Canadians’ perceptions of personal safety and crime, 2014

by Samuel Perreault

Release date: December 12, 2017

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Highlights

  • The majority of Canadians are satisfied (50%) or very satisfied (38%) with their personal safety from crime.
  • Canadians are among the citizens of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries who feel safest.
  • Generally, residents of the Atlantic provinces and Ontario were the most satisfied with their personal safety, while residents of the Prairies and the Territories were less satisfied.
  • Residents of rural areas and small towns were more likely to be very satisfied with their personal safety than residents of agglomerations with a population of at least 10,000.
  • Among census metropolitan areas with a population of more than 100,000, residents of Guelph, Kingston and Sherbrooke were the most satisfied with their personal safety, while residents of Abbotsford–Mission, Winnipeg and Saskatoon were the least satisfied.
  • Among census agglomerations with a population between 10,000 and 100,000, residents of Centre Wellington, Owen Sound and Corner Brook were the most satisfied with their personal safety, while residents of Red Deer, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw were the least satisfied.
  • Fewer Canadians feel that crime is increasing. In 2014, 1 in 10 Canadians (11%) felt that the level of crime in their neighbourhood had increased over the previous five years, compared with almost one-half (46%) in 1993.
  • Victims of crime were less likely to feel safe. Sexual assault, robbery and breaking and entering are the crimes that most negatively impacted the sense of safety of victims.
  • Women, especially young women, feel less safe than men. Overall, less than 4 in 10 women (38%) said they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, compared with nearly two-thirds (64%) of men. Women were also more likely to take steps to protect themselves.
  • Immigrants and visible minorities generally had a lower sense of safety than other Canadians. This was especially true for Arab and West Asian women (e.g., Iranian and Afghan), one-quarter of whom said they did not feel safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, compared with 11% of other women.

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A sense of personal safety has been intrinsically linked to a sense of well-being. Measures of safety are routinely included in key wellness indicators such as the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (University of Waterloo) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Better Life Index. Several studies have also shown that a perceived lack of safety could have various adverse effects on individuals and communities. In particular, fear of crime can lead to withdrawal from community life and reduces social cohesion (Cobbina et al. 2008). It can also lead some people to adopt restrictive behaviours, such as avoiding certain places or not going out after a certain time. A sense of insecurity can also lead to increased spending to protect against crime or even be the reason that some people move away (Hale 1996). Finally, insecurity can have negative effects on physical and mental health and general well-being (Foster et al. 2014; Lorenc 2012; Adams and Serpe 2000).

Research on sense of safety—or on the fear of crime—has also shown personal safety to be associated with far more than just fear of being a victim of crime. A sense of insecurity is generally a wide-ranging fear or anxiety linked to many personal and environmental factors (Farrall et al. 2009).

Thus, a sense of safety is thought to be influenced by factors related to vulnerability: people whose risk of victimization is higher, or those who feel less able to defend themselves against or recover from the consequences of victimization (particularly women and the elderly) would have higher levels of fear (Sacco 1995; Covington and Taylor 1991; Killias 1990). The community in which a person lives can also have a significant impact on their sense of safety. There is general agreement that people who live in a place where neighbours know each other, help each other and trust each other have a greater sense of personal safety (Yuan and McNeeley 2017; Gibson et al. 2002; Sampson et al. 1997). Finally, the presence of social disorder and antisocial behaviours also seems to have an unsettling effect because these are indicators that more serious crimes might be committed or that the community or the police have been unable to adequately control deviant behaviour (Intravia et al. 2016; Fitzgerald 2008; Sampson et al. 1997).Note 

Since a sense of safety is only partly associated with actual levels of crime, it is important to measure it accurately and to understand factors that may contribute to a sense of safety. Research on the subject has shown that a sense of safety is a concept that can be expressed in different ways, and it is usually best to use more than one measure to better understand its nature, scope and key trends. This Juristat article outlines the main measures related to sense of safety included in the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) at the national, provincial, territorial, census metropolitan area and census agglomeration levels. It also presents the main characteristics associated with Canadians’ sense of safety.

The majority of Canadians are satisfied with their personal safety from crime

In 2014, the majority (88%) of Canadians said they were either very satisfied (38%) or satisfied (50%) with their personal safety from crime. This proportion varied slightly among the Provinces and Territories, from 85% in the Northwest Territories to 93% in New Brunswick (Chart 1 and Table 1).Note 

Chart 1 Satisfaction with personal security from crime, by province or territory, 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 Province (appearing as row headers), Very satisfied and Satisfied, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province Very satisfied Satisfied
percent
N.L. 43 48Note ***
P.E.I. 47 43Note *
N.S. 39 50
N.B. 46 47Note ***
Que. 36 52Note *
Ont. 40 49Note ***
Man. 32 54Note *
Sask. 37 51
Alta. 35 51Note *
B.C. 37 49Note **
Y.T. 38 51
N.W.T. 33 52Note **
Nvt. 31 57Note *
CanadaData table Note  38 50

Differences between provinces and territories were somewhat more pronounced when it came to the proportion of people who were very satisfied with their personal safety, ranging from 31% in Nunavut to 47% in Prince Edward Island.

Overall, the variation across the country in the proportion of people who were very satisfied with their personal safety from crime reflects differences in police-reported crime rates across the country (see Boyce 2015). Thus, the highest proportions of people who were very satisfied were recorded in the Atlantic provinces and Ontario—the provinces with the lowest crime rates—while the lowest proportions of people who were very satisfied were posted in the Prairies and the Territories, where crime rates are higher.

