Overrepresentation of Aboriginal People in Crime

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Introduction

The aboriginal people are the native inhabitants of a given locale, and mostly the name is used to refer to the original occupants of Canada and Australia. During the sixteenth and seventeenth century when Europeans ventured into Canada, they happened to have had a cordial relationship with the Aboriginal people. However, the westward progression by Europeans in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the displacement of the Aboriginal peoples who lived on the vast tracts of land that the Europeans wanted for farming and settlement. They introduced a series of laws and policies that were aimed at freeing the land from the Aboriginal population to create more space for a civilized society of non-Aboriginal origin (Elliott, 1985). Reservations were seen as a way to move Aboriginal people into economically active societies, both to assimilate them and also to slacken immense tracts of land for non-Aboriginal settlement. As immigration augmented, the administration would progress to make land available for colonial settlement, this lead to the displacement of the Aboriginal people. The failure of this assimilation process can largely be attributed to intricate barriers posed by systemic and societal discrimination of the Aboriginal people, (Don 1985)

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Poverty and marginalization

The paucity of the Aboriginal people plays a unique role in their overrepresentation in crime, predominantly taking into account that not all poor people commit crime. This perspective can be supported by a study that was carried out in Quebec that featured the Aboriginal population of 25 reserves. It was discerned that remote, low-income societies had the least crime, compared to communities that had urban exposure and high income which generated the highest occurrence of crime (AJIC, 1999). However, in high-income societies, members found themselves marginalized from the greater urban society and according to Bond theory; the lack of cohesive links with the greater society would significantly influence the precipitation of antisocial behavior. Marginalization at this point is perceived as the protagonist of overrepresentation of the aboriginal people, but poverty is engrossed to compound the issue. The magnitude of poverty among the aboriginal people is of enormous proportions.

It is observed in the disproportionate distribution of opportunities, persistent soaring unemployment levels, low education, inadequate housing, and inferior living conditions, which breed the aggravation and resentment that leads to criminal activity. The resentment is not generated explicitly due to poverty; rather it is stimulated by the virtual comparison of prevailing conditions to those of broader society according to Bonds theory (Lisa, 1990). This in turn leads to the sagacity of being denied the resources that are accessible to others in society. In view of this research shows that more than 50% of Aboriginal families in Canada live below the poverty line, and this looks unfair when one compares it to 20% of non-Aboriginal families that live below the poverty line. (O’Connor, 1996). It is interesting to note that an exceptionally insignificant number the Aboriginal people are involved in profit-generating crimes like armed robbery, auto theft, drug trafficking or prostitution. Most of the crimes that they commit are petty in nature but the force involved is more often than not excessive.

Though the Canadian justice system seeks to grant impartiality on the rule that all citizens share common virtues, discrimination against Aboriginal people is inevitable, due to the essence of their cultural values and experiences that differ to a large extent from those of the prevailing society. The Canadian judicial system was designed to serve a population that is highly developed, knowledgeable in English or another international language like Spanish or French. However, many Aboriginal languages do not have words that are correspondent to the jargon of a Canadian judicial system that is poorly equipped with translation services (Sheillah, 1987). Translations are vague and usually have a different meaning in the language of the aboriginal people due to the fact that Aboriginal culture has a different perception of distance and time. This leads to obscure testimonies by Aboriginal witnesses in the courts, and consequently to an improper conviction. This is further compounded by the fact that Aboriginal people lack basic education for effective communication and judges regard employment as a sign of credibility albeit most Aboriginal people are no employed. All this lies upon a backdrop of policies that were etched into the Canadian laws, that were methodically intended to discriminate the Aboriginal people (Thorsten, 1938).

