Report by CrimSL researchers on public perceptions of and experiences with the Ontario criminal justice system

February 12, 2021 by Cate MacLeod

On Wednesday, February 10th, the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) released Race and Criminal Injustice: An examination of public perceptions of and experiences with the Ontario criminal justice system (90 pages, PDF). The report was prepared by CrimSL Acting Director Scot Wortley, Dr Akwasi Owusu-Bempah (PhD 2007; cross-appointed to the Centre from U of T Sociology) and CrimSL PhD student Huibin Lin. 

In their release, CABL identify several key findings:

  • Black and Asian respondents perceive much higher levels of police bias than White respondents;
  • The perception of anti-Black racism in policing is particularly widespread. The majority of White, Asian, and Black respondents perceive that the police treat Black citizens worse or much worse than White citizens;
  • The perception of police discrimination against Black people has increased over the past 25 years - especially among White and Asian respondents;
  • Between 1994 and 2019, the perception of anti-Black discrimination within policing has remained constant among Black Toronto residents; and
  • Consistent will allegations of racial profiling, Black respondents are much more likely to report being stopped, questioned, and searched by the police than either White or Asian respondents. These racial differences exist for both traffic and pedestrian stops.

From the report (p. 19): "The survey discussed in this report is a partial replication of a survey that was originally conducted in 1994 on behalf of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. The original survey, conducted by York University’s Institute for Social Research, involved a random sample of over twelve hundred Toronto residents who selfidentified as either White, Black, or Chinese (with over four hundred respondents from each racial group). This survey, the first of its kind in Canada, asked respondents detailed questions about their experiences with, and perceptions of, the Canadian criminal justice system. Importantly, the 1994 survey was replicated in 2007 by the Hitachi Survey Research Centre at the University of Toronto.

Speaking to Global News, Professor Wortley notes “There is a growing feeling that the bias may extend from the police and into other sectors within the criminal justice system and that itself deserves future research attention.”

“I hope that we can finally turn the corner on this issue and create the kind of social and political atmosphere where we can actually produce change.”

More media coverage of the report