Violent victimization, discrimination and perceptions of safety: An immigrant perspective, Canada, 2014

by Dyna Ibrahim

Release date: April 12, 2018

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Highlights

  • According to the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization), immigrants experienced violent victimization—which includes sexual assault, robbery and physical assault—at a rate of 39 incidents per 1,000 population; this rate was significantly lower than the rate among non‑immigrants (86 per 1,000 population).
  • In 2014, there was a marked decline (-43%) in self‑reported violent victimization rates among immigrants compared to what was reported in 2004 (39 incidents versus 68 incidents per 1,000 population); among the non‑immigrant population, a decline of 26% was reported over the same time period (86 versus 116 incidents per 1,000 population).
  • In 2014, violent victimization rates were similar between immigrant men and women. This was not the case among the non‑immigrant population where women were found to be at a higher risk for victimization than men.
  • Although most violent incidents against an immigrant did not lead to serious physical injuries, most had negative emotional consequences. About one in ten (12%E) violent incidents led to symptoms that align with those associated with post‑traumatic stress disorder.
  • The large majority of immigrants who were victims of violent crime did not believe their victimization was motivated by hate (76%). However, they were more likely than non‑immigrants to report that the violence was gang‑related (38%E compared to 11%E among non‑immigrants).
  • More than half (53%) of immigrant victims of violence did not report the incident to police. Of all victims who reported the incident to police, immigrants were more likely to have been dissatisfied with police action than non‑immigrants (55%E versus 28%).
  • Experiences of discrimination were more commonly reported by immigrants (17%) than non‑immigrants (12%). This was more common among recent immigrants, those who had immigrated to Canada after 2004 than established immigrants, those who had immigrated to Canada earlier (20% versus 16%).
  • Immigrants who had experienced discrimination most often reported this occurring at work or when they were applying for a job or promotion (54%) and the most common reasons cited were their ethnicity or culture (54%) or their race or skin colour (47%). Recent immigrants were more likely to experience discrimination because of their language than established immigrants (42% and 27%, respectively).

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Introduction

Canada is known as a country of diversity and multiculturalism. In 2011, Canada had the highest proportion of foreign‑born individuals among the G8Note  countries (Statistics Canada 2013). Data from the Census of Population indicates that in 2016, at least one in five people (or more than 7.5 million) in Canada was an immigrant. This proportion is a record high since the Census of 1921(Statistics Canada 2017a). It is estimated that by 2036 nearly half of the Canadian population could be an immigrant or the child of an immigrant (Statistics Canada 2017b).

Canada's immigrant population comes from diverse backgrounds. Individuals within this group differ from one‑another in many aspects including their economic and educational status at the time of immigration, number of dependants, country of origin, language spoken, reason for immigrating, and where in Canada they immigrated to. While some immigrants may be able to easily adapt to Canadian society, others may experience challenges such as those related to linguistic, acculturative, psychological or economic issues. Research has indicated that immigrants may face particular hardships in areas with limited economic opportunity, high rates of poverty, and substandard housing and they may encounter physical and social isolation (Dunbar 2017; Janhevich et al. 2008; Simich et al. 2005; Omidvar and Richmond 2003; Vissandjée et al. 2001).

Violent victimization and discrimination are issues of great concern. Violent crime has major impact on the life of victims and can have serious health and economic consequences (Department of Justice Canada 2015; Hoddenbagh et al. 2014). Discrimination presents a form of disadvantage and may lead to economic and social implications (Reitz et al. 2009; Esses et al. 2014). Understanding the experiences of immigrants, including experiences of violent victimization and discrimination, can help policy makers and stakeholders develop and strengthen programs for this large and growing population.

Every five years Statistics Canada conducts the General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization). This survey collects self‑reported information on the experiences of victimization among Canadians 15 years of age and older. This Juristat article examines self‑reported experiences of violent victimization, discrimination as well as perceptions of safety among Canada's immigrant population. This article also looks at immigrants' perceptions of and experiences with the Canadian justice system. Where possible, comparisons between 2004 and 2014 are included to highlight similarities and differences in the experiences of immigrants over time.

The GSS on Victimization was conducted in English and French, and although this article provides important information on the experiences of immigrants, it does not include those who did not speak either official language as they were unable to participate in the survey. While a minority (6.8%)Note  of the immigrant population are affected by this limitation, it is nonetheless important to note that this report may not give a full picture of the experiences and perceptions of this share of Canada's immigrant population.

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Definitions

Immigrant refers to a person who is or has ever been a landed immigrant or permanent resident. This person has been granted the right to live in Canada permanently by immigration authorities. Some immigrants have resided in Canada for a number of years, while others have arrived recently. Some immigrants are Canadian citizens, while others are not. The immigrant population excludes non‑permanent residents, who are persons in Canada on a work or study permit, or who are refugee claimants.

Recent immigrants, in this article, are those who obtained their landed immigrant or permanent resident status between 2005 and 2014, within 10 years of the General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety (Victimization).

Established immigrants, in this article, are those who obtained their landed immigrant or permanent resident status before 2005, 10 or more years prior to the General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety (Victimization).

Non‑immigrant refers to a person who is a Canadian citizen by birth.

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Profile of immigrants in Canada, 2014 General Social Survey on Victimization

As this article uses data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization, demographic estimates provided in this section are based on self‑reported data and represents people 15 years of age and older at the time of the survey. Therefore, these results may not match estimates from other data sources and may vary slightly from Census of Population data.Note 

According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, one in five (20%) people aged 15 years and older, was an immigrant—nearly 6 million individuals (Table 1). Most were established immigrants (73%), while 23% were recent immigrants.Note 

Most immigrants were from Asia (41%), Europe including the United Kingdom (32%) and the Americas (including the United States) (16%).Note Note  Results from the GSS on Victimization show that more than half of the immigrant population aged 15 years and older identified as a visible minority (58%),Note  compared to 5% of the non‑immigrant population.

