Legal Aid Ontario: Race-based data for legal aid certificates 2019-20

Published: July 10, 2020

Updated: September 3, 2020

As part of its commitment to better serve its clients, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) began in 2018 to ask its clients to voluntarily indicate if they self-identified as part of a racialized group and, if so, how they identified themselves.

Over the past two years, 85 per cent of our clients have indicated their willingness to answer to these questions. What we learned from the data in these early stages helped inform LAO in the final phases of LAO’s Racialized Communities Strategy (RCS) and its final report and action plan. A similar self-identification question for Indigenous people is also assisting LAO’s Aboriginal Justice Strategy as it is currently working on its final report.

LAO is currently one of the only organizations in the justice system in Ontario that collects race-based data on its clients.

The data is based on all legal aid certificates that were issued in the 2019‑20 fiscal year in all areas of law. The data does not include any information collected through duty counsel in courthouses at this time.

LAO’s numbers confirm known trends within the justice sector in Ontario, particularly the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous populations. Black Ontarians make up 4.7% of the population according to the most recently available data from Statistics Canada, yet comprise 17.2% of LAO’s clients (and 14.3% of its clients in criminal law). Indigenous peoples make up 2.8% of Ontario’s population but comprise 13.8% of LAO clients (19.8% of clients in criminal law).

Race-based Category Ontario1 Criminal CYFSA Domestic Family Law I&R Civil Total
Indigenous 2.8% 19.8% 15.4% 7.8% 0.0% 15.8% 13.8%
Asian2 18.7% 4.5% 2.2% 7.5% 19.1% 5.8% 7.4%
  0.4% 0.6% 1.0% 8.6% 1.0% 1.9%
  1.0% 0.7% 1.7% 1.1% 1.4% 1.2%
  3.0% 0.9% 4.9% 9.4% 3.4% 4.3%
Black 4.7% 14.3% 6.4% 10.6% 38.3% 17.0% 17.2%
Latin American 1.5% 1.4% 1.5% 3.3% 13.0% 1.4% 3.7%
Middle Eastern, North African 2.8% 2.5% 1.3% 5.0% 18.2% 2.6% 5.5%
Visible minority, n.i.e.3 0.7% 4.0% 3.3% 3.5% 5.5% 4.8% 4.1%
White 67.8% 52.2% 68.4% 61.0% 5.7% 51.2% 47.0%
Multi-racial 1.4% 1.4% 1.5% 1.3% 0.3% 1.4% 1.2%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Non-response4   14.5% 7.1% 5.4% 2.0% 59.6% 13.1%

1 Ontario population breakdown is an aggregation of Ontario data from the 2016 census.

2 July 17, 2020: The new data and information contains a more detailed breakdown of the ‘Asian’ category. Individuals previously included in an aggregated ‘Asian’ category will now be included in one of the following aggregated categories: Asian–East, Asian–South‑East, Asian– South, or Multi‑racial.

3 The category called “Visible minority, n.i.e.” is an aggregation of: Indian Caribbean, Roma, and Other categories from LAO’s data collection.

4 This represents the number of records where no response was recorded to the race-based question. Non-response records were not included calculating the distribution by race-based category.

Note: Due to rounding, the numbers may not add up precisely to the totals provided

There is more that can be done with this data, and the information is not only invaluable for LAO as it determines services in future, it is of great importance to researchers, students, stakeholders and advocates who are working towards a more equitable justice system.

To this end, LAO is making available the data sets for its race-based information. Consistent with LAO’s open data guidelines, the information is anonymized so that there is no identifying information about its clients.

Please contact LAO’s Racialized Communities Strategy for more information.

For more information: