What are the challenges and where should public policy be directed in order to produce safe, cohesive and healthy communities?
- Focus on justice issues

Scot Wortley,
Centre of Criminology
University of Toronto

The Metropolis Project is a national partnership of nine federal agencies with a mandate to support evidence-based policy decisions in the area of immigration and settlement. Phase One of the Project is drawing to a conclusion in March 2002. Metropolis is now reviewing work completed to date and conducting consultations on order to identify potential research priorities for the next phase of the initiative. For Phase Two, ten different "Priority Areas" have been identified in order to structure consultations and aid in the development of a refined funding proposal. The purpose of this document is to briefly highlight potential research priorities with respect to Canadian immigration and issues of crime, law and criminal justice. The focus is on the "community safety" component of Priority five: "What are the challenges and where should public policy be directed in order to produce safe, cohesive and healthy communities?"

This paper is designed to promote discussion at a special workshop on justice issues to be held on October 18, 2001 at the National Metropolis conference. The research issues discussed in this document were identified through a detailed review of the Canadian literature and consultations with stakeholders from law enforcement, academia, various government agencies and community groups. Although the list of potential research topics is extensive, it does not come close to capturing all of the important issues that are related to this research domain. Hopefully, other important issues will emerge through workshop discussions. Furthermore, it must be stressed that the issues discussed below do not appear in order of importance. The prioritization of research topics will not take place until after the October 18th workshop and further consultations with various interest groups. Following the workshop, a detailed summary of the proceedings will be produced in order to help in the development of the Memorandum of Understanding between the federal government and the Metropolis Centres of Excellence with regard to the new stream of research on priority policy concerns.



In the Canadian context, relatively little is known about the true relationship between criminal behaviour and such demographic characteristics as immigration status, race or ethnicity. One of the reasons for this "gap" in our knowledge is that our enforcement and statistics agencies do not currently collect and/or release crime data related to race and/or ethnicity. This has created a major controversy in the justice domain that must be acknowledged by Metropolis.

During consultations, several academics and government representatives argued that there is an urgent need for more and better information on immigration, ethnicity and criminal behaviour. This data, they maintain, is needed to answer the following pressing questions: 1) Are immigrants more or less involved in crime (as both victims and offenders) than citizens who are born in Canada? 2) Are certain racial-ethnic groups more or less involved in criminal activity than other groups? 3) Is the relationship between immigration, ethnicity and crime changing? Only by answering these questions, proponents argue, can we begin to explore explanations for any observed relationship between ethnicity and crime and subsequently develop effective government policy.

Although some stakeholders have called for more information, other government and community representatives have argued that Canada should continue with its current ban on the collection and dissemination of "ethnicity-crime" statistics. They maintain that the release of information that may show certain immigrant or ethnic groups to be over-represented in crime will only be used to justify further discrimination against already marginalised people. In light of this controversy, a number of data-related research issues have been identified.

* Would the collection of "ethnicity-crime" statistics lead to increased prejudice and discrimination within Canadian society? Has the current ban on "ethnicity-crime" statistics reduced discrimination against particular racial-ethnic groups? Are public perceptions of ethnicity and crime based primarily on official crime statistics or other sources of information (i.e., media coverage)? Does the availability of ethnicity-based crime data from other countries (i.e., the United States) influence Canadian perceptions of ethnicity and crime?

* What are the potential uses -- and misuses -- of data that might document the relationship between immigration status, ethnicity and crime? How would such data be used by the enforcement community, government agencies, community groups and academics? Should access to sensitive data on ethnicity and crime be restricted? How do we decide who is granted access to such information and who is not?

* What are the strengths and weaknesses of ethnicity-crime statistics? What should officials be measuring -- immigration status, racial background or ethnicity (or all three)? How should government officials and academics measure race and ethnicity (i.e., through self-reports, official assessments, etc.)? Should official crime statistics be supplemented by other forms of data collection (i.e., self-report and victimization surveys, qualitative research, etc.)?



While acknowledging the lack of reliable data on the topic, most stakeholders expressed an interest in further research on the exact nature of the relationship between immigration, ethnicity and crime. However, it must be stressed that different groups expressed widely different opinions with respect to which topics should be granted research priority. For example, while the policing community stresses the need for more research on detection and enforcement effectiveness, community groups stress the need for more research on discrimination within the criminal justice system and its impact on minority communities. In general, our consultations revealed four different models that might be used to explain any possible relationship between immigration, ethnicity and crime: 1) the Importation Model; 2) the Cultural Conflict Model; 3) the Strain/Frustration Model; and 4) the Bias in the Justice System Model. These models, and their research implications, are described briefly below.