Established immigrants more often came from Europe or the Americas (54%) while recent immigrants were most commonly from Asia (54%).Note  In 2014, the recent immigrant population included a higher proportion of immigrants from Africa than the established immigrant population (14% versus 7%). Most recent immigrants were members of visible minority groups (77%) compared to 52% of established immigrants.

The GSS on Victimization found that of the provinces and territories, Ontario (28%) and British Columbia (25%) were home to the highest proportions of immigrants in 2014, with at least one in four residents 15 years of age and older being an immigrant—significantly higher than the national share. In contrast, Nunavut (2%E), Newfoundland and Labrador (3%) and Prince Edward Island (4%E) had the lowest proportions of immigrants within their respective populations. However, recent Census data show that increasingly, immigrants are settling in the Prairie and Atlantic provinces (Statistics Canada 2017a).

Immigrants typically settled in large cities. According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, the majority (91%) of immigrants lived in census metropolitan areas (CMAs)Note  compared to 64% of non‑immigrants. Canada's three largest CMAs were home to the large majority of immigrants 15 years and older. That is, just under two‑thirds of Canada's immigrants lived in the CMAs of Toronto (38%), Montréal (12%) and Vancouver (12%). Said another way, immigrants made up almost half (45%) of the population of Toronto, a third (34%) of the population of Vancouver and almost a quarter (22%) of the population of Montréal.Note 

In 2014, immigrants in Toronto were most commonly from Asia (46%), followed by Europe (29%) and the Americas (17%), and nearly two‑thirds (64%) of them were visible minority.Note  Visible minority immigrants in Toronto were predominantly South Asian (32%), Chinese (18%) or Black (12%). Montréal's immigrant population was made up of fairly equal proportions of individuals from Europe (29%), Africa (24%), the Americas (23%) and Asia (23%), and just over half (56%) were visible minority. Immigrants in Montréal who identified with a visible minority group were mainly Arab (28%), Black (28%) or Latin American (16%). In Vancouver, nearly two‑thirds (64%) of immigrants were from Asia and 22% were from Europe, and seven in 10 were visible minorities (71%). Vancouver's visible minority immigrant population was mainly made up of Chinese (41%) individuals, followed by South Asians (17%) and Filipinos (16%).

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Defining violent victimization

The General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) measures violent victimization with respect to three types of offences:

  • Sexual assault: includes forced sexual activity, attempted forced sexual activity, unwanted sexual touching, grabbing, kissing or fondling, or sexual relations without being able to give consent.
  • Robbery: includes theft or attempted theft in which the offender had a weapon or there was violence or the threat of violence against the victim.
  • Physical assault: includes an attack (victim is hit, slapped, grabbed, knocked down, or beaten), a face‑to‑face threat of physical harm, or an incident with a weapon present.

Rates of violent victimization presented in the following section include incidents of spousal violence. However, due to differences in the methodology used to collect information on spousal violence, the characteristics of the incidents described—including information on reporting to police—do not include spousal violence. Text box 3 provides some analysis on the experiences of violence within spousal relationships among immigrants and the characteristics of those incidents.

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Violent victimization of immigrants

Immigrants less likely to experience a violent incident than non‑immigrants

According to self‑reported information collected by the General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization, in 2014, immigrants experienced violent crime at less than half the rate of that reported by non‑immigrants. Immigrants reported experiencing more than 233,000 violent incidents, a rate of 39 incidents per 1,000 population. In comparison, at a rate of 86 incidents per 1,000 population, non‑immigrants were more than twice as likely to have been victim of violence.Note 

The overall rate of violent victimization decreased 28% between 2004 and 2014 (Perreault 2015).Note Note  Within the immigrant population specifically, the decline was much larger at 43% (Chart 1). This change is mainly attributed to a decline in the rate of self‑reported physical assault, which dropped 44% among the immigrant population. As was the case for the non‑immigrant population, the rate of self‑reported sexual assault among immigrants remained unchanged between 2004 and 2014.Note 

Chart 1 Violent victimization rates of immigrants and non-immigrants, Canada, 2004, 2009 and 2014

Data table for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Immigrants and Non-immigrants, calculated using rate per 1,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Immigrants Non-immigrants
rate per 1,000 population
2004 68Note * 116Note *
2009 61 126Note *
2014Data table Note  39 86

Like the population overall, physical assault was the most commonly experienced type of violent offence reported by immigrants, accounting for 68%E of the violent incidents that they experienced. Immigrants experienced physical assault at a rate of 26E incidents per 1,000 population (Chart 2). Sexual assault was experienced by immigrants at a rate of 9E incidents per 1,000 population. Similar to findings for the non‑immigrant population, sexual assaults represented about one‑quarter (24%E) of violent incidents experienced by immigrants.

Chart 2 Violent victimization rates of immigrants and non-immigrants, by type of offence, Canada, 2004, 2009 and 2014

Data table for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Immigrants, Non-immigrants, Sexual assault, Robbery and Physical assault, calculated using rate per 1,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Immigrants Non-immigrants
Sexual assault Robbery Physical assault Sexual assault Robbery Physical assault
rate per 1,000 population
2004 11Note E: Use with caution 9Note E: Use with caution 47Note * 24 11Note * 82Note *
2009 Note F: too unreliable to be published 6Note E: Use with caution 42 26 14Note * 86Note *
2014Data table Note  9Note E: Use with caution Note F: too unreliable to be published 26Note E: Use with caution 24 7 54

The length of time an immigrant had lived in Canada was not associated with a higher likelihood of being a victim of a violent crime. In 2014, recent immigrants were about as likely to have been a victim of violence as were established immigrants (45E versus 38E per 1,000 population). Whether recent or established, immigrants were less likely to be victims of violent crime than non-immigrants.

