Chapter 2 - Fact Sheet 3

What Police Departments and Officers Need to Do

What police need to know

A lack of awareness about low literacy and its impact can have serious outcomes for police.

Some failed criminal prosecutions can be blamed on poor handling of the accused or a key witness who has low literacy.

In recent years, police have even faced civil lawsuits.

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that police officers cannot assume that the people they communicate with – orally or in writing – have understood the information fully. The results of this ruling are:

The John Howard Society, the Elizabeth Fry Society, and other social agencies find that most of their clients ask for help with their legal paperwork. They also need help to read and understand court documents and procedures at all levels of court proceedings.

The evidence is clear – police and the courts need to be more aware of how low literacy affects people and their behaviour.