The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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


13.3.6 The Need for Public Legal Education and Information

The need for public legal education and information (PLEI) among immigrants and minorities is a priority. There were repeated expressions on the need for PLEI in Etherington's study and Mendes emphasized the need for information about accessing complaint and redress mechanisms. The respondents representing ethnic organizations in the study by MARC emphasized the need for information about the law and how it works. The study by Burtch and Reid directly addressed some of the PLEI needs of immigrants.

New Canadians have a great need for information on the legal aspects of numerous everyday requirements they encounter in a new society. The study of legal needs of immigrants by the Social Planning and Research Council of Vancouver indicates that there is also a need for new kinds of legal information for immigrants as their length of residence in Canada increases and the problems and needs they face change.

There are several basic kinds of PLEI required by immigrants which address different objectives. Immigrants and minorities need basic information about the law, how the justice system works, and how, and where, to access more specific information when it is required. This sort of information allows people to avoid problems and disadvantages which might arise by not knowing what must, or should, be done.

According to research by the Law Courts Education Society of B.C. and the Immigrant Services Society of Vancouver, immigrants need the public legal information which alleviates fears and misinformation about the Canadian justice system which may derive from experiences with corrupt or repressive regimes in their countries of origin. Some members of minority groups in Canada express, in varying degrees, a reluctance to seek the protection of, or to cooperate with, the justice system. Other immigrants may attempt to follow practices learned- in countries of origin in dealing with the justice system in Canada with unfortunate results. Overcoming culturally based misperceptions and the misinformation brought from abroad and inappropriately applied to the justice system in Canada must be addressed in PLEI.

Protection of legal rights is an important aspect of PLEI. People need to know their rights under the law, and how to lodge legitimate complaints concerning alleged violations of those rights. They need to know how and where to access justice services and related support services when taking action to protect their rights.

Immigrants who make the choice to come to a new and unfamiliar place to start new lives might be strongly incli led to learn about the values and the culture in their adopted country. The importance of rights consciousness in the world views of many people, and the practical sense held by most people that knowledge of the law is important, may be the factors that predispose immigrants to acknowledge the importance of the law and the justice system as part of the culture of the country. The education in PLEI suggests there is a need to replace ignorance and confusion with familiarity and trust, and to convey to new Canadians the basic knowledge and core values which allow them to understand how the Canadian justice system operates, and according to what basic practices and principles.

PLEI may be an important tool in a justice-community development strategy to help ethnocultural groups define the justice problems affecting their communities and to develop solutions for them. Information about the law and how the justice system works, combined with more problem-specific information about the nature of certain problems, might assist ethnocultural community organizations working with the justice system, to use the resources of the communities to develop clearer definitions of problems and more durable solutions. Moreover, partnerships between the justice system and ethnocultural communities might lay the foundation for greater cooperation and trust in the long term.

Getting access to legal information and using it effectively poses special problems for members of minority groups who may experience language, psychological, or other barriers. Concerted efforts by governments and PLEI organizations to develop culturally appropriate materials and delivery models is required. This is especially important as the nature of ethnic diversity in Canada continues to change, as the nature of intergroup relationships change, and as the challenges encountered by immigrants and indigenous minorities change with altering conditions.

13.4 Minority Women and the Justice System

The special problems of minority women have been highlighted throughout this report. Some of the problems touched on are entirely minority gender-specific, such as the practice of female genital mutilation. Some problems are virtually minority gender-specific such as the problems of domestic workers, and custody and access issues relating to immigrant women. Family violence may affect some minority women more severely because of the reluctance to go outside the family or the community for assistance. Social isolation because of language barriers, or the lack of culturally appropriate community services may increase the vulnerability of minority women to violence and abuse. The concluding remarks call for coherent approach to gender issues in multiculturalism and justice, keeping in mind two points not emphasized in much of the background literature.

The first point goes beyond gender and justice. It must be recognized that race or ethnicity, gender and class are not distinct categories in reality. They produce a compound effect which is the product of the three aspects being inseparably fused. The whole is different from the sum of its parts.

