A Call for a Societal Anti-Racism Anti-Oppression Framework

Transformation of the Criminal Justice System:

A Call for a Societal Anti-Racism Anti-Oppression Framework


A white police officer’s knee on the neck of an immobilized Black man is a powerful analogy for the State’s violent repression of some of its citizenry.  Incidents of police violence caught on video are driving demands for transformative, societal change here in Hamilton, across Canada and around the world. We join that call as we share the pain and righteous rage communities are experiencing in response to this abuse. Canada was founded on racial injustice yet has a long history of denying that racism proliferates in this country. Finally, systemic racism has been acknowledged by government and institutional leaders and a broad coalition of people and organizations is demanding the dismantling of structural inequities. We join others in calling for the implementation of an anti-racism, anti-oppression framework as the foundation for this social change.

Community legal clinics have been working with low income individuals and communities in Hamilton for over forty years. It is our experience, and we know from evidence, that poverty marginalizes people in all aspects of their lives and is a key social determinant of health and inclusion. We also know that people experiencing poverty are disproportionately Indigenous, Black, racialized, female-identifying, people with disabilities including mental health, members of the 2S and LGBTQIAPGNC communities and newcomers.

As a mainstream, government-funded agency, we have been taking a critical look at how we contribute to the perpetuation of colonization and systemic racism and oppression.  It is an uncomfortable and unsettling process, one that requires honesty, education, listening, self-reflection and empathy. It requires a deep understanding of the history and current reality of white supremacy and how privilege influences people’s outcomes positively and negatively. It is also inspiring and motivating. We have embarked on a journey to develop and implement a robust Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression (ARAO) Plan. It is a framework for all decision-making, service delivery, community engagement, policy development and human resources, as well as all personal interactions.

This same ARAO lens must be the approach to transform the criminal justice system. It would influence every decision necessary to design laws, procedure, structures, institutions and processes, including governance, oversight and accountability measures. It would centre diverse people as the architects of change and amplify the voices of those who have been historically disempowered and silenced. It would recognize that the police are only one part of a larger state funded and operated system that must be wholly re-envisioned.

Hamilton Community Legal Clinic supports transformational change of the criminal justice system including investing in decriminalization, disarmament, demilitarization and alternatives to policing. We support the reallocation of resources to community-centred supports, including health, housing, education, youth, social development and programs that improve quality of life and community wellbeing.

We join the call for structural change, as opposed to incremental tweaks. We provide the following as examples of essential reforms. This list is not exhaustive, but illustrates a holistic, ARAO approach to meaningful, transformative change:

  • Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences
  • Eliminate offences in the Criminal Code designed to oppress particular groups
  • Decriminalize poverty, mental health and addiction
  • Implement evidence-based change and look to restorative justice models
  • Professionalize and demilitarize police and divert spending into community services
  • Change how oversight Boards are appointed and comprised to be representative of the community, and mandate governance training
  • Replace armed police with alternative first responders for calls related to mental health, addiction, houselessness and school discipline
  • End carding and destroy data collected through this practice
  • Halt all purchases of weapons by police until details of yearly budgets are made public and reviewed
  • Cease unwarranted ticketing and surveillance of people who are houseless and/or disabled
  • Terminate the School Resource Officer program in all school boards
  • Terminate streaming in Grade 9 immediately and all unofficial streaming starting from JK
  • Collect race-based and other social indicator data for policy analysis, planning and accountability (complying with privacy obligations for data use and preservation)

The time for change is now. And it must be transformative .