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Sources of data on Aboriginal people in Canada

There are several current and potential sources for data on Aboriginal people who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Police-reported data
Criminal courts data
Corrections data
Victim services data
Other sources of data on Aboriginal people

Police-reported data

The Uniform Crime Reporting Survey and the Homicide Survey

Both the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey and the Homicide Survey collect detailed information on incidents that come to the attention of police, including characteristics of the accused persons and the victims. Among these characteristics is Aboriginal Identity.

The Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey began in 1989 and collects detailed information on all offences. While not all police services in Canada are reporting to the Incident-based survey, the number continues to grow and by the end of 2003, the police services reporting to the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey represented 61% of the national volume of founded incidents reported to police. Other than a few regional forces in southern Ontario, the only major police force not currently reporting to the Incident-based Survey is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.1 It is expected that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will have all detachments converted to the Incident-based survey by the end of 2005. Once all detachments have converted and have submitted data to Statistics Canada for a full reporting year, it is anticipated that incident-based data will represent more than 90% of the national volume of substantiated crimes against the Criminal Code.

Presently, the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting survey contains a data variable called "Aboriginal Indicator" which asks police to report whether or not the individual involved in the incident is Aboriginal. This can be reported for all accused persons and for victims of violent violations (the Incident-based survey does not collect victim records for non-violent offences). Response choices for this variable are: Aboriginal, Non-Aboriginal and Unknown, which includes police refusal to collect.2 The definition of "Aboriginal" in the survey scoring guide for officers is consistent with the Census definition of Aboriginal Identity.3

The Homicide Survey has been the primary mechanism for the collection of national statistics on homicide in Canada since 1961. Information on the types and circumstances of homicide offences, as well as the characteristics of victims and accused involved, is provided by all police services.

Since 1997, the response categories on the Homicide Survey have been consistent with Census categories and definitions.4 The response categories for the Aboriginal identity of chargeable suspects on the Homicide Survey are: Not collected/released by police force; Non-aboriginal origin; North American Indian; Métis; Inuit (Eskimo); Not provided by the chargeable suspect, and; Unknown. Except for "Not provided by the chargeable suspect," response categories for the victim are the same.

The Homicide Survey and Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey can potentially respond to many of the data needs pertaining to Aboriginal people outlined earlier. Both data bases are rich data sources of information for several reasons:

  • The Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey provides information on all persons in contact with the criminal justice system in relation to criminal offences, whereas data from other areas of the criminal justice system speak only to a subset of persons who proceed to the courts and corrections sectors of the criminal justice system.

  • The two surveys provide information on victims of violent crimes.

  • The two surveys capture detailed information such as presence and use of weapons, location of the incident, age and sex of the accused and the victim, and relationship of the accused to the victim.

  • Records from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey can be linked to court records in order to analyze a broader scope of criminal justice and social policy issues. The potential exists to link police-reported and courts data to corrections records.

  • Individual records from the Incident-based Survey can be geo-coded in order to provide crime analysis at lower geographic levels. These geo-coded data can then be combined with socio-demographic data at the same geographic level to allow for more informed analyses of crime rates and patterns. This type of analysis has already been undertaken by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and work in this area continues.

Quality of police-reported data on Aboriginal identity

The obstacles police face in collecting information on Aboriginal identity, as well as concerns about the legal authority to collect it, have negatively impacted the quality of this information in police-reported crime statistics, particularly those from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. In fact, the Police Information and Statistics (POLIS) Committee of the Canadian Association of the Chiefs of Police (CACP), whose mandate is to ensure the reporting of quality data to Statistics Canada through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, recommended in the Fall of 2001 that the data variables collecting Aboriginal Identity be removed from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey citing a number of concerns including data quality and possible conflicts with privacy legislation.

Discussions with this committee have revealed that police often use visual identification to gather descriptive information about an individual and that completion of information on Aboriginal identity is often left to the officer's discretion. While self-identification by the individual would produce the most reliable information, members of the POLIS Committee have indicated that front-line officers are reluctant to ask any questions of the accused or victim about their Aboriginal identity. Not only can this be awkward for officers, but such questions can further aggravate an already charged situation and prove insensitive for victims. As such, many attending officers decline to report the information or make a determination based on either their own visual assessment or the context of the incident, a method which can impact data quality because of the risk of misidentification.

Because homicide investigations tend to be lengthy and detailed, and given the small number of homicides each year, the issues above do not have the same negative impact on the coverage and quality of data from the Homicide Survey. However, there exists a perception among police that privacy laws prohibit police from sharing, for national statistical purposes, data which they are already collecting for other legitimate purposes, such as investigation. This perception has, in turn, affected the coverage of data from both the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey and the Homicide Survey.

Collection and reporting

Tables 1 and 2 demonstrate the inconsistency in the reporting of data on the Aboriginal identity of accused persons and victims through the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. Overall, the reporting of Aboriginal Identity as 'unknown' is quite high: 48% for accused and 44% for victims. Trend data indicate that rates of 'unknown' have been consistently high. To provide some insight into reporting activity in each province and variations across police services, Table 3 presents data from a selection of services. It is evident that some of these police services, as a result of policy, systematically do not report these data by classifying the Aboriginal identity of accused persons and victims as 'Unknown' (which includes police refusal to report).

Table 1. Aboriginal Identity of accused, by type of police service, 2003. Opens new browser window.

Table 1. Aboriginal Identity of accused, by type of police service, 2003

Table 2. Aboriginal Identity of victims, by type of police service, 2003. Opens new browser window.

Table 2. Aboriginal Identity of victims, by type of police service, 2003

Table 3. Aboriginal Identity of accused and victim for selected Incident-based UCR respondents, 2003. Opens new browser window.

Table 3. Aboriginal Identity of accused and victim for selected Incident-based UCR respondents, 2003

Tables 4 and 5 illustrate that, among police services, the overall reporting of Aboriginal Identity as 'Unknown' to the Homicide Survey is very small for both the accused and the victim (3%, respectively). These tables also illustrate the impact of the decision by certain police services to not report Aboriginal identity data to the Homicide Survey.

Table 4. Persons accused of homicide, by Aboriginal Identity and type of police service, Canada, 2003. Opens new browser window.

Table 4. Persons accused of homicide, by Aboriginal Identity and type of police service, Canada, 2003

Table 5. Victims of homicide, by Aboriginal Identity and type of police service, Canada, 2003. Opens new browser window.

Table 5. Victims of homicide, by Aboriginal Identity and type of police service, Canada, 2003

Among services that report data, the methods for determining Aboriginal identity vary across and within police departments. While no formal audit of the quality of data from individual police services has been conducted, in 2004, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics consulted with police departments presented in Table 3 regarding their policies and practices for collecting Aboriginal Identity. The Centre found that just Fredericton, Sûreté du Québec, Moose Jaw, Prince Alberta and Calgary police services required officers to complete this information for the accused person and that only Sûreté du Québec, Prince Albert and Calgary also deemed the field on Aboriginal Identity mandatory for the victims. These policies are internal to the police services and can still result in relatively high levels of 'unknown'. However, mandatory reporting of this information, which points to the importance seen in collecting these data, is the first step toward achieving consistent information and improving coverage of the Aboriginal Identity variable in police-reported data.

Legal authority

The policing community in general has raised concern that the collection and reporting of Aboriginal Identity to Statistics Canada may contravene federal, provincial or territorial privacy legislation. This concern is one of various reasons behind some police services' systematic non-reporting of Aboriginal Identity to Statistics Canada and, in fact, was one of the main concerns that led the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop reporting these data to the Homicide Survey in 2001 (Tables 4 and 5). As with other police services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had also decided to not report the identity of Aboriginal people through the Incident-based Uniform Reporting Survey. Given that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is largely responsible for policing northern communities in Canada where high populations of Aboriginal people reside, as well as in rural and reserve areas in the prairie and western provinces, the absence of these data present a considerable limitation to the coverage and utility of the data.

