Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name



Social Work


colonialism, criminal justice system, critical theory, police, social justice, structural violence


G. Brent Angell




Social work, since its inception, has been premised on the value of social justice. At its core, social justice is about the elimination of structural violence. Thus, social work practitioners, educators, and researchers must be acutely aware of what structural violence is, how it is perpetuated, and what can be done to work towards its reduction and ultimate elimination. However, little social work research has been dedicated to quantitatively assessing the impacts of structural violence, especially as they relate to the criminal justice system. The current study, using autoethnographic narratives and statistical analyses, contributes to important dialogues related to structural violence and social justice, and how they are related to the criminal justice system, specifically regarding policing. The purpose of this study was to test the effects of structural violence on involuntary contacts with police and criminal courts in Canada, while opening opportunities for dialogue on atonement and reconciliation. In so doing, this research was premised on working toward personal, social, and cultural understanding and transformation.Six hypotheses related to involuntary contacts with police were tested and were systematically replicated for contact with criminal courts. These hypotheses were tested using the 28th cycle of Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey. The sample consisted of 1,162 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and 27,371 white settler people. Univariate frequency distributions were employed to describe the study samples and binary logistic regression models were used to test the hypotheses across both outcomes. The independent predictive effects of being an Indigenous person, of having experienced violence in multiple structures of Canadian society, and of having experienced discrimination extensively on contacts with police and criminal courts were all quite large. The predictive effect of gender was very small. No support was found for the interaction hypotheses; meaning the effects of structural violence and discrimination are equally as harmful for everyone. However, the risk of an Indigenous person having been involuntarily contacted by the police was more than three times greater than the risk among white settler people. The autoethnographic narratives weaved throughout each of the chapters highlighted the importance of understanding both privilege and oppression and engaging in reciprocity, alliance building, trust, authenticity, and knowledge and skill transfer between Indigenous peoples and settler white people. The novel findings of this study add to the current literature related to structural violence, including colonization, and contacts with police in Canada. Moreover, the current study highlighted that without public critique and measures being instituted to bring about change, the status quo of domination over Indigenous peoples and the harmful impacts of structural violence are likely to continue. Social workers must function to eliminate continued indifference, ineffective policies, programs and practices, and deliberate acts of violence, racism, sexism, hegemonic discourses, and ignorance. Only through understanding and recognizing these issues can social workers and other helping professionals, and the public begin to develop the urgently needed counter-narratives.