Characteristics of violent incidents

Immigrant men and women experienced victimization at similar rates

Various victim characteristics such as sex, age and sexual orientation have been linked to higher risk for victimization (Perreault 2015). Among the immigrant population, men and women experienced violent victimization at similar rates (38E and 40E incidents per 1,000 population, respectively) (Table 2). This is contrary to results for the non‑immigrant population, among whom women were at a higher risk of experiencing violence than men (97 versus 75 per 1,000 population).Note 

Immigrants who were also members of a visible minority group experienced victimization at a rate not significantly different from that reported by non‑visible minority immigrants. Similarly, within the non‑immigrant population, visible minorities tended to experience similar rates of victimization as individuals who were not members of a visible minority group.Note 

According to Perreault (2015), age was the main factor found to be associated with a higher rate of violent victimization. Similar to the non‑immigrant population, the risk of violent victimization among immigrants was highest among the young: those aged 15 to 24 years experienced violent victimization at a rate of 97E incidents per 1,000 population compared to a rate of 34E per 1,000 population reported by immigrants 25 years of age and older.

Most violent incidents measured by the General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization did not result in serious physical injuries requiring medical attention. In most cases (61%), similar to non‑immigrant victims, immigrant victims were able to carry out their daily activities following the incident (Table 3). However, most violent incidents resulted in some emotional consequences; for both the immigrant and non‑immigrant populations, the most common emotional consequences experienced by victims were: feeling angry (36%E of immigrant victims and 30% of non‑immigrant victims) and feeling upset, confused or frustrated (25%E of immigrant victims and 23% of non‑immigrant victims).

One in ten incidents involving immigrant victims associated with symptoms consistent with post‑traumatic stress disorder

Victims of violence may experience post‑traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can physically and/or psychologically affect victims of trauma (Perreault 2015). Using the Primary Care PTSD Screen tool—which is used to identify and assess individuals who demonstrate specific symptoms related to PTSD— data from the 2014 GSS on Victimization found that about one in ten (12%E) violent incidents committed against an immigrant was associated with three or more longer‑term symptoms consistent with PTSD. This proportion was similar to that of incidents experienced by non‑immigrant victims (14%).Note 

While not necessarily meeting the criteria that could indicate the possibility of PTSD, in at least a quarter of incidents, immigrant victims also experienced some longer‑term emotional consequences such as nightmares about the incident (24%E) or feeling constantly on guard, watchful or easily startled (30%E). These proportions were not significantly different from those reported by non‑immigrant victims.

Most immigrant victims experienced a single violent incident

The experiences of immigrant victims of violence were in many ways similar to those of victims from the non‑immigrant population, when it came to the nature of the victimization. Among these similarities was the frequency of victimization: the majority (74%) of immigrant victims experienced a single incident of violent victimization in the 12 months preceding the survey, a proportion similar to that among non‑immigrant victims (82%).

The majority of violent incidents involved a lone offender—most commonly male

For both immigrant and non‑immigrant victims of violent crime, the majority of incidents experienced were committed by a lone offender and in most cases the accused was male. Among immigrant victims specifically, 58%E of incidents experienced involved a single offender, and in 83% of the incidents, the accused was male. Three out of ten (29%E) incidents experienced by immigrant victims involved an offender under 25 years old, and in close to four out of ten (36%E) incidents, the offender had a weapon. In more than four in ten (43%E) incidents involving an immigrant victim, the victim indicated that in their view, the incident was related to the offender's alcohol or drug use. In general, differences between immigrants and non‑immigrants with regard to these characteristics were not statistically significant.

Recent immigrants more likely than established immigrants to be victimized by a stranger

In general, immigrant victims of violent crime often knew their offender. Overall, a stranger was the perpetrator in about two in five (43%E) violent incidents against an immigrant, similar to non‑immigrant victims (49%).Note  However, recent immigrants were significantly more likely to be victimized by a stranger (83%) compared to established immigrants (31%E) and non‑immigrants (49%). This difference may in part be due to the fact that recent immigrants generally know fewer people. According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, recent immigrants had a smaller network of friends and relatives than established immigrants.

Immigrant victims of violent crime do not believe incident is motivated by hate

Hate crime targets not only an individual, but also members of a particular group and it has the potential to affect not only the victim but their community as a whole (Fashola 2011). Hate crime is a serious offence in Canada, as established by the Criminal Code which allows for increased penalties when sentencing crimes proven to be motivated by hate (Leber 2017). The 2014 GSS on Victimization asked victims of crime whether or not they believed the incident committed against them could be considered a hate crime. Findings indicate that in most (76%) violent incidents involving an immigrant victim, the victim did not believe the incident was motivated by hate—a proportion similar to that among non‑immigrant victims.Note  Similar results were observed in 2004 and 2009.

Immigrant victims more likely to indicate incident is gang‑related

While some of the characteristics and consequences of victimization were similar for immigrants and their non‑immigrant counterparts, prominent differences were also found. The 2014 GSS on Victimization asked respondents whether they believed the violent incident they experienced was gang‑related; immigrant victims were more than three times as likely as non‑immigrants to have indicated that it was.Note  Two in five immigrant victims (38%E) believed gangs were involved in the violent incident they experienced, compared to one in ten for non‑immigrants (11%E).Note 

This does not, however, suggest that gang‑related violence is more common among immigrants; for example, some research indicate that immigrants may be more fearful of being targeted by gangs, or may be more likely to perceive gang affiliation among offenders (Brown and Benedict 2009). Some literature do point to growing concerns regarding the involvement of immigrants (especially recently‑arrived) in gang activity and some studies have found that immigrants, specifically youth, are at an increased risk of gang involvement (Dunbar 2017; Rossiter and Rossiter 2009; Spergel 1995).

More than half of immigrant victims of a violent crime did not report the incident to police

A criminal incident can be brought to the attention of police in various ways; by the victim directly or through some other means. The 2014 GSS on Victimization found that more than half (53%) of incidents of violent victimization experienced by immigrants were never reported to the police. This proportion was significantly lower relative to non‑immigrant victims (69%) (Table 4).

