Data Sources on Indigenous Victimization

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July 2017

Research and Statistics Division

Five national sources of administrative data within the justice system on Indigenous people

There are five national sources of administrative data from within the justice system that report on Indigenous people’s contact with police and the corrections system: three are corrections-level surveys and two are police-level surveys.Footnote 1

Heavy reliance on the General Social Survey on Criminal Victimization

Partly as a consequence of the data gaps that exist within the justice system, research into the victimization of Indigenous people in Canada has relied heavily on the General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization as a source of statistical data. The GSS on Victimization, which is carried out by Statistics Canada every five years, was most recently carried out in 2014. The GSS allows an analysis of self-reported rates of specific forms of victimization, such as robbery or family violence, with other social and demographic factors such as age, gender and the relationship between the victim and the accused.

Evolution of the GSS on Victimization

The 1999 GSS on Victimization was the first cycle to conduct telephone interviews in the North, but the findings were not released due to representativeness issues. The results of the 2004 cycle were released, however, the report urged extreme caution in interpreting the data due to several limitations and challenges. Many have noted that relying on telephone surveys inadequately represented the experiences of many marginalized people, particularly women, who either could not be reached by phone or did not speak French or English, or refused to participate.Footnote 2 The 2009 cycle added in-person interviews in the three territories to supplement the telephone surveys. However, comparison between provincial and territorial data were to be made with caution due to the underrepresentation of the Inuit population in Nunavut. With improvements to the survey and an increase in the number of in-person interviews, the 2014 GSS on Criminal Victimization was the first to present combined provincial and territorial data on Indigenous people.

2014 Homicide Survey first cycle to have complete information on Indigenous identity

Between 2003 and 2013, the Indigenous identityFootnote 3 of about half of victims and accused persons in a homicide case was reported as unknown. The 2014 Homicide Survey was the first cycle to have more complete information on the Indigenous identity of victims and accused persons in a homicide case and only 3% were reported as unknown.Footnote 4

2015 Homicide Survey presents special analysis on casual acquaintances

The 2015 homicide survey presented a special analysis of homicides of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women committed by casual acquaintances.Footnote 5 This special analysis examined cases between 1980 and 2015, where police reported that 18% of Indigenous female victims and 11% of non-Indigenous female victims were killed by a ‘casual acquaintance’. The results showed that of the total number of female homicide victims killed by a casual acquaintance, 24% were of Indigenous identity. The analysis found that 38% of Indigenous female victims killed by a casual acquaintance were “co-substance users” with the perpetrator.Footnote 6

Gaps in disaggregated data on Indigenous people and the Canadian justice system

An examination of the way in which data is collected on Indigenous involvement in the criminal justice system was undertaken by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS).Footnote 7 The authors of the resulting report note that Canadian commissions and inquiries have repeatedly highlighted the gaps in disaggregated data on Indigenous people and the Canadian justice system. An example of one issue noted was the need for the consistent definition of terms such as “Aboriginal” across surveys and reporting agencies. Collecting information on Indigenous origin and identity was also a challenge in the recent Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) research initiative on missing and murdered Indigenous women. First Nations people are registered status Indians, whose Indigenous identity can be ascertained regardless of whether the victim is incapacitated. Other than that group, Indigenous identity is only determined through self-identification rather than being ascribed by police and other front-line responders, which causes additional challenges, for example, when the victim is incapacitated, missing or murdered. The RCMP also identified the lack of definitions and comparable datasets among agencies and jurisdictions across Canada.

Earlier reports questioned the quality and quantity of reliable data dealing with Indigenous victimization.Footnote 8  Though this remains a gap, information has improved over the years.Footnote 9

GSS a tool that continues to improve

Though there has been a positive evolution of data collection methods for the GSS, the survey remains limited as a research tool for examining Indigenous victimization.Footnote 10 A lack of available statistical information may lead to the underestimation of the full extent of violent victimization of Indigenous people in Canada while also threatening to distort Canada’s understanding of the causes and contexts of this violence. A significant gap is that the GSS does not document victims’ experiences in the justice system itself.Footnote 11 It is important to note, however, that Statistics Canada continues to work with partners to improve the quality of its many surveys.

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