In response to these concerns, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics sought legal positions from all provinces and territories and from the Department of Justice Canada in 2003. The position of the Department of Justice Canada regarding the federal Privacy Act, legislation which governs the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is that the collection of these data is permitted when the collection of the data relates directly to the preparation of crime reports and the conduct of criminal investigations. Their position further acknowledges that the information in such reports can also be helpful for policy development and statistical purposes. Their position states that it is permissible to disclose these data for research or statistical purposes. In other words, according the federal Privacy Act, any data currently being collected by police services for legitimate reasons, such as investigation, can be shared for research and statistical purposes. Since the Royal Canadian Mounted Police provide all policing services in the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the Justice Canada position applies in these jurisdictions as well.

All provinces, except Ontario and New Brunswick, also supplied legal positions. The positions provided by British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Manitoba support the collection of Aboriginal data for investigative and appropriate policy, program and research purposes. These provinces also supported the transmission of these data to Statistics Canada. In Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island, local and municipal police are not included within the provisions of the provincial freedom of information and privacy legislation. Therefore, local and municipal police in these jurisdictions are free to collect Aboriginal data for statistical purposes. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the collection of data on Aboriginal identity is authorized for the purposes of law enforcement or for operating programs or activities. In Nova Scotia, under the Provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the collection of data on Aboriginal identity is also authorized for the purposes of law enforcement and may be disclosed for research purposes if the head of the public body collecting the information has approved conditions relating to the security and confidentiality of the information.

The legal positions provided confirm that, in those jurisdictions that responded, privacy or freedom of information legislation do not expressly forbid police from collecting information on Aboriginal identity, nor do the legislation forbid the reporting of these data to Statistics Canada for national statistical purposes. It should be noted, however, that concerns remain among some police services, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, regarding the use of data in their current state for national statistical purposes.

Criminal courts data

The Adult Criminal Court Survey and the Youth Court Survey

The Adult Criminal Court Survey and the Youth Court Survey provide national databases of statistical information on the processing of cases that involve charges under the Criminal Code of Canada and other federal statutes through the adult and youth criminal court systems. The Adult Criminal Court Survey represents approximately 90% of the national adult criminal caseload at the provincial court level.5 The Youth Court Survey is a census of all cases appearing before youth courts in Canada.

Presently, the Aboriginal identity of persons appearing in court is not included in the national data requirements for the Youth Court Survey or the Adult Criminal Court Survey. However, work is currently underway to integrate these two surveys. Included in the integrated survey is the addition of the data element "Aboriginal Identity", the response categories for which include: Aboriginal, Non-Aboriginal, and Unknown/Not Stated. The definition of Aboriginal Identity includes the dimensions covered by the Census measurement of Aboriginal Identity, meaning persons who are North American Indian, Métis or Inuit, or those who are registered (or Treaty) according to the Indian Act.6

This data element, to which jurisdictions have the option to respond, was added due to the broad interest in social policy questions regarding Aboriginal people. Despite the addition of this data element, consultations with all jurisdictions regarding the development of the new integrated survey revealed that the vast majority of jurisdictions do not collect this information in their existing court information systems and have no current plans to do so because this information is not considered necessary for the purposes of court administration.

Although information on the Aboriginal identity of the accused may not be relevant to court administration, the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Gladue (1999, 1 S.C.R.) is but one example that illustrates the relevance of these data in terms of broader criminal justice policy. In this case, the Supreme Court was called upon to consider how section 718.2 (e) of the Criminal Code should be interpreted and applied. This provision is among several sentencing guidelines that were codified in 1994. Section 718.2 (e) states:

718.2 A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:
(e) all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.

In its judgement, the Supreme Court asserts that this section is definitely remedial as the intention of it is to address the "serious problem of overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in prisons and to encourage sentencing judges to have recourse to a restorative approach to sentencing." The Court also states that section 718.2 (e) directs sentencing judges to consider each Aboriginal accused individually, "but also differently [from non-Aboriginals] because the circumstances of Aboriginal people are unique" (Ibid, p.689). It goes further by placing the onus on the courts to play an active role in applying this provision through fact finding about the systemic or background factors that have contributed to the Aboriginal accused's appearance before the courts and to also investigate alternatives to incarceration: "There is judicial duty to give the provision's remedial purpose real force" (Ibid, p.698).

