May 21 is World Day for Cultural Diversity and Dialogue, which is a day that urges deeper understanding of diversity issues and how we could possibly learn to live more harmoniously together.
Cultural diversity is something that we spend a lot of time thinking about at LAO because it impacts the way in which our clients try to resolve their legal problems—or, in some cases, don’t even bother trying to assert their rights.
Our racialized communities strategy
Back in June 2016, when we first announced that we were developing a strategy to look at how we could better provide our services to racialized communities, we quickly noted the role that culture plays in some of the legal conflicts that they face.
We’ve provided grants to two separate organizations to help Black students who are facing disciplinary or suspension hearings. We’ve also funded test cases that focus on how implicit bias comes into play when police interact with men of colour.
In early consultations, community partners talked about disproportionately, disadvantaged youth face harsher school policies and then finding themselves increasingly involved in the criminal justice system—what they call a vicious cycle.
Why is it important to acknowledge cultural diversity?
It’s because of our different cultures that we wind up interacting with the legal system in completely different ways.
The Black community has long complained about being the target of over-policing and racial profiling. Police data from 2008 to mid‑2011 shows that the number of young Black and brown males aged 15 to 24 documented in each of the city’s 72 patrol zones is greater than the actual number of young men of colour living in those areas.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Canada’s South Asian and Middle Eastern communities have also found themselves becoming targets. Growing Islamophobia has also increased police focus on these communities.
Racialized groups often face barriers like immigration or refugee status which might make them reluctant to assert their rights or even know what these are. They may also be unable to communicate in an official language.
Especially troubling is when immigrant women without status are being abused—some women may fear the “shame” and “stigma” of reporting violence in addition to all of the other worries that come along with reporting. The Canadian Council on Social Development reported that a common concern among immigrant and refugee women was that the immigration procedures, including their sponsorship, were controlled by their partners. Too often, these women were often ill-informed about their status, their rights, and eligibility for any benefits.
The council added that, “Some ethnic and religious communities exert pressure on women to stay in their abusive relationships, and some emphasize staying with family and friends, rather than going to a shelter. In some communities, shelters are stigmatized as places for drug addicts and alcoholics, with no access to religious or ethnic foods or customs.”
What are we doing at LAO?
During the first phase of our consultation, when we were primarily talking to organizations that served racialized communities, we repeatedly heard how important it is for LAO’s staff and clinics to improve the way we serve these clients.
We know how important it is to train our staff so they understand what unconscious bias is and to improve their cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication.
This could mean a more nuanced way of asking questions that help staff figure out the best way to provide services that someone from a particular racialized community might need.
We also understand the importance of collecting race-based statistics so that we can prevent or address systemic barriers that people face when trying to solve their legal problems. It will allow us to plan special programs—and, ultimately, improve these and service delivery.
We routinely provide updates on our Racialized Communities Strategy on our website. If you would like to learn more, please visit us at legalaid.on.ca/RCS.