The Importation Model

The Importation Model focuses on the idea that there are "evil" or "bad" people in foreign countries who explicitly want to immigrate to Canada in order to engage in criminal or terrorist activity. According to this perspective, an undetermined number of immigrants and refugees are motivated to commit crime -- including drug trafficking, smuggling, theft, terrorism, etc. -- before they actually enter our country. In other words, they see Canada as "a land of criminal opportunity" and this is the primary reason they want to take up residence in our country. Research in this area could focus on improving the nation's ability to effectively identify and screen-out criminals before they enter the country, as well as developing methods for monitoring recent immigrants and refugees for signs of organized criminal activity. A specific interest, often expressed by the enforcement community, concerns methods for developing intelligence networks both within immigrant communities in Canada and in conjunction with foreign governments and police agencies abroad. Research could also try to determine the best ways of dealing with Canada's security needs without alienating "legitimate" immigrants or creating further barriers to the assimilation process. Indeed, this is one of the greatest dilemmas facing researchers in the justice domain: How can the country increase security and surveillance without creating an atmosphere of intolerance and distrust?

The Cultural Conflict Model

The Cultural Conflict Model maintains that some immigrants and refugees come into contact with the Canadian justice system because they continue to engage in certain culturally-specific practices or behaviours that clash with aspects of the Canadian Criminal Code. Examples of "cultural conflict" that have recently emerged within the Canadian court system include issues surrounding domestic violence, the use of particular banned substances and prostitution. In these cases, recent immigrants have continued to engage in "traditional" activities that are perfectly legal in their country of origin -- but against the law in Canada. In other words, these people are not "motivated" to commit crime -- nor do they knowingly break the law. They are just engaging in behaviours that they feel are culturally appropriate. Research in this area, therefore, might focus on the identification of specific groups that, due to their cultural practices, are at increased risk of violating Canadian laws. Policy might then be developed which could effectively educate vulnerable newcomers about important aspects of the Canadian legal system. Such policy might help prevent recent immigrants from breaking the law out of ignorance of Canadian legal standards.




The Strain/Frustration Model

The Strain/Frustration Model holds that the experience of immigration and assimilation itself may "push" some newcomers towards criminal activity. Unlike the Importation Model, the proponents of this perspective maintain that the vast majority of immigrants and refugees are not motivated criminals when they first arrive in Canada. However, experiences often associated with immigration -- including poverty, inadequate housing, poor education, discrimination and lack of legitimate economic opportunity -- may make criminal activity attractive to some segments of the immigrant population. Furthermore, disappointment created by high hopes or expectations and the reality of Canadian life may produce crimes of frustration and rage (relative deprivation theory). Overall, this model is consistent with many classic criminology theories which also hold that conditions of alienation and disadvantage are more likely to produce criminal behaviour (especially street crime) than conditions of relative prosperity. The research concerns associated with this model are very similar with the interests of the other research domains. They include a focus on studies that will highlight the difficulties faced by immigrants and refugees and how these difficulties, under certain circumstances, can lead to criminal behaviour. Policy development might focus on programs that will reduce the economic and social problems faced by newcomers and help youth from immigrant communities identify the means to achieve success within the legitimate opportunity structure. The goal of policy development in this area should be to ensure that both immigrants and refugees establish a "stake in conformity."

The Bias in the Justice System Model

Proponents of the Bias Model argue that there is not a strong or consistent relationship between crime and either ethnicity or immigration status. Certain racial-ethnic groups, however, may be over-represented in official crime statistics because of systemic discrimination within the criminal justice system. They argue, for example, that certain groups in Canada are more likely to be subject to high levels of police surveillance, false arrest and police use of force. They also argue that discriminatory treatment extends from the street into the criminal courts and corrections. For example, recent Canadian research suggests that some racial minority groups are much more likely to be detained before trial and receive harsher sentences upon conviction than their European counterparts. Research priorities associated with this model include studies that would attempt to document the existence of discrimination (i.e., racial profiling, discriminatory sentencing practices, inadequate correctional programming, etc.) and reveal the impact that such discriminatory practices have on both immigrant and minority communities. Once research has identified the existence (or non-existence) of particular forms of racism in the criminal justice system, policies could be developed to deal with the problem (i.e., diversity training, community policing, court monitoring, conditional sentencing programs, diversion programs, restorative justice programs, community corrections initiatives, etc.).






Many of the research priorities identified through our consultations are related to one of the four models presented above. However, there were a number of more specific issues that were raised by academics, government agencies and community groups. These topics might further inform Metropolis with respect to the identification of potential Phase Two research priorities. These issues are described briefly in the following section.


Immigrant Victimization

A great deal of public, government and media attention has focussed on the criminal offending of specific immigrant and/or ethnic groups. Far less attention, however, has been placed on the victimization experiences of immigrants and the members of specific ethnic minority groups. Are immigrants more or less likely to become crime victims than native-born citizens? Are some racial-ethnic groups more likely to be victimized than others? Who tend to be the offenders (i.e., family members, friends, strangers, etc.) in cases of immigrant victimization? Are recent immigrants more or less likely to report victimization experiences to the police? Why are the members of certain racial-ethnic groups less likely to report their victimization experiences to the authorities? What is the impact of criminal victimization on the members of immigrant and/or ethnic minority communities?