National statistical information on the Aboriginal identity of persons appearing before court is one way of evaluating the effectiveness of section 718.2 (e). Further, by confirming the duty of the courts to consider an Aboriginal person's circumstances and to examine alternatives to incarceration, the Gladue decision indirectly points to the importance of information beyond just Aboriginal Identity, but information on an Aboriginal person's community affiliations and culture. Given the diversity of culture and traditions across the more than 600 First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, more detailed information on the individual would enhance not only responses by the courts, but responses by the justice system as a whole.

In the absence of information on Aboriginal Identity in court records, however, this information gap may be overcome through analytical projects linking police-reported records to court records. However, this is dependent on an improvement in the coverage and quality of police-reported information on Aboriginal Identity. Further, the methods required to reliably link police and courts records usually reduce the number of records available for analysis.

Corrections data

There are several national surveys that collect information on adults and youth who enter the correctional system and that include information on Aboriginal identity. These are the Adult Corrections Survey and the Youth Custody and Community Services Survey. Prior to 2003/04, the Youth Alternative Measures Survey provided information on youth admitted to alternative measures programs. Since the implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act on April 1, 2003, the Extrajudicial Sanctions Survey has replaced the Youth Alternative Measures Survey.

The Adult Corrections Survey

The Adult Corrections Survey currently collects aggregate caseload and case characteristics data in all provinces and territories in Canada. The categories available to report on the identity of the individual in the Adult Corrections Survey are Aboriginal, Non-Aboriginal or Identity Unknown/Not Stated. Aboriginal is defined as "all North American Indians, Métis, Inuit (Eskimos); treaty and non-treaty Indians; status and non-status Indians," a definition which is consistent with the Census measurement of Aboriginal Identity.7

Aboriginal Identity is routinely collected upon intake of the individual into the correctional system for each jurisdiction and the Correctional Service of Canada. The collection of Aboriginal Identity in the Adult Corrections Survey as a general indicator is consistent across jurisdictions, with negligible reporting of Aboriginal Identity as 'unknown'. Excluding Newfoundland and Labrador where data were unavailable, less than 1% of all sentenced admissions to provincial/territorial custody in 2002/03 were reported as 'Aboriginal Identity Unknown/Not Stated' (Table 6). For probation admissions, 2% were reported as Unknown/Not Stated overall, with Quebec and Saskatchewan reporting higher rates of Unknown/Not stated (Table 7).

Table 6. Adult sentenced admissions to provincial/territorial custody, by Aboriginal Identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2000/01 to 2002/03. Opens new browser window.

Table 6. Adult sentenced admissions to provincial/territorial custody, by Aboriginal Identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2000/01 to 2002/03

Table 7. Adult probation admissions, by Aboriginal Identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2000/01 to 2002/03. Opens new browser window.

Table 7. Adult probation admissions, by Aboriginal Identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2000/01 to 2002/03

The Youth Custody and Community Services Survey and the Youth Alternative Measures Survey

The Youth Custody and Community Services Survey and the Youth Alternative Measures Survey also collect Aboriginal Identity on an aggregate and national level for youth who are admitted to the correctional system. Like the Adult Corrections Survey, the categories available to report on the status of the individual in both youth surveys are Aboriginal, Non-Aboriginal or Identity Unknown/Not Stated (Tables 8 and 9). The surveys on youth define Aboriginal as North American Indian, Métis or Inuit; and, those who are registered or not registered under the Indian Act (Treaty).

In terms of the Youth Custody and Community Services Survey, the frequency of reporting Aboriginal status as 'unknown' is relatively low and only Quebec's system is unequipped to capture information on Aboriginal Identity. As illustrated in Table 8, 2% of youths admitted to secure custody were reported with an Aboriginal Identity as Unknown/Not Stated in 2002/03.

Table 8. Cases of youths admitted to secure custody, by Aboriginal Identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2002/03. Opens new browser window.

Table 8. Cases of youths admitted to secure custody, by Aboriginal Identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2002/03

Overall, reporting to the Youth Alternative Measures survey is inconsistent and the frequency of jurisdictions to report Aboriginal Identity as 'unknown' is usually high (Table 9). As a result of the new Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Youth Alternative Measures survey was replaced by the Extrajudicial Sanctions Survey. Data quality issues associated with the underlying administrative systems are not resolved.

Table 9. Cases of youths reaching agreement in alternative measures, by Aboriginal Identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2002/03. Opens new browser window.

Table 9. Cases of youths reaching agreement in alternative measures, by Aboriginal Identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2002/03

The Integrated Correctional Services Survey

The Adult Corrections Survey and the Youth Custody and Community Services Survey have been redeveloped into an integrated microdata survey, meaning one survey will collect individual records for each adult and youth. The Integrated Correctional Services Survey allows for detailed analysis of person and case characteristics and these data have the potential to be linked to court and police records to inform a broader range of criminal justice and social policy issues. Within this survey, the response categories for the data element on Aboriginal Identity have been expanded to enhance the detail available for the category 'Aboriginal'. These response categories are as follows: North American Indian; Métis; Inuit; Non-Status Indian; and, Aboriginal, but group unknown. These categories, when combined, result in a measure of Aboriginal Identity that is consistent with the definition used in the Census of Canada.8 The Aboriginal Identity element also includes as response categories: Not collected, and Collected but not available.

Presently, the Integrated Correctional Services Survey is being implemented in several provinces. While reporting trends of Aboriginal Identity are currently unavailable at a national level, it is expected that the current quality and coverage of the Aboriginal Identity information will be maintained with the movement from the aggregated approach to the integrated microdata approach. While no changes in the quality or coverage of the Aboriginal Indicator in the integrated microdata survey are expected, the microdata will enable more robust analysis than the aggregate administrative data currently being reported to the Adult Corrections Survey and the Youth Custody and Community Services Survey. Detailed records on each individual entering the corrections system will permit the analyses of specific issues related to corrections, such as on the complexity of individual case histories and reinvolvement with the correctional system. Individual records from the Integrated Correctional Services Survey will also have the potential to be linked to records reported through the policing and court surveys to examine broader justice questions related, for instance, to the progression of cases through the justice system, re-involvement and re-offending.

Quality of corrections data on Aboriginal identity

Corrections data are considered to be of relatively sound quality and have historically been the primary source of information for analyzing the representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system. The level of quality is due mostly to the nature of the operational objectives of correctional services, which includes the delivery of programs and services to individuals. Consequently, correctional systems often have a vested interest in collecting characteristic data to facilitate the delivery of correctional programming. For example, many programs and services in correctional systems are designed for specific groups, such as for Aboriginal people. Reliable data on the number of Aboriginal people helps to determine which programs and services should exist and/or be developed to meet various needs. The intake process of individuals into the correctional system allows for the collection of this data to facilitate such program delivery in a consistent manner.

Although corrections data on Aboriginal Identity are generally comprehensive, data quality cautions do exist. Given that the collection of Aboriginal Identity in correctional services is based on self-identification, individuals may be more or less inclined, depending on the circumstances, to self-identify as Aboriginal. For example, individuals who fear discrimination may be unwilling to identify themselves as Aboriginal, whereas the availability of culturally-sensitive programming may encourage offenders to self-identify as Aboriginal. In fact, trend data of admissions by Aboriginal origin show that the proportion of Aboriginal people in custody has increased slightly in many jurisdictions. Similar to increases in the Aboriginal population as measured by the Census of population, this increase may be partly attributable to individuals developing a greater sense of affiliation with their Aboriginal identity and are therefore self-identifying as Aboriginal more often than in the past.

Corrections data are also subject to some of the data quality issues generally associated with administrative data. Generally, administrative records in correctional systems are intended to serve the program delivery and administrative functions of corrections. These systems are often jurisdictionally-specific and focus on local, provincial or federal system or program requirements. Consequently, source data may need to be converted, or 'mapped' to Statistics Canada national data requirements. To date, while there have been no issues to question the reliability of the data, there have also been no data quality audits.

