Criminology

Most of the criminological research in Canada has been done at those universities where centres focusing on research have evolved. The Université de Montréal established Canada's first School of Criminology with Denis Szabo in 1960.

Morin, Guy Paul
Released after 10 years in prison for a murder that genetic evidence proved he did not commit (courtesy Maclean's).

Criminology

At the beginning of the 20th century, criminology was primarily limited to explaining the behaviour of those who committed crimes. Since then criminologists have examined the characteristics of societies, the clash between cultural values, family characteristics and a variety of social factors. Studies of prisons initially focused on individual inmates but the "culture" of inmate society was being looked at by the 1930s. For most criminologists, criminal behaviour is now viewed as something integral to a complex society rather than as something inherent in individuals. Recently, criminologists have studied the Police, the courts and other aspects of the social-control system, as well as White-Collar Crimes and crimes without victims, eg, Drug Use and Prostitution.

Criminology Centres

Most of the criminological research in Canada has been done at those universities where centres focusing on research have evolved. The Université de Montréal established Canada's first School of Criminology with Denis Szabo in 1960. The approach is interdisciplinary and includes academic programs leading to BA, MA and PhD degrees. While much of the work is theoretical, some courses provide training for workers in the field, eg, correctional services. In 1970 the Centre International de Criminologie Comparée was established.

The Centre of Criminology at University of Toronto was established by J.L.J. Edwards initially (1963) as a research organization. Although much early research was oriented towards law, the centre later reflected the influence of informal links with the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry and has conducted research on the police, the courts and other agencies of control in Canada. The Centre has moved steadily from a research unit to one that is actively involved in teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Members of the Centre are jointly appointed with other departments at the University of Toronto. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has close ties with the criminologists at the University of Toronto and is internationally recognized for its work on drugs and on social policies regarding drugs.

Criminology at University of Alberta is under the auspices of the Department of Sociology. By the early 1970s, 1000 students were enrolled in 5 courses of introductory criminology, and 1000 others in deviance courses, advanced criminology and graduate seminars. Gwynn Nettler influenced criminology in Canada by supervising the doctoral dissertations of many professors who are now teaching and writing in criminology. His textbook, Explaining Crime, has been popular both in the US and in Canada. The annual Nettler lecture was named in his honor. In addition to the traditional research PhD and MA degrees, the department offered an MA in criminal justice in 1975 and a BA in criminology in 1982, which is the only applied program in the faculty of Arts. The Centre for Criminological Research at the University of Alberta was established in 1977 and currently sponsors seminars, research and other activities.

The Department of Criminology at University of Ottawa was created under Tadeusz Grygier in 1967 to offer an MA program. The interdisciplinary program in both French and English stresses applied criminology. The Department of Criminology at Simon Fraser University was established in 1973; both MA and PhD programs are in place. Extensive financial support from the BC government made this possible. The Human Justice Program established at the University of Regina in 1977, with a grant from the federal Solicitor General, offers an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and conducts contract research within Saskatchewan.

Other criminology programs have been developed at Carleton University, the University of Manitoba and University of Windsor. A police administration program was introduced at St Mary's University in Halifax, and the Atlantic Institute of Criminology was established at Dalhousie University. In the 1970s the Solicitor-General of Canada began to develop sustaining grants, called contribution grants, to support criminological research. This had a major impact not only at those universities with established centres, but it enabled universities with smaller criminology programs to establish research units. The program was designed to encourage research on policy-related issues and provided specific grants on topics of current interest. These sustaining grants to 7 university centres were unique in that they provided stability and modest but flexible funding for research training. This stimulated a wide variety of small-scale research projects. Unlike the expensive project-by-project research that characterizes many government-sponsored programs influenced by current political issues, the stability of the contribution grants led to the development of expertise which was utilized by the solicitor-general from time to time. After playing an important role in encouraging criminological research in Canada for almost 20 years, the program was cancelled in 1995. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council supports criminological research as a part of its overall program of providing support for individual academics.

The training of criminologists in Canada reflects 2 distinct strategies. Université de Montréal, Simon Fraser, and University of Ottawa offer programs that emphasize specialization in criminology, while University of Alberta and University of Toronto offer less course work in criminology itself and more background in the established social sciences.

Criminology Perspectives

Criminologists in Canada approach their field from different perspectives. Traditional theories locate the source of deviant behaviour in factors such as personality, family structures, Culture, social disorganization and differences in opportunity. This "consensus" perspective argues that rules for living are shared by all; therefore it is the behaviour of those who violate the rules that deserves attention. "Conflict" criminologists hold that deviant behaviour cannot be studied apart from particular historical forms of political and economic organization and that it is important to study the powerful groups in society and the way they exert control over others (see Social Class).

Regardless of the perspective employed, there is little evidence that Canadian criminologists have had much impact on legislation or on the criminal justice system. While the gap between available criminological knowledge and public policy is not as great as in the United States, Canadian public officials also fail to utilize the findings of their researchers. For example, Patricia Erickson, Reginald Smart and other researchers at the Addiction Research Foundation have presented considerable evidence in support of a "harm reduction" strategy toward the use of drugs, but official policies still tend to use a "war on drugs" mentality which has failed in the United States.

Other criminological research suggests that the numbers of inmates incarcerated and the length of time they serve does little to reduce crime, that the preponderance of persons from lower socioeconomic groups in prison creates cynicism about social justice, and that the offences of those in higher socioeconomic brackets are much more damaging to society than those committed by persons in lower socioeconomic brackets, but this research has had little influence on government policy. When political pressures do lead to new legislation, research that is compatible with the winds of political change may be acknowledged. For example, changes in policy regarding spouse abuse and Child Abuse which are politically important may be based on or may reflect criminological research. But generally such research has little impact on reform, at least in the short term.

Criminology Organizations

Canadian criminologists participate in organizations representing the social sciences and the law in Canada, the US and internationally. These include the American Society of Criminology, the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and the Law and Society Association. Canadian criminologists may also participate in specialized sessions of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association and the recently formed Canadian Law and Society Association. Those interested in corrections and criminal justice might also be active in the Canadian Criminal Justice Association. The biennial congress emphasizes corrections and prevention, but the Canadian Journal of Criminology, produced by the association, is mainly research-oriented.

Criminology Texts

The development of texts in Canada reflects 2 trends: 1. the movement away from reliance on US materials as the literature in Canada grows in quantity and quality, and 2. the growing specialization in criminology as distinct from other social problems. Courses with titles such as "The Sociology of Deviance" or "Social Problems"have long included criminology as one of several other "social problems." As each topic was seen by sociology and other departments as worthy of a course of its own, publishers looked for specialized criminology books. Initially collections of articles or chapters written by different authors filled this need. Crime in Canadian Society edited by Silverman, Teevan, and Sacco was in its 5th edition in 1996, the third edition of Criminology edited by Linden appeared in 1996. However, collections with a variety of authors do not always provide an integrated perspective. In 1994 Crime and Canadian Public Policy by Hackler and The Criminal Event by Sacco and Kennedy offered texts which focused on specific themes in an attempt to make sense out of crime.


Further Reading

  • James C. Hackler, Crime and Canadian Public Policy (1994).

External Links