Hate Crime

Throughout North America and Europe, hate crime has been identified as a special category of offending that deserves increased research attention. How can we distinguish hate crimes from other types of criminal offending? How much hate crime exists in Canada? What groups are particularly vulnerable to hate crime victimization? What is the impact of hate crime victimization? Is the impact of hate crime victimization greater than the impact of more "traditional" forms of crime? What can be done to deal with hate crime? Policy options might include the creation and/or increased funding of special hate crime units within local police forces and legislation that would provide sentencing enhancements for those convicted of hate-related offences.

Public Perceptions of Immigration and Crime

How does the Canadian public perceive the relationship between immigration, ethnicity and crime? Does the Canadian public feel that certain minority or immigrant groups are extensively involved in criminal activity? How do such perceptions impact the assimilation experiences of specific immigrant groups? Are public perceptions of immigrant crime used to justify discrimination against specific communities? Do public perceptions of immigrant crime influence criminal justice policy and operations? What role does the media play in producing public perceptions of immigrant and/or minority crime? How can perceptions of immigrant/minority crime be changed?

Immigrant Gangs

Recently, a great deal of media attention has focussed on the activities of immigrant gangs. This has led to a number of important research questions: To what extent do immigrant gangs operate in Canada? What types of criminal activity are these gangs involved in? How do these gangs recruit members? Does recruitment take place within Canada or does it begin in other countries? Why is gang membership attractive to some immigrant youth? To what extent has the existence of immigrant gangs in Canada been exaggerated? At times, are informal immigrant social groupings mistaken for organized criminal gangs?

Human Trafficking

Another issue – often associated with the activities of immigrant gangs – is human trafficking. To what extent does human trafficking exist in Canada? Who profits from human trafficking? How does trafficking impact the people who are involved in these transactions? How do "trafficked" populations adapt once they reach Canadian soil? What types of problems do trafficked populations face? How can human trafficking be identified and eliminated?

Perceptions of Criminal Injustice

Recent research suggests that certain ethnic groups and immigrants perceive that the Canadian criminal justice system is fundamentally unjust. Disturbingly, analysis reveals that perceptions of injustice actually increase with time spent in the country. While recent immigrants tend to have relatively positive or optimistic attitudes towards the police and the criminal courts, those who have been in the country for a long period of time – along with second generation Canadians – have much more negative opinions. Why do some immigrant groups develop negative attitudes towards the police and courts? Are perceptions of discrimination in the criminal justice system related to perceptions of discrimination in other areas of society (i.e., discrimination in education, housing, employment, etc.)? Do perceptions of injustice influence other social outcomes? For example, are those who view Canadian society as fundamentally unfair or discriminatory more likely to justify the violation of Canadian laws?


Several stakeholders observed that while Canadian criminal courts and correctional facilities are increasingly marked by ethnic and racial diversity, the vast majority of those who work within the criminal justice system – including police, lawyers, judges and correctional officials – are Canadian-born citizens of European background. This situation leads to several important research questions. First of all, why are certain ethnic minority groups under-represented among criminal justice personnel? How can public policy increase the representation of immigrants and ethnic minorities within justice-related occupations? Will the increased participation of certain ethnic groups in law enforcement and other legal professions help alleviate the perception that the criminal justice system is discriminatory?


Access to Justice

Other stakeholders argued that many immigrants cannot participate fully in the justice system because of particular cultural and structural barriers. For example, language barriers and poor interpretation services have been cited as major problems that face a number of recent immigrants when dealing with both the police and the criminal courts. Others maintain that the current jury selection system – which excludes landed immigrants from participation – discriminates against the immigrant community and ensures that they will not be judged by their peers. A number of academics also argued that both federal and provincial corrections needs to develop more culturally-specific rehabilitation programs and services. Overall, research needs to address the question of what access-related problems are faced by specific ethno-cultural groups within the Canadian justice system? Furthermore, there needs to be additional focus on how public policy can improve how criminal justice "services" are delivered to immigrant communities.

Evaluation Research

A number of stakeholders identified the lack of good evaluation research as a major problem facing the Canadian criminal justice system. For example, although most major police forces in Canada have implemented programs that are designed to improve relations with immigrant and ethnic minority communities (i.e., diversity training, community policing initiatives, etc.), there are to date no major independent evaluation studies that attempt to document the relative effectiveness of these programs. Clearly, we need to develop a research process that will not only inform the development of government policy, but also help distinguish between policy initiatives that are effective and those that are not.

Gender Issues

In conclusion, it should be stressed that all of the immigration related issues discussed above should provide a special focus on gender. For example, previous research has indicated that women have very different experiences with criminal victimization, offending, interactions with the police, sentencing and correctional programming. It is essential that the distinct needs and concerns of women receive full research attention within this domain.

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