Public Perception of Crime and Justice in Canada: A Review of Opinion Polls

2. Perception of Criminal Justice Institutions (continued)

2. Perception of Criminal Justice Institutions (continued)

2.4 Laws and law enforcement

When asked about laws, the enforcement of laws, and sentencing, a majority of Canadians polled (79%) are of the opinion that sentences imposed are too lenient (Table 9). Only 14% think they are about right, and 2% think they are too strict. The results are similar for laws and their enforcement, whereby 69% of respondents think that enforcement of laws is too lenient. Twenty-five percent think they are about right and 3% think they are too strict. Not only do they see enforcement as lacking, but also a majority of Canadians (65%) believe the laws themselves are too lenient. Twenty-nine percent think the laws are about right and three percent think they are too strict. All of these rates are essentially unchanged from 1994.

Question:

Overall, do you think that…the laws themselves are too strict, too lenient or about right…the enforcement of laws is too strict, too lenient or about right…the punishments or sentences being given by the courts to law-breakers are too severe, too lenient or about right?

Table 10: Canadians' perceptions of the harshness of the justice system
  Too Lenient About Right Too Strict
Sentencing 79% 14% 2%
Enforcement 69 25 3
Laws 65 29 3

Source: Environics, 1998.

2.5 Public priorities in crime and justice

When asked in the 1998 Environics survey about priorities for the justice system, crime prevention continues to be a priority among Canadians (Figure 6). In 1998, 57% of Canadians polled consider crime prevention a priority, ahead of the 37% who place law enforcement as a higher priority. However, the proportion that would like to see more emphasis on crime prevention is down four points from 1994 and those who would like to see more emphasis on law enforcement is up two points from 1994.

Figure 6: Canadians' priority for the criminal justice system

Figure 6: Canadians' priority for the criminal justice system
[Description of Figure 6]

Source: Environics, 1998.

There continues to be support for making violent and youth crime a higher priority than property or white collar crime (Table 11). Among top priorities for the public are harsher sentences for all young offenders (77%, down five points from 1994), and deporting non-citizen offenders (77%, down four points from 1994). There is also support for social programs for youths (71%, down 6 points), keeping lawbreakers in prison until the end of their sentences (65%, down seven points) and for community policing (62%, down one point). As well, the public would also like to see high priority placed on more gun control measures (57%, down four points), establishing programs that encourage citizen participation in crime prevention (52%, down eight points) and programs that involve victims of crime in sentencing decisions (43%).

Question:

Given that there are limited resources to spend, do you think each of the following should be a high priority, a medium priority, or a low priority in the areas of crime and justice…?

Table 11: Canadians' priorities for the justice system
High Priority 1994 1998
Harsher sentences for violent youth 82% 77%
Deport non-citizen offenders 81 77
Social programs for youth 77 71
Offenders serve full sentences 72 65
Increase sentences for most offenders 66 63
Increase community policing 63 62
More gun control 61 57
Citizen crime prevention programs 60 52
Involve crime victims in sentencing decisions N/A 43
Non-violent offender programs 46 40
Hire more police 32 30
Increase social assistance 24 28

Source: Environics, 1998.

Overall, Canadians would like to see the limited resources spent on violent crime. Ninety-five percent of respondents assign a high priority to responding to violent crime, 89% to violence against women and 82% to youth crime. At the same time, 56% say that, despite limited resources, law enforcement should deal with all crimes, even if it means paying less attention to more serious or violent crimes. There is an almost equal distribution of Canadians who place a high priority on setting up programs to integrate violent offenders into society (40%), and those who place it on a medium priority (43%). Hiring more police officers is a lower priority (30%) as is increasing social assistance to low-income Canadians (28%).

2.6 Credibility of spokespersons

Canadians were also asked in the 1998 Environics poll about the perceived credibility of various spokespersons concerned with crime and solutions to crime (Table 12). In keeping with the most trusted professional groups within the criminal justice system, 67% of respondents mentioned police chiefs as being always/usually believable. This rate is up slightly from 65% in 1994. The next most credible source is victims' groups, with 61% of Canadians finding them always/usually believable. This current level of credibility is down from 66% in 1994. Data from Statistics Canada and academic research attracts, respectively, 59% and 57% of Canadians' credibility, remaining essentially unchanged from 1994. Television and the print news media are less well received, with 43% and 42% respectively, being seen as credible. Government officials, both federal and provincial, are seen as the least credible, each with 31%.

Question:

When it comes to facts about crime and the solutions to crime, how believable do you find each of the following: Always believable, usually believable, sometimes believable or rarely believable…?

Table 12: Credibility of spokespersons
Spokesperson 1994 1998
Police Chiefs 65% 67%
Victims' groups 66 61
Statistics Canada data 60 59
Academic researchers 57 57
Television reports 43 43
Newspaper reports 42 42
Federal Government officials 31 31
Provincial Government officials 30 31

Source: Environics, 1998.

2.7 Section summary

Canadians' confidence in the various components of the criminal justice system has remained relatively unchanged over the past few years. The public also has a poor opinion of various criminal justice system personnel. Parole boards, lawyers and judges elicit the least, and the local police and RCMP elicit the most confidence from the public. Consistent with the levels of confidence, police chiefs are seen as the most credible spokespersons, and government officials are seen as the least credible. The public is almost evenly divided on how it would prefer to allocate the limited resources of the system, between crime prevention and law enforcement.

Date modified: