The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-000-02

Archive/File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-000-02
Last-Modified: 1997/01/26
Source: Department of Justice Canada

An important aspect of achieving cultural sensitivity is the
recruitment of members of minority groups, especially
visible minorities, as actors in all aspects of the justice
system. In some cases, such as with the legal profession,
the profession itself should be encouraged in its continuing
efforts to promote recruitment to legal education.
Recruitment of other justice system professionals in
policing, corrections, regulatory bodies, and government
policy should be promoted with equal vigour. Sensitivity
training should be available with proactive recruitment so
that socialization into established justice occupations and
professions does not limit the value of bringing "fresh
blood" into the justice system, and to limit the possible
detrimental effects that existing intergroup hostilities
might have on relations between justice system actors and
those in conflict with, or being served by, the justice

With large numbers of immigrants continuing to arrive in
Canada, it can be expected that many will wish to continue
the cultural practices they bring. In some cases, the
persistence of ethnocultural traits may continue with the
native-born generations. There are many potential points at
which some cultural practices of some of the many immigrant
or minority groups in Canada will conflict with Canadian
law. Individual rights guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms are viewed as being of paramount
importance to members of ethnocultural minority groups and
to Canadians in general. At the same time, the principle
that people should not be hindered in the enjoyment of their
culturally based practices is fundamental to a multicultural
society. Generally, an accommodation between the guarantee
of Charter rights and respect for cultural pluralism, should
be worked out at a policy level. Hopefully, this can be
accomplished across the broad range of potential conflicts
between Canadian law and minority cultures, ranging from
female genital mutilation, to the use of drugs and the
carrying of weapons for ceremonial purposes, to the
accommodation of religious or other cultural values. This
would promote the development of a consistent and principled
approach to conflicts between group cultures and the law
which would promote better intergroup relations between
ethnic groups and the institutions of the dominant society.

A third element of access to justice is security of the
person. Representatives of the ethnocultural organizations
interviewed for this research identified two main issue
areas which reflect a concern with security of the person.
The first relates to the human rights system. There seems to
be a general feeling of unease concerning protection of
human rights and that the process for lodging human rights
complaints is not accessible. This concern for the
protection of rights is echoed in other research which
reviewed the research literature concerning claims of racism
and the human rights system in Canada. The existence of
mechanisms of demonstrable and immediate consequence to
protect the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms is of the greatest

Another aspect of the apparent feeling of vulnerability
among ethnocultural minorities is discomfort with the
existence in Canadian society of hate-motivated activities
and materials, and the activities of hate groups. Being a
victim of a hate-motivated act is thought to be more
profoundly damaging than being the victim of an assault
because of unfortunate circumstance. A victim of a hate
crime is, in theory, singled out and attacked because of who
she or he is. Always vulnerable because of visible symbols
of identity and status, the potential victim is constantly
fearful. Intergroup tensions and conflicts may take
important mechanism to achieve cultural sensitivity within
the justice system, as well as an important dimension of
access to justice in its own right.

Another important element in the schema of accessible
justice is the existence of effective complaint and redress
mechanisms. For the justice system to be inclusive, there
must be accessible, timely, and effective mechanisms to
report unfair treatment, and for a celerious resolution to
be forthcoming. This will make the justice system fair and
responsive, as it appears to people when they are most in
need, or in fear, or observers of situations which are
disturbing to them.

The seventh element of accessibility represents the process
by which the other elements may be achieved. This dimension
is recognition and participation. It is often observed that
the justice system is ill-equipped to deal effectively with
problems with complex underlying social, cultural, and
economic dimensions. The problems that immigrants and
ethnocultural minorities bring to the justice system are
often laden with such complexities. The difficulty applies
not only to the processing of cases through the criminal and
non-criminal justice systems, but also to the provision of
justice services such as crime prevention or victim-witness

Ethnocultural communities are sources of strength and they
have resources that could be combined with the resources of
the mainstream justice system to address their own problems.
A promising approach to the justice problems affecting
ethnocultural communities might be by establishing
structured linkages between the communities and the various
elements of the justice system. These would be partnerships
where the communities play key roles in defining the
problems affecting them and developing solutions. This
should make the solutions more effective and durable and
they might serve to enhance relationships between
communities and the justice system as the ethnocultural
groups develop the sense of real partnership with the
justice system and a proprietary sense toward what the
justice system does in their communities. This should be
extended to involve ethnocultural communities in the law-
making process and law reform; in the development and
implementation of justice services; and in constitution-
making. Infrastructure and expertise, requiring some
infusion of resources, within communities would be necessary
to effectively pursue this general idea of community and
justice system linkages.

To achieve accessible justice, changes will be required.
Change may be hard to introduce into the justice system,
which is the repository of many of the dominant ethnic
groups' cherished values and which is managed by members of
those groups. Change may present special difficulties where
the new structures toward which we are or should be moving
involve dealing with new forms of cultural diversity in
society. These may present a real challenge to the justice
system at a time when, because of fiscal constraints, it is
difficult to keep up with existing demands. The justice
system may be faced with adopting new approaches in place of
older ways, for fiscal reasons and for other reasons as

Achieving accessible justice will require that governments
and ethnic communities search for a new approach to
accessibility, and discover what accessibility means for
ethnocultural groups and how it can be instituted in ways
that are meaningful and feasible. In general, it will mean
recognizing that relying entirely on the agencies of the
justice system to preserve social order is not likely to be
successful. The involvement of communities with the formal
justice system in defining problems and devising solutions
appears to be a promising approach.

In preparing this report, there has been considerable effort
to determine the views of communities, through interviews
with ethnocultural organization representatives, through
visits to organizations, and by means of informal
discussions and consultations. By following this approach it
is hoped that enough will be learned in order to do things
that make a difference. The report proposes a community-
oriented approach to addressing justice issues. It is both
assumed and hoped that by promoting constructive
relationships between communities and the justice system,
effective approaches to achieving success in addressing all
aspects of access to justice can be accomplished. As a
matter of public policy, it is important to ensure the
stability of a heterogeneous, culturally diverse society.


1. See chapter one.

2. Roderick A. Macdonald, "Theses on Access to Justice,"
"Canadian Journal of Law and Society" 7(2) (Fall, 1992); and
Allan C. Hutchinson, ed., Access to Civil Justice (Toronto:
Carswell, 1990).

3. Patricia File (Minority Advocacy Rights Council), Gaps in
Obtaining Justice: A Stud.,} of Justice Issues of Concern to
Ethnocultural Community Organizations (Ottawa: Department of
Justice Canada, 1994), at chapter two.

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