Research suggests that some immigrants may not feel comfortable talking about their experiences of victimization to anyone, including the police, for reasons such as limited understanding of legal rights, fear of getting reported to immigration authorities and facing deportation, distrust of authorities and fear of retaliation, and cultural norms deeming the experiences private (McCart et al. 2010; Davis and Henderson 2003; Davis and Erez 1998).

About one in four (23%E) incidents involving an immigrant victim was reported to the police by the victim themselves. This proportion was not significantly different from non‑immigrant victims (19%). Among immigrant victims who had not contacted the police, the most common reason for not reporting was that the victim thought the police would not have considered the incident important enough (64%), a proportion significantly higher than among non‑immigrant victims (42%).Note  Immigrant victims who did not report the victimization to police were also significantly more likely to not have done so because they believed the police would not have been efficient or effective (46%E compared to 26% among non‑immigrant victims) and the police would not have found the offender (42%E compared to 21% among non‑immigrant victims).

Other common reasons immigrant victims did not report the incident to police were similar to reasons given by non‑immigrant victims. These included: wanting to avoid the hassle of dealing with police (59%), considering the crime to be minor and not worth taking the time to report (58%), and seeing the incident as a private or personal matter to be handled informally (52%).

Immigrant victims express more dissatisfaction with police action after reporting violent victimization

Immigrants were twice as likely as non‑immigrants to have indicated that they were dissatisfied with police action in relation to incidents of violent victimization. Specifically, more than half (55%E) of immigrant victims whose incidents had been reported to police were at least somewhat dissatisfied with the actions that the police took. This proportion was significantly larger when compared to non‑immigrant victims (28%).Note 

Although a majority of violent incidents experienced by immigrants did not come to the attention of police (53%), most victims (81%) talked to someone else. This proportion was similar to that of non‑immigrant victims (89%). Immigrant victims most commonly talked to a friend or neighbour (68%) or a family member (64%), and less than half talked to co‑workers (38%) about the incident. Recent immigrants were as likely as established immigrants to talk to someone about the incident.

The majority (72%) of non‑immigrant victims of violence did not seek help from professionals or support services such as counsellors, crisis centres or victim services. This was the case for about half (52%E) of immigrant victims. Not wanting or needing help was the most common reason cited among both immigrants and non‑immigrants (68% each).

Immigrants less likely to have history of homelessness than non‑immigrants

Research has found that there are links between violence and homelessness; results from the GSS on Victimization, for example, have shown that people with a history of homelessness were "more likely to have lived in neighbourhoods with weak social cohesion, experienced child maltreatment, used drugs, and had reported experiencing a mental health condition…", factors all linked to higher rates of violent victimization (Perreault 2015; Roy et al. 2014). More than 374,000 immigrants, or about 6% of the immigrant population reported having a history of homelessness—significantly lower than among non‑immigrants (9%).Note  Similar to the non‑immigrant population, most immigrants who had a history of homelessness indicated that the experience had lasted for less than a year (29% for less than 1 month and 49% for 1 month to less than 1 year). For almost one in four (23%) immigrants with a history of homelessness, the experience had lasted for a year or more.

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Text box 3
Spousal violence among Canadian immigrants

The General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) measures key information on violence experienced within spousal relationships. This information is collected using a different methodology in order to take into account the entire spousal violence situation rather than each individual incident, as is the case for violent victimization within non‑spousal relationships. Additionally, spousal violence information is collected taking into account situations that may have occurred in the five years preceding the 2014 GSS on Victimization, while information on violent victimization includes incidents that occurred in the 12 months preceding the survey. Therefore spousal violence is analyzed separately.

The GSS on Victimization defines spousal violence as physical or sexual violence committed by a current or former spouse or common‑law partner, among individuals who are legally married, living in a common‑law relationship, or who are separated or divorced from a legal or common‑law partner and have had contact with their ex‑partner within the previous five years.

Spousal violence slightly less prevalent among immigrants than non‑immigrants

In 2014, about 3% of immigrants who were married or in common‑law partnerships, or who were separated or divorced but had contact with their previous partner, had experienced spousal violence in the previous five years—about 127,000 immigrants. This was lower than the proportion of non‑immigrants who reported spousal violence (4%). Although equal proportions of immigrant men (3%E) and women (3%) reported experiencing spousal violence, data from the 2014 GSS on Victimization indicates that there are differences between male and female victims in terms of the nature of the incidents they experienced. In particular, women are generally more likely to endure the most severe types of abuse such as sexual assault while men generally are more likely to experience some forms of physical assault such as kicking, biting, hitting or being hit with something (Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016).Note 

More than half (58%E) of immigrant victims experienced more than one incident of spousal violence in the five years prior to the survey, a proportion not significantly different from non‑immigrant victims. However, immigrant victims were less likely to have experienced more than ten incidents of spousal violence over the previous five years compared to non‑immigrant victims (8%E versus 17%).

Similar to the non‑immigrant population, for about two in five (38%) immigrant victims of spousal violence, the incident came to the attention of police. Similar proportions of immigrant men (37%E) and women (39%E) indicated that their experiences had been reported to the police. The majority (73%) of immigrant victims of spousal violence whose experiences had been reported to police were satisfied with the action police took, similar to non‑immigrant victims (65%).

Immigrants less likely to have a restraining, protective or no contact order against their spouse

Although immigrant victims were as likely as non‑immigrant victims to report their experiences of spousal violence to police, they were less likely than non‑immigrants to have had a restraining, protective or no contact order against their spouse at some point in time.Note  Non‑immigrants were twice as likely to have taken out such orders compared to immigrants (13% versus 7%E).

