warn them of the presence of dangerous gases. If
the canary died, the miners knew the environment was too
dangerous. The way Canadian society treats cultural
diversity is a bit like the miner's canary. The extent to
which the society conveys to ethnocultural minorities that
their contribution to the diversity of Canada is welcome and
valuable, that it adds to the richness of the country, and
that it is a source of strength to the nation in a global
context where Canada is increasingly implicated in
international issues are indicators of the health of our
social environment. At the same time as we accept diversity
and acknowledge its strengths, the extent to which the
nation can assure that all people, regardless of ethnicity,
are treated with equality, fairness, and dignity is also a
measure of the health of our social environment.

Canada has a long history of changing ethnic diversity that
is continuing through another major period of change.
Because of-the relatively low birth rates in the country,
the contribution of "natural increase" (births minus deaths)
to overall population growth is relatively small compared
with the contribution of immigration. When this effect is
combined with the shift of immigration from European to
Asian, South/Central American, and African countries, which
has greatly increased the visible minority component of the
Canadian population in recent years, the result has been a
more culturally and racially mixed society. This new
diversity has become a public issue. Managing the new
diversity is an important issue of public policy.

The justice system is a key social institution. The concept
of justice that it represents can be a powerful unifying
force if people have a respect for the rule of law and
confidence in the justice system. It can be a highly
divisive force if the justice system is seen as unfair or
corrupt. Thus, the justice system is central in the
management of ethnocultural diversity in Canada.

The justice system should, therefore, be managed to assume a
role as an important social institution in Canada. It should
become a positive and proactive force in society. For the
various elements of the justice system to respond to that
diversity with clear objectives and strategies to promote
fairness, equality, and dignity of treatment; to promote
inclusiveness as a central feature of the system; and to
ensure a proprietary sense of participation by individuals
in the system, it is necessary to learn how the changing
social and cultural diversity affects and is affected by the
justice system.

In this era when the society is increasingly more diverse
and complex, and the demands on public institutions are
greater, justice officials must assume a corporate
responsibility for assuring social harmony and national
unity through the development of a fair, accessible and
equitable justice system in which people have trust and
confidence and where they are treated with dignity and

13.1 A Cautionary Tale

Multiculturalism and justice is not yet an issue area which
has reached crisis proportions, either in terms of the scale
and seriousness of problems or in terms of political
dimensions. However, there are compelling reasons to begin
now working toward clear definitions of issues and
developing solutions. The area of aboriginal justice
provides a cautionary tale. Between the publication of the
Hawthorne Report in 1966332 when aboriginal justice problems
began to emerge, and the present, there has been little
concerted effort to define carefully, through empirical
research and consultations, the nature of the problems faced
by aboriginal people in the justice system. At present, the
aboriginal justice situation has become highly politically
volatile with demands for solutions being driven by
political agendas as much as by sound information about the
nature of the problems. To a large extent, Canada is still
unclear, after decades of less than careful and systematic
research and a less than a serious effort to alleviate the
problems, on how to precisely characterize the nature of
aboriginal justice problems. Consequently, the most workable
and durable solutions are clouded by uncertainty and a great
deal of political rhetoric. We avoid the lessons of history
at our peril, as the anonymous sage once said. Now is the
time to begin a concentrated effort to understand the
justice-related problems of an increasingly large visible
minority and immigrant segment of the population and to
develop effective and durable solutions. This should be done
with extensive collaboration with ethnic organizations, to
ensure that the issues are framed in ways that reflect the
experience and the priorities of those communities, and to
build bonds of trust and cooperation between Canada's
ethnocultural communities and the justice system.

13.2 A Social Policy Approach

The approach to multiculturalism and justice in this report
is broadly based. It assumes the view that to a large extent
the justice-related problems encountered by ethnocultural
minorities are products of the social and political forces
which shape the lives of ethnic group members, the stresses
and strains of integration into the mainstream society, and
discrimination and the hidden injuries of racism. The
"Clients Study" suggests, for example, that certain problems
may be related to the integration process, emerging with
progressively longer periods of residence in the
country.<333> Similarly, Australian research on Vietnamese
youth suggests that problems relating to integration are
related to youth crime<334>

13.3 Summary of Main Issues

A number of issues have been identified throughout this
report. In this section, the main themes around these issues
are summarized.

13.3.1 Discrimination in the Justice System

The study of concerns of ethnocultural organizations by the
Minority Advocacy Rights Council (MARC), the literature
review by Etherington, the study of legal problems of
clients of multicultural services agencies by the Social
Planning and Research Council of British Columbia, and the
study of application of alternative dispute resolution
techniques to settle disputes in minority cultural settings
all suggest that racism is frequently encountered throughout
the justice system. A small proportion of discriminatory
treatment is attributable to direct or overt discrimination.
The research literature, and commentary from informed
observers suggests that individual acts of racism are very
subtle and covert, and that there is a great deal of
inequality arising from systemic racism.
Addressing racism in this context presents an especially
difficult challenge. With regard to systemic racism, there
is no intention to discriminate. The manner in which the
processes normally function can put people at a disadvantage
when unequals are treated equally. In a case where it is
essential to know English or French to understand what is
expected of the accused person or what the options are, the
processes discriminate against the person when a higher
level of language skill is assumed in order to understand
what is occurring and to be able to react in an informed
way. Educational qualifications or other individual
characteristics necessary for certain occupations are
discriminatory against members of groups who typically do
not have the skills or characteristics. Clearly, in this
case efforts are required to identify the differential
treatment and the extent to which the differential treatment
can be explained by legitimate and pertinent factors.

Direct racism probably also exists in the justice system,
but in a very subtle form. Subtle or covert racism,
reflecting the prejudices of individuals, can be so
thoroughly hidden in a system where there is a great deal of
discretionary treatment, that it is virtually impossible to
detect. As well, racist attitudes are likely to be deeply
rooted in the individual's psyche, and very resistant to

Eliminating racism by changing attitudes may be necessary,
therefore, but it is not sufficient given the nature of the
direct but covert racism extant in the system. Attitude
change as a strategy is not appropriate with regard to
systemic racism. It would seem that changing rules,
procedures and outcomes should be the strategy.

In the legal view of discrimination it is recognized that to
ensure equality of condition it may be necessary to treat
members of minority groups unequally in order to remedy
disadvantages of opportunity or background. 335 To
accomplish that, it must first be determined how the process
is operating to produce a given outcome. Then a compensatory
procedure can be put in place and the outcome observed to
establish whether or not it has had the desired effect of
eliminating the differences between the target group and the
general population.

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