Culture Shock : The Second Year Syndrome

Over the years, I have represented several individuals of various origins that are newcomers to Canada. Whether students, labourers, entrepreneurs or professionals, they often share the same goal, to live a better life and succeed in this country.

The reality of the matter is that they face several hurdles and challenges on the road to achieving their goals, or what is sometimes referred to as “Culture Shock”.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Culture Shock presents itself in four stages.

Stage 1: Euphoria period (fascination period)  shortly after arrival

Stage 2: Disenchantment (frustration or irritation and hostility) during first 6 months

Stage 3: Gradual adjustment (or recovery)

Stage 4: Acceptance (adjustment or acculturation)

How quickly a newcomer overcomes culture shock varies from one individual to the other naturally. In some circumstances, dealings with the criminal justice system can be the unfortunate product of this acclimatization process.

Shoplifting for instance, is a category of offence that I often defend in this context. In some cases the crime may not be motivated by financial stress and the value of the theft may be trivial. I am not suggesting that all thefts committed by newcomers are isolated incidents and a result of culture shock, but when a newcomer who is highly educated, employed and has a promising future puts it all at stake for a a couple of T-shirts, it certainly begs the question.

Although little has been written on the subject within the context of criminal law, there have been some court decisions that have recognized culture shock as a mitigating factor.

In R v. Mehran Shokoshi-Manesh the Court of Appeal of British Columbia overturned a decision in which a discharge was refused for the offence of possession of stolen property.

Although several factors were taken into consideration, namely the effect of a criminal record on the accused’s immigration status, the court did consider the favorable findings of the probation officer who stated the following:

In my opinion Mehran’s offence is an isolated one for him and is not part of an ongoing pattern of criminal activity.  His offence is really part of “the second year syndrome”, which many newcomers to Canada experience.  It is characterized by loneliness, homesickness, depression, confusion and sometimes by a foolish illegal act.

In my view, it is commendable that the probation officer was thorough in his examination of the underlying factors that led to the commission of the offence. I encourage all actors in the criminal justice system to consider this often overlooked syndrome in order to better address cultural issues in criminal cases.

Immigration poster from the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Dept. of Colonization and Development

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