Canada’s criminal justice system is racist. We need more than apologies to fix it.

In June, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) turned a story about his racism into a media spectacle around an apology.

TPS data confirmed that Toronto police are more likely to use force against Black people, more likely to search Black people, and more likely to point a firearm at a Black person, even when not perceived to be. that black person is in possession of any weapon.

Acting Toronto Police Chief James Ramer apologized to black communities. But apologies alone do not correct mistakes. And they certainly don’t create the systemic changes needed to address anti-Black racism in policing or the rest of the criminal justice system.

Governments and government actors have criminalized people for being black, indigenous, or of color, for being poor or homeless, and for having a mental illness or addiction. They should do more than apologize. Instead, they should try to correct their mistakes and, as much as possible, undo the damage they have done and continue to do.

In July, the federal government took a step to address some of the damage done by the criminal justice system. Members of Parliament voted to adopt Bill C-5. If signed into law, the bill would reform the Penal Code to eliminate a series of mandatory minimum sentences and expunge criminal records associated with simple drug possession charges two years after the end of the sentence.

This is a step in the right direction. But it is a small step.

First, despite years of activism urging the government to repeal all mandatory minimum sentences, the bill would only remove a small number. Courts across the country they have already found (or are likely to find) that a number of mandatory minimum sentences that would remain on the books are unconstitutional.

Many of the mandatory minimum sentences that have led to significant increases in the number of Black and indigenous peoples in prisons will also remain in the Penal Code. That is why earlier this year, the Black Legal Action Center (BLAC), together with the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societiesurged the government to, among other things, repeal all mandatory minimum sentences.

Second, while the bill was amended to automatically sequester criminal records for simple possession, much more needs to be done to remove the unnecessary discriminatory barriers people face because of past criminal records.

Even if Bill C-5 passes in its current form, the vast majority of people with criminal records will still have to wait five to 10 years after the end of their sentence before they can apply for a criminal record suspension. They will then have to embark on a lengthy and complex application process to prove, among other things, that they have not been convicted of any new criminal offenses and that they are “of good conduct.”

Opinion: Repealing all mandatory minimum sentences will lead to greater justice for Black, Indigenous and racialized communities and other disadvantaged communities, write Moya Teklu and Khaldah Salih. #Justice #Systemic Racism

It is a completely counterproductive system. Having a criminal record makes it difficult for people to get jobs, housing, and educational opportunities. All of these are important in helping people reintegrate into society and in keeping them out of the criminal justice system.

There is no evidence that forcing people to carry the burden of criminal records for 10 years helps increase public safety. It cannot be known based on past records whether a person is more likely to commit an act of violence in the future. And after a few years, much less than a decade, a person with a criminal record is no more likely to be involved in the justice system than a person with no criminal record.

The current record suspension system is discriminatory. We know that the police target and overcharge black people. Therefore, considering whether someone is “of good character” by looking at things like whether they have had contact with the police or been charged, even if those charges were dropped, will disproportionately affect Black people and compound damage already done. for racist police practices.

This is why BLAC, along with members of the New Beginning Coalition, advocates a spent criminal record regime. This means that after a certain period of time, all criminal records, not just those related to drug possession, disappear from a standard criminal background check. People would not have to submit applications and navigate complicated bureaucratic processes. It would just happen. Canada already does this with junior records.

Racism against Black people in the criminal justice system is a done. The federal government has an opportunity to move beyond apologies to meaningful action. Bill C-5 will get us part of the way, but there is much further and further to go.

Moya Teklu is the Executive Director and Khaldah Salih is the Communications and Outreach Specialist of the Black Legal Action Center (BLAC). BLAC provides free legal services to black people in Ontario who have a legal problem related to anti-black racism.

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