Racial profiling in the criminal justice and law enforcement agencies has remained a major issue. These are two departments that are riddled with claims of discriminative practices that are skewed to the disfavor of a certain minority group. The United States justice department has been faced with a myriad of criticism over the perceived systemic discrimination against the minority groups especially the Latinos and the African Americans. Whether this criticism is justified remains a major scholarly issue. In Canada, the justice and the law enforcement departments too have received immense criticism over the years over the disproportionate arrests and incarceration of the aboriginal people. Indeed a critical look at the rates of arrests and incarceration reveals that the figures are skewed against the aboriginals and more so towards the aboriginal youths compared to the rest of the population.
For the past one decade, extensive reforms have been carried out in the justice sector. Most of these reforms have been focusing on decreased imprisonment for the non- serious crimes and meting out long sentences for the violent criminal offenders. The key intention behind these reforms was to trim down on the rate of incarceration of the aboriginal people. A critical look however at these reforms indicates that they have achieved little. The rate of remand incarceration has soared and the reforms are seen as having a discriminatory impact as it has lead to increased arrests and incarceration of aboriginal women and youths (Philip & Toni, 2002).
The statistics available on the composition of the youth in the Canadian aboriginal population point out the crucial nature of this population. They comprise over half of the aboriginal population. With such a high population they are faced with immense challenges and are still reeling form the debilitating effects of colonial policies and systemic injustices. The disproportionate differences in arrests and incarceration of the aboriginal youths can only be discerned from looking at the existing statistics. Aboriginal people in Canada remain largely outnumbered in terms of population and they comprise a less than ten percent. Of this population, 5% are youths and they “account for 34% of all male and 41 percent of all female young offenders in some Canadian provinces.” (United Nations Human Settlements Programme, 2004, 154). In addition to this, aboriginal youth have a higher likelihood of coming into contact with law enforcement agencies, either as victims, witnesses or for arrests.
This issue of aboriginal youth’s conflict with the justice system continues to draw major views from scholars and analysts. There is unanimity that the figures are disproportionately skewed and need to be addressed. As most scholars have tended to analyze, the problem lies in the years of neglect and inequality faced from the Canadian society leaving majority of the aboriginal families with no concrete support. Canada, like the United States and Australia where settlers subdued the role of the natives, has been long criticized for carrying out oppressive and alienating policies against the aboriginal people. They were denied of their land rights, cultural norms and their life styles were grossly interfered with. It is these inequalities and years of systemic injustices that are regarded to be the root cause to the high levels of crimes being witnessed today. As John, Frederick & Randy (2006, 189) observe, “many aboriginal people are forced to live in poverty, and their poor living conditions often lead to substance abuse and domestic violence.” Dickson- Gilmore & carol (2005, 55) have also concurred with this view noting that the nature of aboriginal people childhood which is largely characterized by poverty and violence “not only encourages the likelihood of conflict with the law, in some cases it may render the choice of a criminal lifestyle a fairly rational one.”
These explanations however are just but partial illustration of the core issues. Many contend that the problem largely lies on the prejudicial nature of the law enforcement and the judicial system. Over policing has been pointed out as a major contributor where regions inhabited by large populations of the aboriginal people are likely to be more policed than others. With this comes the issue of racial profiling. Aboriginal people have a higher risks of arrest compared to the rest faced with similar scenarios. Most studies on the issue have pointed out that law enforcement officers use racial profiles in making the decision on who arrest. Patrols are more frequent in the aboriginal neighborhoods and public places more that in the non-aboriginal neighborhoods, the majority being the youths, they are more prone to arrests. There are further claims that police are more likely to arrest aboriginal people for minor crimes than the non-aboriginal people. There are more aboriginal people being charged with public intoxications than the non-aboriginal, this is not that they are more prone to such offenses but rather because police rarely intervene (Kiran, 2001).
Whereas aboriginal youths have high rates of arrests and incarceration, they remain underrepresented in the criminal justice department staff. There is less than 1% of aboriginal staff in the police force, judicial and the correctional services. As is largely known, the justice department decisions and judgments’ are to a certain extent based on discretion, this underrepresentation disadvantages the aboriginals in two respects. It may affect the length of sentencing and also granting of bails. Studies on the length of custody have found out that aboriginal youth sentences are lengthier than for the non-aboriginal youths despite the similarity of the offenses. The other disadvantage brought about by underrepresentation is the lack of understanding of the aboriginal youths’ cultural upbringing and discriminate judgments, “aboriginal offenders face systemic discrimination and are more likely to be found guilty of crimes regardless of the strength of the evidence.” (John, Fredrick & Randy, 2006, 192)
Indeed, like other issues touching on race, the issue of perceived inequalities of the aboriginal youths in the criminal justice system will continue to brew a heated debate. Where there is no single amicable solution that can comprehensively address the problem. The key to this as most analysts have observed, lies in the putting up of a criminal system that understands that traditional values, culture, lifestyle and childhood hurdles that the aboriginal youths go through. As observed, the youths are the majority of the aboriginal population and represent the by-product of years of social, economic and political injustices meted out against the aboriginal people by the Canadian society. Being poorly educated and unemployed, many have moved to the urban centers in search of job opportunities and are falling victims of the criminal justice department’s stereotypes and racial profiling schemes.
Kiran M. (2001) Crimes of colour: racialization and the criminal justice system in Canada. University of Toronto Press.
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (2004) The state of the world’s cities 2004/2005: globalization and urban culture. Earthscan.
Philip G., Toni P. (2002) Dimensions of Criminal Law. Emond Montgomery Publication.
John A. R., Fredrick C. S., Randy M. (2006) First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples: exploring their past, present, and future. Emond Montgomery Publication.
E. J. Dickson-Gilmore, Carol L.P. (2005) Will the circle be unbroken?: aboriginal communities, restorative justice, and the challenges of conflict and change. University of Toronto Press.