Impact of Race and Culture Assessments (IRCAs)
Last revised January 15, 2024

IRCAs are pre-sentencing reports that inform judges of the disadvantages and systemic racism faced by Black and other racialized Canadians. First developed in Nova Scotia in 2014 (with R v “X”), IRCAs have been used primarily for Black offenders, both adults and youth, at the sentencing stage of the criminal process. In Ontario, they are primarily referred to as Enhanced Pre Sentence Reports (EPSRs).

IRCA Reports and the Courts

The IRCA report provides information on the historic and intergenerational trauma and understanding of the accused’s community while articulating the circumstances of the individual for a judge to make informed sentencing and release decisions. IRCAs help sentencing judges to better understand the effect of poverty, marginalization, racism, and social exclusion on the offender and their life experience. They help explain the relationship between the offender’s lived experiences of racism and discrimination and how those experiences inform the circumstances of the offender, the offence committed, and the offender’s experience with the justice system. 

IRCA reports may recommend alternatives to incarceration and/or culturally appropriate accountability measures within a sentence of incarceration.

In 2021 the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal delivered R v Anderson, a pioneer case that stated that the history of racism and marginalization must be considered in criminal cases. The Court found:

  • In order for an IRCA to be “credible”, it must be prepared to a “professional and authoritative standard” (para 109). This means an individual with specialized knowledge about systemic and background factors must be the author of these reports.
  • aspects of IRCA cannot be challenged, such as the existence of racial prejudice, since it is an established fact that the aforementioned continues to occur every day in Canadian society (para 111). The court even goes so far as announcing that a failure to consider an IRCA “may amount to an error of law” (para 118). 
  • the application of IRCAs ensures that a sentence is proportionate to both the gravity of an offence and the moral culpability of an offender (para 114).

Since R v Anderson, the use of IRCAs to inform sentencing decisions has expanded to other jurisdictions and in August 2021, the Canadian Federal government announced their endorsement of IRCAs and proposed funding to provide these reports across the country. Also in 2021, Ontario Court of Appeal in R v Morris provided a slightly different approach to IRCAs than R v Anderson. In paragraphs 143 to 147, the court lays out the need to present an objective assessment, while avoiding appearing to take on the role of advocate for the offender.

As of 2023, Legal Aid BC has begun training for lawyers and judges to implement these reports in the BC Court system. 

Case Law: