Crimes of Colour: Racialization and the Criminal Justice System in Canada

Article excerpt

Wendy Chan and Kiran Mirchandani, eds.

Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2001; 221 pp.

Reviewed by Shoshana Pollack

Faculty of Social Work

Wilfrid Laurier University

Waterloo, Ontario Crimes of Colour: Racialization and the Criminal Justice System in Canada is a welcome addition to the literature on criminalization in Canada. As the editors, Wendy Chan and Kiran Mirchandani, articulate in Chapter 1, this volume of essays joins the tradition of critical race scholars who focus upon the process of racialization and criminalization that occurs throughout the criminal justice system. Traditionally, literature on race and crime has failed to problematize both these notions, seeing "race" as an individual trait and crime as an objective fact. In contrast, this volume attempts to explicate how processes of racialization and criminalization occur in various arms of the criminal justice system and through its discourse. The purpose of this volume is to illustrate how the process of criminalization is racialized in a way that reinforces and perpetuates the oppression of minority peoples.

This book is divided into three sections: Part I: History; Part II: Racialization of the Legal System; and Part III: Processes of Racialization and Criminalization. Part I contains two essays that help to situate contemporary discussions of racialization and criminalization within a historical context. Andrea McCalla and Vic Satzewich, in their discussion of white settler capitalism, illustrate how colonial practices implicitly criminalized "race" by, in the case of North American Indians, making it a crime to engage in one's own spiritual, cultural, and linguistic practices. Colonization operated in part through the criminalization of North American Indian culture. Both this essay and the second one by Joan Sangster, who analyses the Ontario Female Refuges Act from 1930-1960, contextualize the discussions in this volume by illustrating how racialization and criminalization are mechanisms of social control which perpetuate the oppression of disenfranchised groups.

Part II, Racialization and the Legal System, is the strongest of the three sections, with theoretically- and empirically-grounded discussions of racialization and criminalization processes. The article by Jasmin Jiwani explains how "othering" occurs through discourse and practice based upon white, male, middle-class assumptions and operates to criminalize aboriginal, black and immigrant communities in Canada. Similarly, Audrey Macklin's insightful article, critiquing "culture" and "law" as inhabiting separate spheres, elegantly illustrates the inherent cultural biases within legal discourse and processes. …