Rooting out systemic racism is key to a fair and effective justice system
A CRRF response to the Federal Department of Justice’s news release on systemic racism in the justice system in Canada.
The federal government recently announced a new policy aimed at addressing systemic racism in Canada’s carceral system. Recognizing that Black and Indigenous people in Canada are disproportionately stopped by police, arrested, charged, and incarcerated – and are subjected to more violent treatment in each of those interactions – the federal government has committed to amending the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to repeal mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs) relating to 20 different offenses.
The Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) welcomes this approach. By eliminating mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs), the federal government is allowing judges greater discretion in addressing criminal offenses. This policy also encourages judges, prosecutors, and arresting officers to consider alternatives to criminal charges in response to criminal offenses.
In addition to being a step toward uprooting racial inequity, this policy also serves broader objectives of public safety and well-being. We know that incarceration fails to effectively reduce or deter crime – nor does it offer meaningful rehabilitation for imprisoned persons, or restorative justice to victims. Incarceration tears families apart. Parents are separated from their children, relationships suffer, jobs and homes are lost. Incarceration is harm done both to individuals and the communities in which they live. Preventing that harm serves the entire community.
The government appears well-positioned to pursue those broader objectives. Public polling shows that people across the country support governments taking bold steps to address structural racism and the ongoing harms created by colonization. A survey commissioned by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation found majority support for several initiatives, including;
- Creating an independent civilian oversight body of the RCMP
- Developing a comprehensive Black Canadian Justice Strategy to address anti-Black racism in the carceral system
- Prioritizing the collection of disaggregated race-based data relating to health, employment, and policing, for the purpose of identifying and addressing inequities experienced by racialized communities.
Repealing mandatory minimum penalties is an important intervention from the government to reduce incarceration in Canada – both a major site of racial inequity and one of harm for all involved. However, we also recognize that this is not the end of a process, but the beginning. The CRRF both commends the government’s action and encourages further steps.