"When we originally planned the methodology, we assumed there would be youth that met the study criteria," a Justice Department official wrote to her colleagues last July.
"Unfortunately ... there are no (or very few) youth that meet the study criteria."
That forced the department to cancel its $91,000 contract with Winnipeg-based Prairie Research Associates. The company was paid a smaller portion of that amount for work it had already done, documents show.
The study was meant to help the department better understand whether belonging to a linguistic minority has anything to do with young offenders setting out on a path to a life of crime, according to a contract notice.
The department planned to interview 105 youth from official language minority communities who were in the care of rehabilitation centres in six provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
Ninety of the 105 participants were to be young men aged 12 to 18. The remaining 15 were to be young women of the same age group. All the girls were supposed to be from Ontario, while the boys could come from any of the six provinces. All participants — boys and girls — had to live in cities.
Researchers were under instruction not to interview anyone with a serious mental illness.
But researchers could only find two provinces with youngsters fitting that criteria, the documents show — and those youths were all on probation, not in rehabilitation centres.
"We do not require 105 interviews for only two jurisdictions," the Justice Department official wrote.
"I am sure you are disappointed as I am that this project hasn't worked out as anticipated."
The Canadian Press obtained the documents under the Access to Information Act.
"It was simply the case that very few people met the study criteria, with some jurisdictions actually reporting zero minority-language offenders," Justice Department spokesman Andrew Gowing said in an email.
The department asked the six provinces for the number — but not the names — of young offenders in custody that met the study criteria, Gowing said, adding no follow-up study is in the works.
A contract notice spells out the study's intent.
"The general objective of this research is to understand the experiences and life circumstances of young offenders from official language minority communities by analysing their criminal trajectories and particularly their interactional experiences regarding any services they have received in the areas of education, health, immigration, justice and social services," it said.
The department wanted to know when youths from linguistic minorities started to "exhibit deviant or delinquent behaviour."
The study also sought to explain the why the youths started behaving badly, and if anything in particular started or ended their criminal activity — such as mental health, substance abuse, negligence or physical abuse.
English is the mother tongue of more than 18 million Canadians, while nearly seven million speak French as their first language, according to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.