Criminal Justice Research and Policy in Canada: Implications of Public Service Reform

By Stenning, Philip C. | Canadian Journal of Criminology, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Criminal Justice Research and Policy in Canada: Implications of Public Service Reform


Stenning, Philip C., Canadian Journal of Criminology


The development of a substantial capacity for "homegrown" criminological research in Canada, and the perception within government that such research may constitute an important contribution in the development of criminal justice policy, are relatively recent phenomena. Prior to the 1960's, apart from a small handful of isolated academics, there was practically no criminological research infrastructure either within universities in Canada, or within government itself. The Federal Department of Justice, which was the principal source of criminal justice policy, was staffed almost exclusively by lawyers who typically had no training in or exposure to research and, given the nature of legal education at the time, little appreciation of the relevance or usefulness of research, other than legal research, for policy development.

The factors which influenced the emergence, during the 1960's, of criminological research institutions within universities, and later within relevant government departments themselves, in Canada have not been carefully studied, and identification of them has been largely confined to contemporaneous and later reflective and largely anecdotal writings of some of the key players at the time (see e.g., Edwards, 1982-1983). Undoubtedly, however, they included the prior emergence of such institutions in the English Home Office and the United States Department of Justice, and at some of the most prestigious universities in both countries, such as the Cambridge Institute of Criminology led by Sir Leon Radzinowicz, and the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Pennsylvania led by Professor Marvin Wolfgang.

The need for sound criminological research to underpin governmental responses to the growing crime rates associated with the "baby boom" generation had been emphasized in the reports of Presidential Commissions of Inquiry in the United States, and this advocacy was soon echoed in the reports of similar inquiries in Canada such as that of the Ouimet Committee in 1969 (Canadian Committee on Corrections 1969).

At about the same time, some influential and entrepreneurial academics emerged who were instrumental in founding the first criminological research centres in Canadian universities; Professor Dennis Szabo presided over the establishment of the Centre de criminologie comparee at the Universite de Montreal in 1960, and Professor John Edwards founded the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto in 1963. Perhaps most importantly for the future of criminological research in Canada, both of these far-sighted individuals were able to persuade senior public servants and ministers in the Federal government to provide annual sustaining financial support for the development of these two institutions, which was matched by seed money from private foundations such as the Ford Foundation and the Donner Canadian Foundation.

This material and moral support by the Federal government for the development of university-based criminological research in Canada must be regarded as critical not only for the birth of a genuinely Canadian criminology, but also for the influence which such research gradually assumed in the criminal policy development process here. The receptivity of government officials to arguments for the need for such "basic" research, undertaken in academic institutions outside of, and independent of, government reflected a particular view of the policy process, and the role of the public service with respect to it, which was prevalent at the time. And it has been changes in this view, and the public service reforms which they have spawned, which have been most influential in changing the perceived relevance and role of criminological research in the processes of criminal policy development here in more recent times.

During the 1960's, the liberal welfare state was in full bloom in Western democracies such as Canada, Britain, and the United States, and a quite traditional conception of the role of the public service, and of its proper relationship to the elected government of the day, prevailed here as elsewhere. …

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Criminal Justice Research and Policy in Canada: Implications of Public Service Reform
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