Black people in Ontario spend more time in jail awaiting trial than white people, even when charged with the same type of crime, according to data recently released by the province.
Government officials admit it’s yet another systemic barrier faced by minorities as they manoeuvre through the justice system, and say they are working to find solutions.
But legal advocates say Ontario’s bail system has become one of the “most onerous in the country” and the province is simply offering a “colour-blind approach to a colour-coded problem.”
“There is systemic anti-Black racism in that there are many in the legal system who are not trained, encouraged or directed to consider the systemic barriers facing African-Canadians when they call for a surety,” said Anthony Morgan, who specializes in human rights law at Falconers LLP.
A surety is a friend or family member who agrees to supervise the accused in the community and forfeit a specified sum of money if bail conditions are violated.
“If you look at the stats of socio-economic marginalization, African-Canadians are dramatically overrepresented in unemployment, underemployment and poverty rates,” he said “So when you call on that same community to have to present a surety, there are barriers.”
The data, which spans 2011 to 2016, includes more than 20 categories of crime, ranging from homicide to fraud to impaired driving. In the most recent data, from 2015-16, there were just over 6,000 cases involving Black people and more than 31,000 cases involving white people. Some of these people would have been in custody on more than one occasion.
In more than half the categories in the bail data, Black people were in jail, on average, longer than white people, although in a few cases not as long as other minority groups.