To provide more insight on data quality, in 2001, the corrections jurisdictions were informally canvassed by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics about the methods used to determine Aboriginal Identity. It was found that, generally speaking, self-identification by the offender is the predominant and more pragmatic approach taken though, in some instances, visual identification by corrections staff does take place. Consultations have found that there exists little in the way of clear policy surrounding the identification, classification, definition and collection of this information. Manitoba Justice, however, has developed the following guidelines with respect to data collection within correctional systems in Manitoba. These guidelines have been approved by the Aboriginal community within Manitoba.

  • Ask the offender if he/she identifies himself/herself in being of Aboriginal ancestry.
  • If the offender affirms that he/she is Aboriginal, staff should ask their status.
  • Status would be identified as status (i.e. First Nation), non-status or Métis.
  • If an offender declares himself/herself as status, have them identify his/her band.
  • In all cases staff should also ensure that their address is accurate.

As with other sectors of the criminal justice system, standardizing data collection at the corrections level and ensuring categories within administrative systems are compatible with national data requirements would enhance data quality. However, these initiatives are beyond the control of Statistics Canada whose responsibility is to provide standards and definitions for survey concepts and to assess the degree of compliance with these standards. Further, assessments regarding compliance are not continuous and are normally performed only when a jurisdiction makes changes to the interface used to report administrative data to Statistics Canada.

Victim services data

The unique needs of Aboriginal victims have been recognized by a number of groups, and information on the availability and use of services could help inform policy and programming for Aboriginal victims. For instance, according to the 2003 Final Report of the Ad Hoc Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group Reviewing Spousal Abuse Policies and Legislation, meeting the needs of Aboriginal people who are victims of domestic abuse is critical. As well, the Federal government's Family Violence Initiative's Year Five Report also affirms that, with regards to family violence, providing for the unique needs of specific communities, including Aboriginal communities, within Canada's diverse population continues to be a "pressing challenge" (Health Canada, 2002).

The Transition Home Survey

The Transition Home Survey is a biennial survey that collects national aggregate information on residential services for abused women and their children in order to profile services and clients served. From this survey, the number of shelters on or serving reserve areas and the number that have culturally-sensitive programming for Aboriginal women and children can be determined. However, no information on the Aboriginal identity of clients is gathered. Such information could prove useful for assessing service needs, particularly in urban areas. Without adequate support and instruction, however, the collection of this information could be a challenge for shelters. For instance, many do not currently maintain records that would contain this type of information about residents. Further, if required to ask residents to identify themselves as Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, without adequate support and guidance, shelter workers could face the same concerns regarding sensitivities that have been expressed by police.

The Victim Services Survey

In 2003, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics conducted the Victim Services Survey through funding by the Policy Centre for Victim Issues at the Department of Justice Canada. Similar to the Transition Home Survey, the information collected through this first-ever survey provides a profile of victim service agencies, the services they offer and the people they assisted. The survey was intended to be a census of system-based, police-based and court-based victim service agencies, sexual assault centres and financial benefit programs for victims of crime. Selected community-based agencies were also surveyed.

From this survey, we know the number of services that have specialized programming for Aboriginal people, the number that can provide services in Aboriginal languages, and the number that target victims of residential school abuse for service. For some jurisdictions, information is available on the number that serve reserve areas and that are actually located on reserves. The Victim Services Survey is an aggregate survey and does not gather any information on the Aboriginal identity of persons assisted.

During the development of the Victim Services Survey, several stakeholders identified information on the Aboriginal identity of the persons assisted as a priority for developing and assessing policies and programming. However, further consultations with service providers revealed that many would not be able to provide these data because of operational or policy constraints. The data collection issues raised by service providers for victims of crime mirrored those raised by the police. Concerns were primarily related to the legal authority to collect and report this information and to the sensitivity or appropriateness of asking victims seeking help to identify themselves as Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal.

Other sources of data on Aboriginal people

General Social Survey on Victimization

Statistics Canada's General Social Survey on Victimization is a source of information on the victimization of Canadians and their perceptions of crime and of the criminal justice system. The survey is a general population survey of individuals 15 years and older and is conducted every five years. Socio-demographic information is collected and respondents are asked about their experiences with certain types of crimes.

The 1999 General Social Survey on Victimization was the first attempt to measure the ethno-cultural background of respondents. Through a random telephone survey, a question was adapted from the Census that allowed respondents to self-identify their ethno-cultural background. Survey respondents, who self-identified themselves as Aboriginal, including North American Indian, Métis, or Inuit, were considered to be Aboriginal people.

