Over-Representation of Indigenous Peoples in the Criminal Legal System

Incarcerated Indigenous Peoples in Canada - Current Statistics

While the compiling of statistical information is inconsistent across the country, this document provides a snap shot of the data that is available (as of July 2022) for the number of Indigenous peoples incarcerated in Canada.

Incarcerated Indigenous Peoples in Canada - Current Statistics

In August 2022, the CBA’s Criminal Justice Section and its Committee on Imprisonment and Release wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in support of Indigenous decarceration and self-determination.  Learn more.

Jury Diversity in Canada

In Canada, provinces and territories are responsible for creating lists of prospective jurors and issuing summonses, and each province or territory has its own method of compiling prospective juror lists. Some provinces randomly select from health card data, while others use property tax or voter data.  Once prospective jurors arrive in the courtroom, the Criminal Code dictates how they may be selected.

Although it is widely accepted (see example) that Canadian juries are not representative of Indigenous populations, Canada does not track jury demographics. A recent survey by the Canadian Press found that none of the provinces or territories tracked race data for their juries. The only jurisdiction that provided any jury data was Nunavut, who tracks the gender and postal codes of its jurors. In 2013, the Honourable Justice Frank Iacobucci published a report on jury diversity in Ontario. His report noted that in the judicial district of Kenora, on-reserve residents make up 30 to 36 percent of the population but only 1.3 percent of the jury roll in 2011.

Jury Diversity and the Charter

The widespread exclusion of Indigenous people from juries in Kenora was challenged at the Supreme Court in the 2015 case of R v Kokopenace, when an Indigenous offender challenged the composition of his jury. Justice Moldaver for the majority held that while Indigenous offenders have a right to an impartial jury, the impartiality requirement is met when a province makes reasonable efforts not to exclude any groups from the jury roll. In this case, Ontario had provided a fair opportunity for Indigenous people to be included on the jury roll, and had therefore met their obligations under the Charter.

The 2018 trial of Gerald Stanley brought the issue of discrimination on Canadian juries back to the forefront when Stanley’s lawyers used peremptory challenges to exclude five potential jurors who appeared to be Indigenous. This resulted in what appeared to be an all-white jury, who acquitted Stanley.

In response, parliament passed omnibus bill C-75 in September 2019, amending the Criminal Code to abolish peremptory challenges. An Ontario man challenged this amendment on the grounds that removing peremptory challenges violated his right to a fair hearing or right to trial by jury. In 2021, the Supreme Court held that the abolition of peremptory challenges was constitutional.

This project has been funded by the Department of Justice Canada.

Department of Justice Canada