David Theo Goldberg and Bill C-10

David Theo Goldberg’s Critical Theories Reveal the Racisms Inherent to the Omnibus Crime Bill

Canada’s popular multicultural narrative celebrates the ideology that the nation “consistently supports a high quality of life for everyone, be one white or settler, Indigenous, or a ‘visible minority’”[i]. But the troubling racial disparities in Canada’s prisons suggest otherwise. In 2006, despite making up only 4% of the total population, 21% of male prisoners and 30% of female prisoners in Canada were Aboriginal. Perhaps the most frightening statistic comes from Saskachewan where Aboriginal adults who made up only 15% of the outside population in 2006 accounted for 79% of the prisoner population[ii]. David Theo Goldberg’s detailing of the impact of ‘raceless’ narratives highlights how Canada’s multicultural ideology “alchemizes the structural into the individual”[iii], making these racial disparities appear to result from individual choice rather than the formative historical forces of processes (still ongoing) like colonialism.

With evident connections between poverty and crime, the much higher number of Aboriginals living under the low-income cut-off than non-Aboriginal Canadians means that the amped up crime legislation and punitive policies of Bill C-10 will only heighten these racial inequalities in Canada’s prisons. Not to mention that the money being spent on these justice initiatives is sure to result in cuts to other public services that will likely only worsen the economic and social conditions in many of the nation’s poorest communities, making these groups even more at risk of criminalized behaviour. The racist implications of C-10 remind us that it isn’t the fight against crime that is racist, but the method of fighting it. In this way, Goldberg’s work on “legally mediated racio-national alienation”[iv] is instrumental in illuminating how the current tough-on-crime bill will work to help a white hegemony maintain control over people of colour in Canada.

Goldberg explains that legislation works to control certain populations because states (and their dominant ideologies) determine the actions that are popularly criminalized. Although raceless narratives cover up the racisms inherent in law, Goldberg asserts that “[r]aceless states…silently extend the structure of social arrangement historically fashioned through race”[v] by “setting agendas for…what counts as a crime, who is marked as criminal, where criminal acts largely take place, and how they are punished”[vi]. Thus, which actions are to count as criminal can be devised in a way that will target certain races—we don’t, for example, see constant spectacles of predominantly white corporate crimes (and the perpetrators of these actions usually receive much less severe punishments, if punished at all), although these certainly occur. Meanwhile, C-10 promises to “increas[e]…the maximum penalty for possession and production of drugs such as marijuana from seven to 14 years”[vii], which will unfairly impact those poorer communities in which drug use is more common (or at least more commonly cracked down on by police) and for whom drug rehab services are largely inaccessible. These racist realities of legislation, though, are veiled by a historical amnesia that refuses to acknowledge the ongoing implications of evident racisms in the past and in a multicultural discourse celebrating the alleged state of equal opportunity in Canada today.

So, at a time when Canadians are told that racism no longer exists in their nation, Goldberg’s brilliant theoretical framework exposes the way the passing of the Omnibus Bill will covertly control race and maintain the structural racism of colonialism in Canada.


[i] Simpson, Jennifer S., Carl E. James, and Johnny Mack. “Multiculturalism, Colonialism, and Racialization: Conceptual Starting Points.” Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 33.4 (2011): 287. Web. 21 Feb 2012.

[ii] From “Facts & Statistics” posted on prisonjustice.ca sourced from Juristat, Statistics Canada (2005-6). Updated August 2008.

[iii] Goldberg, David Theo. Threat of Race. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2009. 344. Print.

[iv] Goldberg, David Theo. The Racial State. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2002. 140. Print.

[v] Ibid, p. 233.

[vi] Ibid, p. 233.

[vii] “Tory Crime Bill Cracks Down on Drug, Sex Offenders.” CBC News. CBC, 20 Sep. 2011. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.

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