Second, ethnicity, gender and class taken together must be viewed as qualitatively distinct perspective on any "problem." A particular problem should not be viewed as having gender variations, with male and female differences that can be statistically partitioned and thus understood. To fully understand the nature of the justice problems of minority women, their problems must be approached with a methodology that attempts to understand their life experiences in their minority cultures, social structures, and class contexts.

Multiculturalism and justice issues of minority women should be approached as a distinct and coherent issue area within the domain of multiculturalism and justice.

13.5 Minority Youth

If problems of integration and adjustment as they relate to the justice system become translated into socially structured problems reproduced from one generation to the next, or created by the circumstances affecting the younger generation and consolidated throughout their lives, a serious social problem looms. The factors which might operate to produce a racially or ethnically based underclass are well beyond the sphere of this report. However, Pearcey suggests that a combination of factors such as barriers to integration, particularly, language, and integration problems relating to inter-generational conflict within families, produce the conditions for involvement in youth crime and gang activities.<356>

Based on research carried out in the B.C. corrections system, it appears that ethnocultural minority youth are not overrepresented in the system.357 This result is different from research cited by Etherington where minority youth were overrepresented in Quebec City and Montreal detention centres.<358> However, following Pearcy's preliminary work, research should be carried out to identify the processes which produce alienation from both the mainstream society and the ethnic group, and lead minority youth to criminal activities for pecuniary gain, for status and acceptance by significant others, or other factors.

13.6 Strategy For Action

In view of the demographic changes taking place in Canada, and in view of the socio-political context in which the changes in Canada's ethnic composition are taking place, there is real basis for concern about the potential development of justice problems along racial or ethnic lines. This represents a potential situation of considerable social conflict, as is evidenced in the race situation in the United States. There is no crisis in Canada, but preventative action is clearly called essential.

Action will not take shape and direction by itself. Government departments as well as non-governmental organizations could expand considerable resources, over a number of years, sponsoring many projects and research, but without a strategy, and an organizational vehicle to give it coherence, visible ameliorations of the problems will not be achieved.

Throughout this report, the necessity of meaningful involvement by ethnocultural communities in addressing justice problems has been emphasized. The first step in an overall strategy, therefore, is the continuation of the dialogue that is represented by this report, and moving it to a more direct level. This report attempted to show, indirectly, through research on a variety of issues, and more directly, through interviews with representatives of more than 300 ethnocultural organizations in Canada, the justice-related problems affecting communities. The next step should be to present this report and the background research to ethnocultural communities in Canada as a basis for continued dialogue. The dialogue, or consultation, would become more direct and more focussed. Ethnocultural communities should have the opportunity to look at a wider body of evidence and thought than has been available to them up to now. Combined with their knowledge gained from experience, representatives of cornmunities could play an important and appropriate role in defining problems and developing solutions. On this basis, communities could offer advice to government on what issues should be addressed, and how the resources of the communities could best be combined with those of the state to address priority justice problems.

This consultation requires some supporting infrastructure. The Etherington report presents a recommendation made in a report of the former Law Reform Commission of Canada to establish a multicultural criminal justice advisory council.<359> This proposed body would be an omnibus organization with a full-time staff, having a variety of mandates: research, dispute resolution, encouraging changes in law and the justice system, and the promotion of tolerance, acceptance and understanding among the population.

This idea might be premature. A more modest task force, possibly established within the Department of Justice Canada, would be sufficient to begin the task of a new stage of dialogue and consultation described above, as well as continue the research and project activities which have been slowly developing for the past few years. A Department of Justice Canada task force would have the added advantage of continuity with current federal-provincial activities relating to multiculturalism and justice issues.

Such a task force would have a full time staff and a life span of about five years. It would have a mandate to accomplish feasible short- to medium-term objectives and to set the main direction for a coordinated national multiculturalism and justice agenda for the future. An independent council of the sort suggested by the former Law Reform Commission would be a matter for consideration by the interim justice task force.

The original plaintext version of this file is available via ftp.

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.