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Race and the Ontario Courts

Does Race Matter?

Project Overview

This research seeks to explore how Ontario courts understand and consider anti-Black racism in the sentencing of African Canadian offenders. Our initial intention was to undertake a qualitative research study including case reviews, case studies and individual interviews. 

Project Objectives

Below is a description of the major components of this evaluation research. 

  1.  Analysis of the successful establishment of the project and recruitment of suitable social worker(s) to conduct the Impact of Race and Culture Assessments. Here, we will keep track of the number of social workers interviewed; the number that were eligible based on their qualifications to participate in the project; and document the final number of social workers recruited. We will also conduct a qualitative assessment of the recruited social worker’s qualifications, paying particular attention to their educational and professional experiences relating to Canada’s African population and their experiences with the criminal justice system. Finally, we will evaluate the extent to which the project in practice reflects that originally proposed by Faisal Mirza, Emily Lam and Anthony Morgan.   
  1. Evaluation of the success of the development and the delivery of the Impact of Race and Culture Assessments (IRCAs). We will conduct in-depth interviews with the various parties involved in the process, including: the clients; a central family member that participated (where appropriate), the social workers; the Sentencing and Parole Project coordinators; defence counsel; crown counsel (where available); judges or parole board members (where available). Questions here will vary depending on the party, but will focus generally on their perceptions of the usefulness of the reports; their perceived impacts of the report in the case at hand; and any problems, challenges or obstacles they experienced in either the report development or delivery.
  1. Mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) assessment of the impact of the IRCAs had on the sentences handed down to the accused. This involves two main components: 1) as part of the interviews conducted for the last phase, we will ask the criminal justice actors (social workers; counsel; judges) what, if any, impact they believe the Impact of Race and Culture Assessment had on the clients sentence and; 2) with the assistance of Mirza, Lam and Morgan, we will compare the sentences handed to clients, to sentences handed down to similar offenders in similar circumstances. 

The research also evaluates the extent to which the sentence handed down varies from the normal sentence range and whether it lands further than what was asked for by the crown than it would have if the case had not included an IRCA. 

More about IRCA
IRCAs are pre-sentencing reports that help sentencing judges to better understand the effect of poverty, marginalization, racism, and social exclusion on the offender and their life experience. IRCAs explain the relationship between the offender’s lived experiences of racism and discrimination and how they inform the circumstances of the offender, the offence committed, and the offender’s experience with the justice system. Similar to Gladue reports, which take into account the individual background and circumstances of an Indigenous accused, IRCAs inform sentencing judges of the disadvantages and systemic racism faced by Black and other racialized Canadians and may recommend alternatives to incarceration and/or culturally appropriate accountability measures within a sentence of incarceration. IRCAs have been used primarily for Black offenders, both adults and youth, at the sentencing stage of the criminal process.