They include the denial of bail for low-income earners, irregular court sittings in Aboriginal communities and the imprisonment of those who fail to pay fines (DINA, 2001). The justice system has not supported Aboriginal people in enforcing the Canadian government’s pledges to them, in preserving their freedoms of credence, religious conviction, union and culture or in defending their claim to their lands whose loss was the basis of their poverty. The Aboriginal people in Canada are historically hunters and fishermen and the introduction of laws that sought to criminalize these activities definitely had discriminative and clear suppressive undertones. Research conducted based on Canadian justice system files revealed that lawyers spend less time with their Aboriginal clients and it should be noted that Aboriginal offenders are more than twice as likely to be imprisoned as other people (Curtis, 1989). Aboriginal people spend more time in pre-trial detention; they are more likely to be charged with various offences and are more likely to be denied bail as compared to non-Aboriginal people. Bond theory seeks to clarify that such overt intolerance is more or less likely to disconnect aboriginal people from the mainstream society leading to lack of proper social etiquette or conduct culminating in criminal connotations.

Social discrimination

The greater society has a pivotal role in sustaining the criminal mannerisms exhibited by the aboriginal people. Canada has for a long time been viewed as a racist culture and has had a history of racist policies and structures exclusively propelled by the government. The overrepresentation of the Aboriginal people in crime has to some extent been instigated by the discrimination posed by such a society either due to their difference in race, culture or due to values (Don, 1985). Aboriginal people are embittered by a society that was supposed to assimilate them but presently unwilling to absorb them due to their strong cultural ties. Side lined from equal opportunities of employment, state resources, education and normalcy, according to Bond theory such people feel no longer compelled to conform to the grand society. They retort with antisocial behavior that directly or indirectly is supposed to impair that society (Diane, 2001). Now the minority groups in what used to be their land, the Aboriginal people have to face intolerable amounts of affliction just to get by, under artificial conditions created by a partisan grander society. This group of people has been exposed to prejudice and subjective thinking from all corners of society including the government and justice system. Augmented with the fact that they were placed in reserves and their land taken away from them, they fell justified to articulate their displeasure in deviant conduct.

Conclusion

Criminologists all trying to establish the foundation of crime in general have put several theories forth. They include the Strain theory, Functionality theory, Ecological theory, Social disorganization theory and Conflict theory. Travis Hirschi’s Bond theory forms a good basis for the argument in overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in crime; for it suggests that, the process of socialization and social exploitation fabricates restraint in an individual decreasing the inclination to exhibit antisocial behaviors. (Diane 2001). It further implies that the people with whom an individual interacts with can directly or indirectly influence his or her action, as long as there is a weak connection of that individual to society. The reasons for overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in crime are strongly correlated to this theory and the reasons they cover a broad spectrum of subject matter. The consistent and systematic discrimination of the Aboriginal people is historically rooted to the first European settlers. However, the effects still lingered in the current generations of Aboriginal people. The Canadian government has made a diminutive effort in trying to control this issue but applies double standards by maintaining oppressive laws against the Aboriginal people. The government is responsible for social inequity, cultural subjugation and the loss sovereignty among the Aboriginal people. Much lobbying is needed to jolt the governments into action and help is needed in the rehabilitation of a community that almost doesn’t care.

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References

Curtis, T and Simon. (1989). Canadian Criminal Justice. Toronto: Butterworths.

Department of Indian and Northern Affairs-DINA. (2001). Highlights of Aboriginal Conditions, Part III: Economic Conditions. Criminal journal: Ottawa.

Diane, D. (2001.) Criminological Theories. Web.

Don, M. (1985). Patterns of Criminality and Correction among Native Offenders in Manitoba: A Longitudinal Analysis. Ottawa: Correctional Service of Canada

Elliott, C. (1985). Confronting Crime. New York: Pantheon Books.

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Lisa, H. B. (1990). A Rock and a Hard Place: Inside Canada’s Parole Board Toronto: Macmillan.

O’Connor, T. (1996). Control Theories of Crime. Web.

Sheilah M. M. (1987). Equality and Judicial Neutrality. Toronto: Carswell.

The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission –AJIC. (1999). Aboriginal Over-Representation. Web.

Thorsten, S. (1938) “Culture Conflict and Crime” Theories of Deviance. Chicago: Kniff.

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