Formal services such as crisis centres, shelters or transition homes are other sources of assistance to which victims of violence could turn for help. Comparable to the non‑immigrant population, about two in five (38%) immigrant victims of spousal violence had sought out help from at least one formal service, the most common being seeking help from a counsellor or a psychologist (32%E). It was less common for immigrant victims of spousal violence to contact a crisis centre or a crisis line (9%E) or police‑ or court‑based victim services (9%E).

Other than police and formal services, victims of spousal violence may seek support from people like family members, friends and coworkers, or seek professional help from a lawyer, or a doctor or a nurse. Among immigrants, nearly two out of three (64%) victims talked to such individuals about the incident, a proportion not significantly different from non‑immigrant victims (70%). Although among non‑immigrant victims, women (83%) were significantly more likely than men (58%) to have sought such support, there was no such significant difference among immigrant victims, with 69% of women and 58%E of men having done so. Similar to non‑immigrant victims, however, immigrant victims of spousal violence more often turned to family members (47%) and friends or neighbours (44%) than co‑workers (22%E), doctors or nurses (18%E) or lawyers (18%E).

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Experiences of discrimination and perceptions of safety and the justice system

Experiences of discrimination, perceptions of local authorities and neighbourhood characteristics have been linked to fear of crime and victimization. Research suggests that an individual's physical and psychological well‑being may be linked to experiences of discrimination, neighbourhood disorder and feelings of safety in one's community. Discrimination, for example, has been linked to psychological distress, meanwhile, fear of crime has been linked to impaired health and well‑being and increased levels of anxiety and depression (Todorova et al. 2010; Chu and Song 2008; Wallace and May 2005; Farris and Fenaughty 2002; Sampson et al. 1997).

One in six immigrants report experiencing discrimination

According to the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization, more than 3.9 million (13%) Canadians 15 years and older had experienced some form of discrimination in the five years preceding the survey. Similar to findings from 2004, immigrants (17%) were more likely to report being a victim of discrimination than non‑immigrants (12%). Discrimination was more commonly reported by recent immigrants (20%) than established immigrants (16%). Research shows that immigrants are significantly more likely to face discrimination, even when other factors such as sex, income or language are taken into account (Nangia 2013).

Discrimination appeared to be more closely linked to visible minority status than to immigrant status. For example, visible minorities in general were more likely to report experiencing discrimination (20%) than non‑visible minorities (12%). Immigrant status did not appear to affect whether members of visible minority groups experienced discrimination, as visible minorities who were immigrants had a similar prevalence of discrimination to visible minorities who were not immigrants (20% and 21%, respectively).

The proportions of immigrants who experienced discrimination were similar across most provinces and territories with the exception of Quebec and British Columbia. Immigrants in British Columbia were less likely to report experiencing discrimination (14%) than immigrants in Canada overall (Chart 3). On the contrary, about one in five (21%) immigrants in Quebec reported experiencing discrimination in the previous five years. These differences may be partly explained by the racial and cultural distribution of the immigrant population in these provinces. According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, some visible minority groups were more likely to have experienced discrimination than others, namely, Arabs (29%), Blacks (27%), and Latin Americans (26%) (Simpson 2018). Quebec had the highest proportion of immigrants who belonged to these groups, with nearly half of its immigrant population belonging to at least one of these visible minority groups (40%, nearly 2.5 times the national proportion). In contrast, 6% of immigrants in British Columbia, belonged to these groups.

Chart 3 Proportion of immigrants and non-immigrants who reported being a victim of discrimination in the previous five years, by province or territory, 2014

Data table for Chart 3
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3 Immigrants, Immigrants total, Non‑immigrants and Non‑immigrants total, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province or territory Immigrants Immigrants totalData table Note  Non-immigrants Non-immigrants totalData table Note 
percent
N.L. 23Note E: Use with caution 17 5Note * 12
P.E.I. Note F: too unreliable to be published 17 10 12
N.S. 21Note E: Use with caution 17 10Note * 12
N.B. Note F: too unreliable to be published 17 10Note * 12
Que. 21Note ** 17 8Note * 12
Ont. 17 17 14Note * 12
Man. 15 17 14 12
Sask. 18Note E: Use with caution 17 15Note * 12
Alta. 21 17 15Note * 12
B.C. 14Note ** 17 14Note * 12
Y.T. 22Note E: Use with caution 17 21Note * 12
N.W.T. Note F: too unreliable to be published 17 22Note * 12
Nvt. Note F: too unreliable to be published 17 18Note * 12

Despite the differences in the distribution of visible minority groups in Canada's three largest CMAs, the share of immigrants in Toronto (16%), Vancouver (15%) and Montréal (20%) who had experienced discrimination in the previous five years were not significantly different from the overall immigrant population in Canada. Additionally, when the experiences of discrimination among immigrants in the three cities are compared to one another, they were generally similar. An exception to this, immigrants in Montréal were more likely to have reported discrimination compared to immigrants in Vancouver—this was mainly attributable to the larger proportion of immigrants who self‑identified as Arab, Black or Latin American in Montréal.

Discrimination at work or when applying for a job or promotion most commonly reported

Canadian immigrants who reported being a victim of discrimination most commonly experienced the incident at work or when applying for a job or promotion (54% compared to 46% for non‑immigrants) (Table 5).Note  About four in ten immigrant victims experienced discrimination while in a store, a bank or a restaurant (41% compared to 36% of non‑immigrant victims). More than one in ten (12%) immigrant victims felt discrimination while crossing the Canadian border; a proportion three times that of non‑immigrant victims of discrimination (4%).Note  Discrimination while dealing with the police was not significantly different between immigrant and non‑immigrant victims (11% versus 7%).

