Aboriginal People and the Criminal Justice System Essay

Aboriginal People and the Criminal Justice System

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          As in any society, Canada has cultural/racial differences which play a role in virtually every aspect of public life.  One of the most important among these is the criminal justice system because of its link to civil rights and the very freedom of the individuals involved.   For generations, the Aboriginal people have struggled for equality in the criminal justice system and elsewhere.  For this reason, culture-based approaches are important when dealing with Aboriginal people in the Canadian criminal justice system.  This paper will explain exactly why the culture-based approaches are important, as well as how the approaches could be implemented.  Upon conclusion of this paper, a greater understanding of this pivotal issue will be gained.

A Tradition of Unequal Justice

          Traditionally, the Aboriginal people of Canada have been plagued by unequal treatment within the criminal justice system; largely misunderstood as unintelligent, rural people, somewhat backward in their ways, this entire race of people was vulnerable to mistreatment from the early days of Canadian settlement, with the mistreatment continuing into the 21st century (Wortley, 1999).  In recent decades, legislation such as amendments to the Canadian Constitution in the early 1980s granted special protections to the Aborigines against injustices based strictly upon their race, but the end result of that action after more than a quarter century is questionable, evidenced by the fact that while the Aborigines only make up about 3% of the Canadian population overall, they make up nearly 15% of the Canadian prison population (Roach, 2000).

A statistic as drastic as this can only lead to a few conclusions: either the Aborigines are rampant criminals, or they receive unequal justice in comparison to the Caucasian majority, for example.  Using the history of racial relations in Canada as a frame of reference, it is far more likely that the Aborigines have been discriminated against and jailed in large numbers, rather than a criminal epidemic in a tiny fraction of a huge national population. Therefore, the question of why a culture-based approach to this problem is needed comes to light.

Culture-Based Approach to Equal Justice

          Because of the victimization of the Aborigines in the Canadian criminal justice system, the pursuit of justice must be culture-based to level the playing field so to speak and to restore justice to an oppressed minority.  This is important not only to administer uniform justice going forward, but also to address past wrongs done against the Aborigines.  Restorative justice, it should be pointed out, is far from reverse discrimination; rather, it is a powerful remedy for a powerful problem.  This culture-based approach must use as its foundation the laws that were passed in 1982 as Constitutional amendments, designed to provide the justice that was stripped from the Aborigines for hundreds of years (Roach, 2000).  Legally, this gives protection where previously there was none.

          Strictly from a cultural viewpoint, the criminal justice system as it applies to Aborigines must likewise be revisited.  Multiculturalism is an important part of this understanding; in other words, every effort must be made for law enforcement to realize the unique needs and challenges of this minority.  Then, and only then, will equal justice exist, with a proper cultural approach.

          In closing, it is abundantly clear that a cultural approach must be taken in order to restore justice to the Aborigines.  Without cultural considerations in place, it is unlikely that any justice will be sustainable.


Roach, K. (2000). Changing Punishment at the Turn of the Century: Restorative Justice on the Rise. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 42(3), 249.

Wortley, S. (1999). A Northern Taboo: Research on Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 41(2), 261.

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