The benefits of recognizing the importance of literacy issues

Police agencies that take reasonable and necessary steps to assist people with low literacy skills improve their service delivery. They also avoid:

The risks of ignoring the importance of literacy issues

Departments that don’t put in place policies and procedures to assist people with low literacy skills may be accused of systemic discrimination.

Systemic discrimination occurs when an organization’s policies or practices have a negative effect on a particular group of people because they don’t recognize the group’s unique characteristics and make adjustments for them. It is important to note that systemic discrimination can occur even when everyone is treated the same and there is no intent to discriminate.This is sometimes called adverse effect discrimination.

The intent of the organization is not the issue – the issue is whether a certain group of people are negatively affected because the organization failed to accommodate their particular characteristic:an inability to understand due to low literacy skills.

Systemic discrimination is prohibited under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and provincial human rights laws. Police departments that are found to have practised systemic discrimination may be liable for damages. Police departments that don’t have policies, procedures, and training programs for dealing with people with low literacy skills could be violating the Charter and human rights legislation.

Police chiefs, departments, police boards, and city governments (by failing to respect the requirements of human rights law, thus showing a lack of good faith) may face negligence claims.This can happen if you don’t make reasonable efforts to meet the special needs of those with literacy challenges.