Immigrant victims commonly report feeling discriminated against for their ethnicity or culture, race or skin colour and language

When asked about the types of discrimination experienced, immigrant victims most often felt that they were discriminated against for their ethnicity or culture (54%), race or skin colour (47%) and language (31%) (Table 6).Note  These reasons were significantly less common among non‑immigrant victims (26%, 26% and 16%, respectively). Discrimination based on religion was experienced by one in five immigrants (20%), a proportion significantly higher than non‑immigrants (13%). Among non‑immigrants, other common reasons cited were sex (29% compared to 21% of immigrants), physical appearance (25% compared to 21% of immigrants) and age (22% compared to 15% of immigrants). Feeling discriminated against based on physical or mental disability (6%E) or sexual orientation (3%E) were also less commonly reported by immigrant victims than non‑immigrant victims (13% and 7%, respectively).

Overall, when it came to discrimination, the experiences of visible minority immigrants were similar to the experiences of visible minorities who were non‑immigrants. An important exception to this was job‑related discrimination: specifically, discrimination at work or when applying for a job or promotion which was found to be more common among visible minority immigrants (54%) than visible minority non‑immigrants (36%). In contrast, there were certain other situations where visible minority immigrants were less likely to have reported experiencing discrimination than visible minority non‑immigrants (21% compared to 37%). These situations may include at school, in the streets, in personal interactions or some other situations.Note 

Immigrants who were also members of a visible minority group generally experienced similar types of discrimination as did non‑immigrant visible minorities, with the exception of being discriminated based on race or skin colour and language. Immigrant visible minorities (59%) were less likely than non‑immigrant visible minorities (74%) to report experiencing discrimination based on race or skin colour. However, they were about four times more likely to have experienced discrimination based on language than non‑immigrant visible minorities (34% versus 9%E).

In general, similar proportions of immigrant women (18%) and men (17%) reported experiencing discrimination, unlike the non‑immigrant population where women (14%) were slightly more likely to experience discrimination than men (11%). However, similar to non‑immigrants, immigrants who self‑identified as homosexual or bisexual (26%E) were significantly more likely to experience discrimination than heterosexual immigrants (17%).Note 

In the immigrant population, there were some differences in the context in which men and women experienced discrimination. For example, discrimination while dealing with the police was more than twice as common among immigrant men (16%E) as women (6%E), while immigrant women were more likely than men to have faced discrimination in a store, bank or restaurant (47% compared to 35%). In the non‑immigrant population, women more often than men experienced job‑related discrimination, while discrimination when dealing with the police or the courts was more common among men.

Immigrant men and women generally experienced similar types of discrimination, with the exception of discrimination based on sex and race or skin colour. Specifically, immigrant men were more likely to have experienced discrimination based on race or skin colour (51% compared to 43% of immigrant women), while similar to the non‑immigrant population, discrimination based on sex was more common among immigrant women (27% compared to15%E of immigrant men).

Overall, recent and established immigrants who had experienced discrimination in the five years prior to the survey experienced it in similar situations (Chart 4). However, recent immigrant victims were significantly less likely to have experienced the discrimination while dealing with the police (5%E) compared to established immigrants (13%E).

Chart 4 Experiences of discrimination among established and recent immigrants in the previous five years, by type of situation, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 4
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Type of situation (appearing as row headers), Recent immigrants and Established immigrants, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of situation Recent immigrants Established immigrantsData table Note 
percent
At work or when applying for a job or promotion 59 52
In a store, bank or restaurant 39 43
Canadian border (crossing border into Canada)Data table Note 1 9Note E: Use with caution 13Note E: Use with caution
Dealing with the police 5Note E: Use with caution Note * 13
OtherData table Note 2 23 21

Generally, recent and established immigrants experienced similar types of discrimination (Chart 5). However, recent immigrants were significantly more likely to report experiencing discrimination based on language (42% compared to 27% among established immigrants) and less likely to have experienced discrimination based on age (9%E compared to 18% of established immigrants).

Chart 5 Experiences of discrimination among established and recent immigrants in the previous five years, by type of discrimination, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 5
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5. The information is grouped by Type of discrimination (appearing as row headers), Recent immigrants and Established immigrants, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of discrimination Recent immigrants Established immigrantsData table Note 
percent
Ethnicity or culture 56 54
Race or skin colour 44 48
Language 42Note * 27
Sex 16Note E: Use with caution 23
Religion 16Note E: Use with caution 22
Physical appearance 15Note E: Use with caution 22
Age 9Note E: Use with caution Note * 18
Physical or mental disability Note F: too unreliable to be published 8Note E: Use with caution
Sexual orientation Note F: too unreliable to be published 3Note E: Use with caution
OtherData table Note 1 8Note E: Use with caution 6Note E: Use with caution

Immigrants feel safe from crime in their homes and neighbourhoods

In general, feelings of safety among the immigrant population did not vary too much from those of their non‑immigrant counterparts. The majority (91%) of immigrants who walked alone at night in their neighbourhood felt safe from crime while doing so.Note  However, the degree to which they felt safe from crime was somewhat different from non‑immigrants: immigrants, especially recent immigrants, were less likely to indicate that they felt 'very safe' when walking alone at night (44% compared to 50% of established immigrants and 54% of non‑immigrants).

Most immigrants (established and recent) who spent time alone at home in the evening or at night were 'not at all worried' about their safety from crime. Immigrants (87%) were slightly less likely to have felt this way than non‑immigrants (89%).

About two‑thirds (64%) of both immigrants and non‑immigrants (66%) who used public transportation alone after dark felt safe from crime while doing so. The proportions were similar for recent (65%) and established (64%) immigrants.

The majority of immigrants feel their neighbourhood has less crime than other parts of Canada

Immigrants had generally positive feelings about their neighbourhoods and communities, similar to their non‑immigrant counterparts. In 2014, about three‑quarters of immigrants (75%) and non‑immigrants (74%) felt they lived in a neighbourhood with less crime than other areas in Canada. Recent immigrants (6%), however, were more likely to rate their neighbourhood as having higher levels of crime compared to other parts of Canada than established immigrants (4%) and non‑immigrants (4%). Further, like the Canadian population overall, most immigrants felt that crime in their neighbourhood had remained about the same in the five years leading up to the GSS on Victimization (75%).Note  However, this proportion was slightly lower than non‑immigrants who felt the same way (79%).

