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Majority of Canadians in the provinces reported having confidence in the police in 2019

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Released: 2020-11-25

The vast majority (90%) of Canadians living in the provinces reported some or a great deal of confidence in the police in 2019. However, those who reported having a negative interaction with police in the previous 12 months were significantly more likely to report low confidence in the police.

A Juristat article focusing on Canadians' perceptions of the police in the provinces is now available. The article "Public perceptions of the police in Canada's provinces, 2019" presents initial findings from the General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety. The article examines perceptions of local police among Canadians aged 15 and older living in the provinces, and their confidence in police overall.

In 2020, prompted by several high profile incidents on both sides of the Canadian border, many Canadians took part in protests calling for an end to racial bias and misconduct by police towards Indigenous and racialized people in Canada. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about new restrictions on Canadians as well as new police enforcement roles in some jurisdictions. These events brought focus on the experiences and perceptions of Indigenous and racialized people in Canada. Although the data for the article were collected prior to these events, the estimates are important baseline indicators for future comparisons of how perceptions of the police may have changed following these events.

Having confidence in and positive attitudes towards the police can impact a person's views of police legitimacy and their willingness to seek help, report crime, cooperate with police during investigations and abide by the rules of law. Therefore, measuring public perceptions of the police is an important aspect of measuring police performance, and can provide an indication of police effectiveness.

Most Canadians report confidence in police, but less than half think they are doing a good job on specific measures

In 2019, just over 4 in 10 (41%) Canadians aged 15 and older in the provinces reported having a great deal of confidence in the police, while nearly half (49%) said they had some confidence. Less than 1 in 10 (9%) Canadians reported having low confidence in police—that is, not very much or no confidence at all.

While most Canadians living in the provinces had confidence in the police, far fewer felt they were doing a good job across a number of specific measures. Less than half of Canadians felt that their local police force were doing a good job of being approachable and easy to talk to (49%), enforcing the laws (46%), ensuring the safety of the citizens in their area (44%), treating people fairly (42%), promptly responding to calls (40%) and supplying information to the public on ways to prevent crime (37%).

Overall, the proportion of Canadians who said their local police were doing an average job ranged from 24% to 33% across each of the measures and 1 in 10 people, or less, said the police were doing a poor job. For each of the measures, 15% to 27% of Canadians did not know if the police did a good, average or poor job on each of the measures.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Canadians' perceptions of police, by performance measure, provinces, 2019
Canadians' perceptions of police, by performance measure, provinces, 2019

Indigenous peoples report less confidence in police compared with non-Indigenous people

First Nations people, Métis and Inuit living in the provinces were less likely than non-Indigenous people to report having a great deal of confidence in the police in 2019 (30% compared with 42%). Instead, Indigenous peoples were more likely to report low confidence in the police (16% compared with 9%).

Despite this lower degree of confidence, Indigenous peoples generally held similar views about police performance as non-Indigenous people. The only exception among the six performance measures was in relation to enforcing the laws which was rated less favourably among Indigenous peoples, where 39% thought that the police were doing a good job, compared with 47% among non-Indigenous people.

People designated as visible minorities report less confidence in police and have less positive perceptions about their performance than non-visible minority people

Just over one-third (35%) of Canadians belonging to population groups designated as visible minorities (hereafter referred to as visible minorities) reported having a great deal of confidence in the police in 2019, compared with 44% among non-visible minority people. Confidence levels varied among different visible minority groups. For example, Southeast Asian (25%) and Chinese (26%) Canadians were less likely to report a great deal of confidence in the police compared with non-visible minority people (44%).

Additionally, while perceptions of police performance varied among different visible minority groups, overall, visible minorities were less likely to say the police were doing a good job on five of the six performance measures. However, visible minorities generally had similar views as non-visible minority people on whether the police were doing a good job of promptly responding to calls (38% and 41%, respectively).

Chart 2  Chart 2: Canadians reporting a great deal of confidence in the police, by selected characteristics, provinces, 2019
Canadians reporting a great deal of confidence in the police, by selected characteristics, provinces, 2019

Confidence in police lower among people with mental or cognitive disabilities

Challenges related to interactions between Canadians with a mental or cognitive disability and police continue to be the subjects of ongoing public discussion, with more of these interactions being reported in recent years.

Overall, in 2019, one in three (33%) Canadians with a mental or cognitive disability (including people with a mental health-related condition) and about two in five (38%) with a physical disability said they had a great deal of confidence in the police, significantly lower than among those with no disability (43%).

Additionally, people with a mental or cognitive disability were less likely to say the police were doing a good job on all six measures, compared with people with no disability. People with a physical disability were less likely to say the police were doing a good job on four of the six measures, compared with people with no disability. The two measures that were similarly rated were being approachable and easy to talk to (48% among people with a physical disability and 50% among people without a disability) and supplying information to the public on ways to prevent crime (38% each).

Bisexual Canadians least likely to report a great deal of confidence in police

In 2019, sexual minority Canadians (those who self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or otherwise not heterosexual) reported a lower degree of confidence in the police than heterosexual Canadians. For example, 31% of lesbian or gay Canadians, and 25% of bisexual Canadians reported having a great deal of confidence in the police, compared with 42% of heterosexual Canadians.

Similarly, perceptions of police performance were generally lower among sexual minority people, particularly among bisexual Canadians who were less likely than heterosexual Canadians to say the police were doing a good job of enforcing the laws (25%), being approachable and easy to talk to (34%) or ensuring the safety of the citizens in the area (33%).

Perceptions of police more positive among seniors and recent immigrants

Confidence in police and positive perceptions about their performance generally increased with every age group. More than half (53%) of seniors aged 75 and older said they had a great deal of confidence in the police, compared with 36% among people 15 to 24 years of age.

Immigrants, both recent and established, were as likely as non-immigrants to report a great deal of confidence in the police, however, their perceptions of police performance varied. Established immigrants (those who immigrated before 2010) were less likely than non-immigrants to say the police were doing a good job on five out of the six measures. On the other hand, people who have become landed immigrants since 2010 were more likely than non-immigrants to say the police were doing a good job of promptly responding to calls (47% versus 39%) and ensuring the safety of the citizens in their area (51% versus 45%).

Recent negative interactions with police linked to low confidence

Overall, about one in three Canadians (34%) said they had contact with the police in the previous 12 months. This contact could have been during work, volunteering or public information sessions, in relation to a crime—as a victim, an accused or a witness—or for other reasons such as emotional problems, mental health, or alcohol or drug use. While the majority (87%) of individuals who had recent contact with police said that their encounter was positive, just over 1 in 10 (12%) said their encounter was negative.

People who reported experiencing a negative recent encounter with police were significantly less likely to say they had a great deal of confidence in the police (10%) compared with people who had no recent contact with police (42%). Conversely, people who said they had a recent positive encounter were more likely to say they had a great deal of confidence in the police (44%). Similarly, perceptions about police performance with regard to the six measures were less positive among people who had a recent negative police encounter.

  Note to readers

This article uses data from the 2019 General Social Survey (GSS) – Canadians' Safety (Victimization), now available in the Research Data Centres. The main objective of the GSS on Canadians' Safety is to better understand issues related to the safety and security of Canadians, including perceptions of crime and the justice system, experiences of intimate partner violence, and how safe people feel in their communities. This survey is the only national survey of self-reported victimization, collecting data on crimes both reported and unreported to police.

This release includes data on respondents' perceptions of crime, safety, and the justice system; experiences of intimate partner and childhood violence, fraud, and discrimination; and, data on health and well-being. This release includes data from respondents living in the provinces. Data pertaining to the territories, and to incidents of crime experienced in the previous twelve months for the provinces and territories, will be released to the Research Data Centres in spring 2021.

To measure confidence in the police, the 2019 GSS on Victimization asked respondents to indicate how much confidence they had by selecting one of the categories provided: "a great deal of confidence," "some confidence," "not very much confidence" or "no confidence at all."

To measure perceptions of police performance, respondents were asked about their thoughts on whether their local police force or the RCMP detachment in their community do a good job, an average job or a poor job with respect to six elements: "enforcing the laws," "promptly responding to calls," "being approachable and easy to talk to," "supplying information to the public on ways to prevent crime," "ensuring the safety of the citizens in their area" and "treating people fairly." The current article mainly presents the proportion of respondents who reported that the police did a good job for the various measures. The remainder of the responses include those who felt that the police do an average job or a poor job as well as those who said they did not know. It should be noted that percentage of those who gave "Don't know" responses differ for each population group and for different measures.

All percent calculations include missing responses. For this reason, and because of rounding proportion totals may not add up to 100%.

A mental or cognitive disability includes a learning, developmental, memory or mental health-related condition that limits daily activities.

A physical disability includes a hearing, visual, mobility, flexibility, dexterity or pain-related condition that limits daily activities.

Due to sample size, those who reported a sexual orientation other than the options available are grouped under the broad category of sexual orientation not elsewhere classified (n.e.c.).

In 2019, the overall response rate was 36.4%. Non-respondents included people who refused to participate, could not be reached, or could not speak English or French. Respondents in the sample were weighted so that their responses represent the non-institutionalized Canadian population aged 15 and older.

Statistics Canada has confidence in the quality of the data disseminated from the 2019 GSS and assures that the data are fit for use for this analysis. Because of method used to collect information for the GSS, however, the data may not be representative for some subpopulations and smaller geographic areas. For example, this would have a more notable impact on populations with language barriers, or those in remote areas with less reliable telephone or telecommunications.

The Juristat article released today also provides a brief analysis of data from the crowdsourced initiative Impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians: Experiences of Discrimination, to examine the participant's experiences with police during the pandemic. However, due to differences between the content and methodologies of the crowdsourcing initiative and the 2019 GSS, these results are not presented in the current Daily article. For information about the crowdsourcing initiative, please see Experiences of discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Products

The article "Public perceptions of the police in Canada's provinces, 2019" is now available as part of the publication Juristat (Catalogue number85-002-X).

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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