The 1999 General Social Survey included Canadians living in the ten provinces but excluded the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Following consultations with territorial statistical agencies and various Statistics Canada experts, it was decided that the 1999 General Social Survey would be tested in these territories.9 The main objective of the testing was to assess whether reliable estimates of criminal victimization could be obtained in the territories, where high concentrations of Aboriginal people reside. Testing in the North was completed by telephone, based on a sample of 1,000 interviews. While response rates were higher in the Yukon (84.8%) and the Northwest Territories (82.5%) than they were for Canada overall (81.3%), undercoverage of the target population was encountered. Consequently, these data were not released.10 In order to address the data quality issues identified through this testing, a sampling frame from the Canadian Community Health Survey frame was used in the 2004 General Social Survey on Victimization to more accurately target populations in the North.

In general, there are some limitations or factors to consider when using data from the General Social Survey on Victimization to analyze Aboriginal populations. First, the small number of Aboriginal people in both the 1999 and 2004 survey sample, as well as the lack of over-sampling, may restrict the depth of analysis that can be done. However, since rates of victimization are generally higher among Aboriginal populations compared to non-Aboriginal populations, the number of victims in the survey sample is usually large enough to permit cross-tabulations of the data and reliable estimates of the nature and extent of victimization among Aboriginal people. For example, according to the 1999 General Social Survey, it was found that rates of non-spousal violent victimization among Aboriginal people were two and one-half times higher than the national rate (206 incidents per 1,000 versus 81 per 1,000) (Mihorean, 2001; Statistics Canada, 2001b).

Second, as mentioned, a limitation of the 1999 General Social Survey is that it excluded the territories where high concentrations of Aboriginal people reside. While the 2004 General Social Survey includes the territories, the reliability of data is still to be determined. Third, comparisons between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations should be made with the consideration that the Aboriginal population is younger, on average, than the non-Aboriginal population. According to the 2001 Census of Canada, the median age for the Aboriginal population was 25 years, while that of the non-Aboriginal population was at an all-time high of 38 years. This difference is relevant given that the General Social Survey does not collect information from Canadians under the age of 15 and that the risk of victimization declines with age. Finally, the General Social Survey collects data from respondents through telephone interviews using a random digit dialing technique and, while this does not exclude on-reserve populations, some anecdotal evidence suggests that telephone ownership may be lower on reserves and in remote areas (Brzozowski & Mihorean, 2002).

Despite some limitations, the General Social Survey on Victimization is a rich source of data for several reasons. In addition to collecting data on criminal incidents that are reported to police, information on criminal victimization which is not reported to police is also obtained. Consequently, data are collected on the nature and extent of victimization so that rates of victimization, including rates of spousal and multiple victimization, can be determined. Moreover, the survey collects information on various risk factors of victimization, including socio-economic and socio-demographic factors, as well as protective measures taken to avoid criminal victimization. This information allows for comparisons among various groups of people, including between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

The Census of Population

The Census of Population is the main source for population counts on Aboriginal people in Canada. This survey provides population counts by age and sex for North American Indian, Métis and Inuit people. In addition, information is collected on language, ancestral origin, status and affiliation with First Nations. Census respondents self-identify their Aboriginal affiliation. For each Census, there are normally some Indian reserves and Indian settlements where enumeration is either not permitted or is interrupted before it can be completed (77 of these geographic areas in the 1996 Census and 30 in the 2001 Census). The impact of the missing data is very small for higher level geographic areas (Canada, provinces, Census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations), but the impact can be significant for smaller areas where the affected areas account for a higher proportion of the population.

The Aboriginal Peoples Survey

The Aboriginal Peoples Survey is a post-censal survey and was first conducted by Statistics Canada in 1991. As a result of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People's final report, the federal government mandated Statistics Canada to conduct a second Aboriginal Peoples Survey following the 2001 Census. It surveyed about 117,000 individuals to collect information on the lifestyles and living conditions of Aboriginal people. While the core of the survey was directed to those aged 15 years and older, there was an additional component to collect information on children and youth. As well, there were supplemental questions specifically for Métis people and persons 15 years and older residing in Inuit communities. Examples of topics covered include education, language, labour activity, income, health, mobility and housing.

