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Creating Knowledge

The Canadian Geography of Justice Initiative

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Logo.

This project has been funded primarily by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight program.

Principal Investigator: Myrna Dawson [2013-present]

Project Description: Little attention is given to variation in official responses to crime across Canadian jurisdictions despite recognition that courts operate in distinct environments that impact how cases are processed and disposed. Understanding what groups are affected, where and why is integral to ensuring consistency in access to justice for victims and defendants. More theoretical development in sociology of law and punishment is also needed to link multilevel determinants to identify how responses may be embedded in and shaped by case, court and community characteristics.

To meet these overarching objectives, the proposed study has four sub-objectives: (1) To document jurisdictional patterns in case processing and dispositions by characteristics of the victims, their accused, and the incidents (i.e. individual, relationship factors); (2) To document jurisdictional patterns in case processing/dispositions by characteristics of the courts and the broader communities in which they operate (i.e. community-level factors); (3) To identify associations among particular types of cases, court sites or communities that may help explain identified jurisdictional variations; and, finally, (4) To determine if there have been changes over time in these jurisdictional patterns that parallel legislative and policy transformations (i.e. societal-level factors). Recognizing that we carry multiple identities, this research examines the combined effects of various characteristics such as gender, relationship, race/ethnicity, age, and geography.

The continued absence of systematic Canadian court data allowing researchers to link case characteristics to punishments has so far prevented such research given that Canada’s official court program was discontinued in the 1970s. The data produced by this project represent one of the only over time, national databases that allows for the examination of a variety of research questions about the criminal justice processing of crime and its association factors at various levels of society. The project had its early origins in the examination of the role of intimacy and gender in law’s response to violence in Canada’s most populous province – Ontario – but has been rolled out nationally and is ongoing. The more than four decades of data with detailed, case-based information on victim, perpetrator, incident and outcome information allows for the examination of a multitude of research questions related to the characteristics of homicide as well as law’s response to these crimes when they occur.

Related References:

Dawson, M. 2017. Intimacy, geography and justice. Chapter 15 in Reading Sociology, edited by P. Albanese, L. Tepperman, and E. Alexander. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Dawson, M. and D. Sutton. 2017. Similar sentences, similar crimes? Using deep sample analysis to examine the comparability of crimes and punishments by victim-defendant relationship. International Journal of Crime, Law and Justice 49: 58-70.

Dawson, M. 2016. Punishing femicide: Criminal justice responses to the killing of women over four decades. Current Sociology 64(7): 996-1016.

Dawson, M. 2012. Intimacy, homicide, and punishment: Examining court outcomes over three decades.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 45(3): 400-422.

Dawson, M. Intimacy, gender and homicide: The validity and utility of common stereotypes in law. 2016. Chapter 3 in Gender, Murder and Responsibility: An International Perspective, edited by K. Fitz-Gibbons and S. Walklate (Routledge).

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