Deaf (DHH) Persons in the Justice System
Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) persons face formidable barriers in achieving equitable access to the criminal justice system in Canada. The issue of fitness or competence to stand trial poses many unanswered questions. DHH persons who do not have a “standard” sign language such as ASL or LSQ, and who are part of marginalized communities, face significant challenges in accessing the justice system. In need of special attention are DHH persons recently arrived from different countries, DHH from bilingual backgrounds such as ASL/LSQ, and especially DHH persons who are Indigenous. I will present my involvement in selected cases (from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Québec, Ontario, and Nunavut) involving serious criminal offences such as sexual assault, murder, and child pornography to illustrate critical issues connected to mental health and fitness assessments. I conclude that much more can be done to provide appropriate assessments and sign language interpretation, and that new strategies should be developed to improve understandings about deafness for all stakeholders. There is a clear need for major reform of the Canadian justice system, including changes to the fitness section of the Criminal Code itself. As well, structural changes to the management system should be carried out in the areas of policing, the courts, corrections, and community reintegration after incarceration.
James (Jamie) MacDougall is recognized as one of Canada’s leading researchers in the field of deafness, and he is highly valued as a committed advocate for the needs and rights of all Canadians with disabilities. Jamie received the APA Larry Stewart Award for Distinguished Contributions in Psychology and Deafness, and he was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame for his work in the field of rehabilitation and disabilities. He received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and became a member of the Order of Canada in 2010. Jamie grew up in Ottawa, Ontario in a family with Deaf parents.