Low literacy—and a lack of understanding about it—can:

All of these causes increase the time and money needed to keep Canada’s criminal justice system working.

How low literacy affects witnesses and victims

Most people who have low literacy skills are very aware that they have trouble with reading and understanding oral information. Witnesses and victims with low literacy may feel especially intimidated at the thought of making a statement and testifying in court. As a result, they may hesitate to call police at all.

In cases where a person with low literacy does come forward, officers may become frustrated over delays when the person is actually avoiding reading or writing. If the person avoids the situation or does not cooperate, and if the officer is not sensitive to the problem of low literacy, the whole prosecution may fall apart.

In court, a guilty person may walk free because a witness cannot answer questions clearly, or talks in circles (a sign of memory and thinking patterns common among those with low literacy).

Statistics show that 42 of 100 adult Canadians have low literacy skills. Police and other members of the justice system must be aware of the problem of low literacy and its impact to keep the system running smoothly and make sure that justice is respected and delivered.