A national think-tank has just released a report card analyzing criminal justice in Canada, and one of the report’s co-authors is hoping it spurs government to start a conversation around making improvements to the nation’s legal system. Benjamin Perrin, University of British Columbia The Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Report Card on the Criminal Justice System is the second University of British Columbia professor Benjamin Perrin has prepared with his co-author, Memorial University of Newfoundland professor Richard Audas. He said the genesis of the project was their concern there was no real independent assessment of Canada’s criminal justice system despite its cost and impact on people’s lives.
“It costs billions of dollars and involves tens of thousands of people yet there is no look at how well it’s doing,” said Perrin, who teaches criminal law at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law. “And so in 2016 we published the first criminal report card with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute as sort of a proof of concept but also to show that available data that is collected on a national basis and made public by Statistics Canada is pretty lacking.”
The report card, released March 5, ranks each province’s criminal justice system based on five major objectives: public safety, support for victims, costs and resources, fairness and access to justice and efficiency. The report notes there is a significant variation between provinces in performance on these indicators, with the territories having what is described as “shockingly high” rates of crime per capita.
British Columbia is called out for its clearance rates for crime, with 51.7 per cent of violent crimes being resolved by police and only 20.4 per cent of non-violent crime being resolved. The report also notes serious issues with efficiency in Ontario’s justice system, having the worst record in Canada for the proportion of charges stayed or withdrawn (43.4 per cent) and some of the highest numbers in Canada of accused persons on remand.
The report measures access to justice by analyzing legal aid expenditures on criminal matters per crime. Perrin said several provinces have a challenge with adequately funding their legal aid systems.
“On a national basis we see an upward trend [in legal aid funding], but in many provinces the rates are not all comparable,” he said. “It’s one area where we would like to see some improvements made. People who have a lawyer are more likely to get a fairer and just outcome.”
Perrin said another area where data is lacking is on victims of crime.
“Victims need a lot more support than they are getting now,” he said. “Not all provinces have victims’ compensation programs, [and] some of them are great and some are very impoverished. So victim support is a really critical area.”
On a national level, the report card shows a decline in crime rates, with overall violent crime going down by 12.5 per cent between 2012 and 2016. However, Perrin notes crime rates are not decreasing in the areas of sexual offences against children, gang violence and drug offences.
“We also see a decline in what is called the weighted non-violent crime clearance rate, which essentially means what percentage of non-violent crime are police solving,” he said. “It has gone down quite significantly and continues to drop — and in some provinces only one in five non-violent crimes, such as property offences, actually end up in some kind of disposition. The rest go completely unaddressed.”
Perrin said the biggest concern he has at the national level is the dramatic over-representation of Indigenous people in prison.
“People are aware that is an issue, but what we track is not just the proportion of Indigenous people in prison […]
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