Other Statistics Canada surveys

Surveys on other topics at Statistics Canada, such as those listed below, collect data on Aboriginal identity. However, with the exception of the Aboriginal Entrepreneurs Survey, limited information is available from these because of the small number of Aboriginal people surveyed. Some of these surveys collect information that can provide some insightful contextual information regarding Aboriginal people and crime, such as information on income, education, health, etc.

  • Aboriginal Entrepreneurs Survey
  • Canadian Community Health Survey
  • International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey
  • Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics
  • Youth in Transition Survey and Program for International Student Assessment
  • Adult Education and Training Survey
  • General Social Survey: Time Use and Social Engagement (Cycle 17)
  • General Social Survey: Social Support and Aging (Cycle 16)
  • General Social Survey: Access to and Use of Communications Technology (Cycle 14)

Statistics Canada's Aboriginal Data Initiative

In light of the need for data on Aboriginal people and the challenges in collecting these data, Statistics Canada was asked by the federal government in 2002 to develop a "blueprint" for a comprehensive Aboriginal statistical program that would meet the information needs of Aboriginal groups, governments and other stakeholders. This two year project has three components, including consultation, data development, and training and skills development. In particular, the project includes evaluating the feasibility of developing an ongoing statistical program that will permit the collection of integrated information and outcomes measures in the areas of social, economic and First Nations public sector statistics through the development of household surveys, population estimates and projections and public-sector financial statistics. The feasibility study also includes assessing the training and statistical needs of First Nation, Inuit, Non-Status Indians and Métis people.

If implemented, the Aboriginal Data Initiative projects will produce information that parallels what is currently available for the non-Aboriginal population from these sources as well as information that is relevant and meaningful to Aboriginal peoples. The Aboriginal Data Initiative will also provide training and skill development to First Nation, Non-Status Indians, Inuit, and Métis people pertaining to the production, collection, compilation and analysis of statistics.

Other administrative data on Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system

Police, court and corrections data that are reported to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at a national level all originate from individual records management systems in the jurisdictions. As such, any of these types of systems that collect data on Aboriginal identity are potentially an additional source of information as they likely contain other information not collected at a national level. For instance, the National Parole Board collects information on Aboriginal persons with regard to conditional release. In addition, the Yukon Territory collects information on the First Nations status of sentenced adults and youth.

Jurisdictions may have sources of data other than the records management systems that are used to feed into national surveys at Statistics Canada. For instance, the Aboriginal Court Worker Program is a joint-funded initiative between the federal and provincial/territorial governments designed to provide third-party assistance to Aboriginal adults and youth accused before the courts. The program operates in 8 jurisdictions: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Under the funding agreement, programs are requested to report a set of standard aggregate data on a quarterly basis to Justice Canada. While some jurisdictions, such as Manitoba, report complete, consistent data, there are variations in levels of reporting and quality of data among several jurisdictions. Justice Canada is currently working with the jurisdictions to improve data quality and coverage.


1 Police services that have not switched to the Incident-based Survey report aggregate crime statistics to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

2 These response categories reflect the older version of the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey to which only a few police services continue to report. Under the most recent version of the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, the response categories are: Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal, Police Refusal, Accused/Victim Refusal and Unknown. In order to provide a more comprehensive view of all police services, the data in this report are presented according to the categories of the older version of the survey.

3 See note 2.

4 See note 2.

5 In addition to some minor qualifications regarding survey coverage, it should be noted that the Adult Criminal Court Survey does not receive data from Manitoba and from Quebec's 87 municipal courts. Further, no data are provided from superior courts in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

6 See note 2.

7 See note 2.

8 See note 2.

9 At the time of the 1999 General Social Survey, Nunavut was just being formed as a territory.

10 For further detail, refer to: Brzozowski, J. and Mihorean, K. 2002. Technical Report on the Analysis of Small Groups in the 1999 General Social Survey. Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85F0036XIE. Ottawa: Industry Canada.


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