The Chinese Community Leaders' Perceptions of the Criminal Justice System

Article excerpt

In the fall of 1992, the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System was established by the Ontario Government to examine the procedures, practices, policies, and processes in the institutions of the criminal justice system that may cause or reflect systemic racism. Without doubt, treating people unequally or unfairly on the basis of their race, creed, colour, nationality, or ethnic origin is not merely illegal, but profoundly unjust. It matters when it happens in employment, housing, or education. It matters perhaps even more if there is any suspicion of discriminatory practices in the criminal justice system as it is the bedrock on which our democratic society is based.

The Toronto Chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) was commissioned to conduct a survey to investigate the views of Chinese community leaders on the various aspects perfectly depict the issues being presented, they are neither formed nor sustained in a vacuum. Citizens, opinions of the criminal justice system is of vital importance as they can have a decided effect on the administration of criminal justice. Brillon's (1985: 121-122) remark is quite pertinent.

A negative image of the penal agencies, and a lack of confidence in the police, the judiciary and the correctional institutions, can prompt certain social groups to set up, if not their own system of justice, at least their own method of control. This is far from being a guarantee of better justice and a greater respect for people's rights and liberties.

Unfortunately, the results of the study conducted by CCNC (Toronto Chapter) have not been included in the final report released by the Commission (Ontario 1995). This final report, however, contains findings of a study undertaken by The Institute for Social Research of York University (ISR), which examined the views of the "general public" on the criminal justice system. The findings of this study are certainly noteworthy. Nevertheless, it focuses only on what the report calls "significant groups, in Metro Toronto, namely the Chinese, blacks, and whites (Spragett and Chow 1992). Limited resources was cited as another reason to justify the exclusion of other minority groups. Although the Terms of Reference of the Commission stress that anti-black racism should be utilized as a focal point for their analysis of racism, it also states clearly that various experiences and vulnerabilities of all racial minority communities should be recognized. The inclusion of only these three groups might send a negative message to other minority groups that the sheer size of their communities has rendered them "insignificant" and that their opinions and experiences could be ignored. As the CCNC (Toronto Chapter) study focused on the views of the Chinese community leaders, its findings will complement those of the ISR survey.

Survey findings

The study conducted by the CCNC (Toronto Chapter) investigated the views of the representatives of Chinese community organizations, including social services organizations, professional associations, business and manufacturers, association, labour/trade unions, clan associations, Chinese-Canadian associations, and religious organizations, on the following aspects of the criminal justice system(2): (a) law and the legal system: (b) courts and judges; (c) plea bargaining, (d) prisons; (e) access to legal services; and (f) individual and community participation in the criminal justice process. Based on the mailing directory of the CCNC (Toronto Chapter), a copy of the research instrument was sent to 189 randomly selected Chinese community organizations within Metro Toronto, of which 71 questionnaires were returned, representing a response rate of 40.3%. Participants were management level staff or board directors of these organizations(3).

The research instrument for the collection of data was a bilingual (Chinese and English) self-administered questionnaire containing a total of H statements pertaining to various criminal justice issues. …