Federal government announces details of new Black justice strategy

The Canadian Press

David Fraser The Canadian Press 16 February 2023

OTTAWA — Canada's long-awaited Black justice strategy will be developed by a committee of community leaders.

The Liberal government committed to creating the strategy in the 2021 election campaign after advocacy groups and the United Nations pointed out systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

Black people are overrepresented in Canadian jails, making up about eight per cent of those in prison despite making up less than four per cent of the overall population.

The House of Commons public safety committee also recommended creating a national strategy to address those disproportionately high rates of incarceration in a 2021 report.

Justice Minister David Lametti announced who will be responsible for helping develop the Black justice strategy at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

A nine-member steering committee is being tapped to lead consultations with Black communities across Canada.

Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and a member of the group, said in a statement the strategy provides a “generational opportunity to promote fairness and justice for Black people in the country.”

Zilla Jones, an author and human rights lawyer, said the strategy is a historic acknowledgment by the federal government that systemic anti-Black racism exists in Canada and that it “has poisoned our justice system, negatively impacting the integrity of our communities and the futures of our children.”

“This initiative aims to give real meaning to the principles of redress and reconciliation by listening to the voices of grassroots Black communities — those most impacted by inequality in the justice system,” she said in a statement.

In a press release, the Department of Justice said the goal of the work is to identify concrete ways to address systemic discrimination and anti-Black racism in Canada’s criminal justice system.

It said the strategy will include “actions to reform and modernize the criminal justice system, to ensure that every Canadian has access to fair and just treatment before the law.”

The Black Legal Action Centre, a Toronto-based non-profit community legal clinic, said police are more likely to stop, search, charge and arrest Black people. It also said police are more likely to use force or seriously injure Black people.

The House of Commons public safety committee said in a 2021 report that systemic racism in policing was a "real and pressing problem to be urgently addressed."

It recommended creating a national strategy for addressing the disproportionately high rates of racialized people in the criminal justice system.

That was one of many calls to improve the system. In 2020, the Black Parliamentary Caucus also called on the federal government to implement a Black Canadian justice strategy.

In 2016, a UN expert panel warned it had serious concerns about systemic anti-Black racism in Canadian courts and recommended developing a strategy as well.

"There is clear evidence that racial profiling is endemic in the strategies and practices used by law enforcement," Ricardo Sunga, the head of the expert panel, said in a statement at the time.