The majority of immigrants did not believe that they lived in neighbourhoods where social disorder was a big problem. For example, the vast majority (91%) did not feel that people being attacked or harassed because of their skin colour, ethnic origin or religion was a problem at all in their neighbourhood. Similarly, the majority of immigrants did not find other social disorders to be a problem in their neighbourhood. These included people being drunk or rowdy in public (83%), people hanging around on the streets (81%), garbage or litter lying around (79%), vandalism, graffiti or other deliberate damage to property or vehicles (78%), noisy neighbours or loud parties (76%), or people using or dealing drugs (76%). These immigrant perceptions of social disorder were generally similar to what was reported by the non‑immigrant population.

Sense of belonging and trust in neighbours lower among recent immigrants

In 2014, the large majority (75%) of the Canadian population felt a strong sense of belonging to their local community.Note  However, recent immigrants (70%) were less likely to report a strong sense of belonging to their local community than both established immigrants and non‑immigrants (75% each). In addition, trust in neighbours was lower among immigrants than non‑immigrants. Recent immigrants (13%) specifically were more likely to have had 'little to no trust' in people within their neighbourhood than established immigrants (9%) and non‑immigrants (8%).Note 

Most (92%) Canadians believed their neighbours would call the police if they heard or witnessed criminal behaviour in the neighbourhood. However, believing their neighbours were not likely to contact the police was more common among immigrants (4%) than non‑immigrants (2%), and more so among recent (6%) than established (3%) immigrants. This was also the case with hearing or witnessing family violence: more immigrants (6%) than non‑immigrants (4%) thought their neighbours were not at all likely to call the police in these situations.

Similar to the non‑immigrant population, most (94%) immigrants—recent and established alike‑ had at least one relative or friend not living with them who they felt close to and could call on for help. However, the size of the network of relatives or friends was significantly larger for non‑immigrants than immigrants. More specifically, two out of three (66%) non‑immigrants had more than five people they considered close, compared to 57% of established immigrants and 50% of recent immigrants. Recent immigrants (4%E) were nearly as likely as established immigrants (2%) to feel isolated, with no one they felt close to or that they could turn to for help. About 2% of non‑immigrants felt the same way, a proportion slightly lower than recent immigrants.Note 

Contact with police less common among immigrants

People come into contact with the police for a variety of reasons, including for public information, as a witness to a crime, or due to their own or others' emotional or psychological problems. In 2014, immigrants (25%) were less likely than non‑immigrants (32%) to have come into contact with police in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Most immigrants have confidence in the police

Results from the 2014 GSS on Victimization show that the vast majority (91%) of immigrants expressed confidence in the police.Note  This proportion was the same among non‑immigrants, however, immigrants (48%) were slightly more likely to have reported having a 'great deal' of confidence in the police than non‑immigrants (44%). Equal proportions of immigrants and non‑immigrants had 'no confidence at all' in the police (2% each).

When it comes to how citizens perceive their local police, most Canadians—immigrants and non‑immigrants alike—felt that police do a good job.Note  In particular, most immigrants felt their local police do a good job in terms of enforcing the laws (64%) and promptly responding to calls (59%). A slightly larger proportion of immigrants felt this way than did non‑immigrants (61% and 56%, respectively) (Table 7). However, immigrants were slightly less likely than non‑immigrants to give their local police a positive rating when it came to treating people fairly (61% compared to 63%) or supplying the public with information to prevent crime (54% compared to 56%). Similar proportions of immigrants and non‑immigrants gave their local police a good rating for ensuring the safety of citizens in the area (68% and 67% respectively) and for being approachable and easy to talk to (66% each).

Recent and established immigrants had similar opinions about the police except when it came to ensuring safety and fair treatment. Recent immigrants were significantly more likely to give the police a positive rating when it came to ensuring the safety of citizens (72%) and treating people fairly (67%) than established immigrants (67% and 59% respectively).

Immigrants in most provinces and territories were generally as likely as or more likely than non‑immigrants to give the local police a positive rating. Two exceptions were in Quebec and Prince Edward Island: In Quebec, immigrants were less likely than non‑immigrants to give the local police a good rating in terms of providing information on ways to prevent crime (54% compared to 60%) and treating people fairly (62% compared to 69%). In Prince Edward Island, immigrants were less likely than non‑immigrants to give their local police a good rating when it came to promptly responding to calls (47%E versus 67%).

More than one in four immigrants have a great deal of confidence in Canada's criminal court system

The 2014 GSS on Victimization found that the majority (71%) of Canadians had confidence in the criminal court system. The proportions were similar for both the immigrant and non‑immigrant segments of the population. While the majority of both immigrants and non‑immigrants had at least 'some' confidence in the court system, immigrants (27%) were more likely to indicate having 'a great deal' of confidence in the court system than non‑immigrants (16%). About 5% of all Canadians had 'no confidence at all' in the court system, a proportion slightly lower among immigrants (4%) than non‑immigrants (5%).

Immigrants (13%) were less likely than non‑immigrants (22%) to have ever come in contact personally with the criminal court system.Note  For both immigrants and non‑immigrants, those who had experience with the court system were less likely to have confidence in it than those who had never come in contact with it. This may explain the higher proportion of immigrants than non‑immigrants who indicated they had a great deal of confidence in the court system.

Summary

According to data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization), Canada's immigrant population experienced violent victimization at a rate of 39 incidents per 1,000 population—less than half the rate of victimization among the non‑immigrant population (86 per 1,000 population). The rate of violent victimization for immigrants declined 43% from 2004. Immigrant men and women were victimized at comparable rates and, likewise, recent and established immigrants experienced similar rates of victimization.

