The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Ethnocultural Groups
The Justice System in Canada
A Review of the Issues

Treatment of Minorities
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- existent.<202>

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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