Like the non‑immigrant population, age—a factor known to be associated with victimization—made an impact in terms of the risk of victimization among the immigrant population. Young immigrants between the ages of 15 and 24 years were at a higher risk for violent victimization. Among both the immigrant and non‑immigrant populations, most victims did not believe that the incident they experienced was a hate crime. Immigrants, however, were more than three times as likely as non‑immigrants to indicate the violence they experienced was gang‑related. This does not suggest that gang‑related violence is more common among immigrants, but rather, it indicates that further research on links between immigrants and gang‑related victimization should be conducted.

Immigrants, particularly recent immigrants, were more likely to experience discrimination than non‑immigrants and the discrimination was more often related to their visible minority status. An immigrant's racial or cultural group was a factor in their likelihood of having experienced discrimination. Discrimination related to a job or a promotion was most often described as the context for the discrimination experienced by immigrants, and ethnicity or culture were often cited as the reason. Immigrants were as likely as non‑immigrants to experience discrimination when dealing with the police but were significantly more likely to have experienced discrimination while crossing the border into Canada. Generally, recent and established immigrants experienced similar forms of discrimination and in similar contexts. However, recent immigrants were more likely to have reported that the discrimination experienced was due to their language, and less likely to report experiencing discrimination when dealing with the police, than established immigrants.

Similar to non‑immigrants, most immigrants felt they lived in neighbourhoods with lower levels of crime than other parts of Canada. Similarly, most immigrants felt that social disorder was not a problem at all where they lived. Findings from the 2014 GSS on Victimization indicate that there were some differences between recent and established immigrants in other characteristics related to victimization, such as sense of belonging to their community, neighbourhood trust and perceptions of and confidence in police. However, these differences were reduced when immigrants as a whole population were compared to non‑immigrants.

Research has found that immigrants may not feel comfortable talking about their victimization experiences to anyone, for reasons that include having a limited understanding of legal rights, fearing deportation, and cultural norms that deem the experiences private (McCart et al. 2010; Davis and Henderson 2003; Davis and Erez 1998). Thus, results presented within this report should be interpreted within this context.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Selected characteristics of immigrants and non‑immigrants, population aged 15 years and older, Canada, 2014

Table 2 Violent victimization incidents reported by immigrants and non‑immigrants, by selected victim characteristics, Canada, 2014

Table 3 Violent victimization incidents reported by immigrants and non‑immigrants, by selected incident characteristics, Canada, 2014

Table 4 Violent victimization incidents experienced by immigrants and non‑immigrants, by reporting to police, level of satisfaction with police actions and reasons for not reporting to police, Canada, 2014

Table 5 Experiences of discrimination among immigrants and non‑immigrants in the previous five years, by type of situation, sex and visible minority status, Canada, 2014

Table 6 Experiences of discrimination among immigrants and non‑immigrants in the previous five years, by type of discrimination, sex and visible minority status, Canada, 2014

Table 7 Immigrants' and non‑immigrants' perceptions of police, by province or territory, 2014

Survey description

General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety (Victimization)

In 2014, Statistics Canada conducted the victimization cycle of the General Social Survey (GSS) for the sixth time. Previous cycles were conducted in 1988, 1993, 1999, 2004 and 2009. The purpose of the survey is to provide data on Canadians' personal experiences with eight offences, examine the risk factors associated with victimization, examine rates of reporting to the police, assess the nature and extent of spousal violence, measure fear of crime, and examine public perceptions of crime and the criminal justice system.

The 2014 GSS on Victimization was also conducted in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut using a different sampling design. The GSS on Victimization was also conducted in the Territories in 2009 and was preceded by test collections in 1999 and 2004.

In 2009, comparisons between the data from the territories and the provinces were to be made with caution primarily because the Inuit population was underrepresented in the territories. In 2014, as a result of advancements made to the frame and higher response rates, data in the territories can be compared, or combined, with data for the provinces. It is noteworthy, however, to keep in mind differences in survey methods and weighting strategies for the provinces and territories when analyzing GSS on Victimization 2014 data at the Canada level. This report combined 2014 GSS on Victimization data from both the provinces and territories.

The target population for the GSS on Victimization is the Canadian population aged 15 and over, living in the provinces and territories. Canadians residing in institutions are not included. Once a household was contacted an individual 15 years or older was randomly selected to respond to the survey. With funding from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Public Safety Canada, an oversample of immigrants and youth was added to the 2014 GSS on Victimization for a more detailed analysis of these groups.

In 2014, the sample size for the 10 provinces was 33,127 respondents. Of that number, 2,787 were from the oversample. In 2014, the sample size for the three territories was 2,040 respondents, about twice the number of respondents in 2009 (1,094).

Data collection

Provinces

Data collection took place from January to December 2014 inclusively. Responses were obtained by computer‑assisted telephone interviews (CATI). Respondents were able to respond in the official language of their choice.

Territories

Data collection took place from August 2014 to January 2015 inclusively. The method of collection was a mixture of computer‑assisted telephone (CATI) and personal interviews (CAPI). Most cases started as CATI at the regional office and could be transferred to a CAPI‑interviewer depending on the community and collection constraints. Respondents were interviewed in the official language of their choice.

Response rates

Provinces

The overall response rate in 2014 was 52.9%, down from 61.6% in 2009. 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.

Territories

The overall response rate was 58.7%, up from 50.7% in 2009. 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 territories population aged 15 and older.

Data limitations

As with any household survey, there are some data limitations. The results are based on a sample and are therefore subject to sampling errors. Somewhat different results might have been obtained if the entire population had been surveyed. This article uses the coefficient of variation (CV) as a measure of the sampling error. Estimates with a high CV (over 33.3%) were not published because they were too unreliable. In these cases, the symbol "F" is used in place of an estimate in the figures and data tables. Estimates with a CV between 16.6 and 33.3 should be used with caution and the symbol "E" is used. Where descriptive statistics and cross‑tabular analyses were used, statistically significant differences were determined using 95% confidence intervals.

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