Residents of census metropolitan areas are less likely to be very satisfied with their personal safety from crime

Canadians’ sense of safety varies depending on where they live, and particularly on the size of their city. People living in a census metropolitan area (CMA) with a population of 100,000 or moreNote  were less likely to be very satisfied with their personal safety than residents of census agglomerations (CAs)Note  (36% versus 40%). This difference was more pronounced compared with people living in rural areas and small towns (45%) (Chart 2). Crime in larger cities may be more common and so more visible to residents; although when taking population size into account, crime rates are generally not higher in CMAs or CAs than elsewhere.

Chart 2 Satisfaction with personal security from crime, by census metropolitan area, 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 Census metropolitan area (appearing as row headers), Very satisfied and Satisfied, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Census metropolitan areaData table Note 1 Very satisfied Satisfied
percent
Guelph 63Note * 31
Kingston 52Note * 41
Sherbrooke 50Note * 39
Moncton 49Note * 44
Victoria 48Note * 42
Trois-Rivières 47Note * 47
St. Catharines–Niagara 46Note * 45
Saint John 45Note * 45
Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo 44Note * 48
Saguenay 44 50
Oshawa 43 44
Thunder Bay 43Note E: Use with caution 41
Québec 43Note * 48
London 42 46
Hamilton 41 51
Barrie 40 50
OttawaData table Note 2 40 49
Windsor 39 54
Ottawa–Gatineau 38 50
Calgary 38 50
Kelowna 37 55
Regina 36 51
Toronto 36 52
Halifax 35 51
St. John’s 34 53
Greater Sudbury 34Note E: Use with caution 56
Edmonton 33 54
GatineauData table Note 3 32 54
Peterborough 32Note E: Use with caution 47
Brantford 32Note E: Use with caution 49
Vancouver 31Note * 51
Montréal 31Note * 54
Saskatoon 30Note * 55
Winnipeg 28Note * 54
Abbotsford–Mission 24Note E: Use with cautionNote * 57
All CMAsData table Note  36 51
All CAsData table Note 1 40Note * 49
Non-CMA or non-CAData table Note 4 45Note * 46

The differences observed by size of city were mainly attributable to women. Less than one-third (30%) of women living in a CMA said they were very satisfied with their personal safety. This proportion increased slightly in CAs (33%) and much more in rural areas and small towns (41%). For men, these proportions were 42%, 48% and 49%, respectively.

Residents of Guelph, Kingston and Sherbrooke are the most satisfied with their personal safety

The proportion of people who reported being very satisfied varied from one census metropolitan area (CMA) to another. Similar to findings for the Provinces, the proportions of people who were very satisfied with their safety were higher in CMAs with low crime rates. For example, the highest proportions of people who were very satisfied with their safety were recorded in Guelph (63%), Kingston (52%) and Sherbrooke (50%), while the lowest were in Abbotsford–Mission (24%), Winnipeg (28%) and Saskatoon (30%) (Table 1).

Among census agglomerations, the highest proportions of people who were very satisfied with their personal safety were in Centre Wellington (76%), Owen Sound (66%), Corner Brook (63%) and Miramichi (59%),Note  while the lowest were recorded in Red Deer (15%E), Prince Albert (18%E), Moose Jaw (22%E) and Wood Buffalo (23%E). Some studies have shown that significant structural changes related to resource based economies can negatively affect the sense of safety in small communities (Ruddell and Ortiz 2014; Scott et al. 2012), which could partially explain the lower levels of satisfaction with personal safety in some of these areas.

In general, the variations in the level of satisfaction with personal safety from one CMA to another seemed to correspond to the trend in police-reported crime rates, with some exceptions. For example, the proportion of Montréal residents who were very satisfied with their personal safety was below the average for CMAs (31% versus 36%), although the crime rate is relatively low. Similarly, while Toronto had the lowest crime rate among CMAs in 2014, its residents were no more likely than the average to be very satisfied with their personal safety (36%).

Several studies show that feelings of safety are only partially influenced by crime levels. Other factors, often more common in urban areas, such as signs of social or physical disorder, frequent interactions with strangers and low social cohesion, can also reduce the sense of safety (Gibson et al. 2002; Pain 2000; Sampson et al. 1997; Hale 1996). It should also be noted that feelings of safety are mostly influenced by the characteristics of the immediate environment of individuals (Breetzke and Pearson 2014). Therefore, within each city, a sense of safety could vary greatly from one neighbourhood to another.

The majority of Canadians in 2014 believed that the level of crime in their neighbourhood had remained unchanged over the previous five years

Since the early 1990s, the police-reported crime rate has been generally decreasing year after year in Canada.Note  However, this does not correspond with the perceptions of most Canadians about crime trends in their neighbourhood. In 2014, the majority (74%) of Canadians believed that the level of crime in their neighbourhood had remained unchanged from five years earlier. Moreover, just over 1 in 10 Canadians believed that crime levels had increased and less than 1 in 10 believed they had declined (Chart 3).

Chart 3 Canadians’ perception of changes in the level of crime in their neighbourhood over the previous five years, 1993 to 2014

Data table for Chart 3
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3 1988, 1993, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014, calculated using percent and rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
1988 1993 1999 2004 2009 2014Data table Note 
percent
Increased Note ...: not applicable 46Note * 29Note * 30Note * 26Note * 11
Unchanged Note ...: not applicable 43Note * 54Note * 58Note * 62Note * 74
Decreased Note ...: not applicable 4Note * 6Note * 6Note * 6Note * 9
rate per 100,000 population
Crime rateData table Note 1 8,919 9,538 7,695 7,601 6,462 5,047

Although Canadian’s perceptions of crime trends do not seem to match the police-reported crime trends, an examination of how these perceptions have changed over time shows that they partially do. For example, in 1993, when the crime rate peaked,Note  nearly one-half (46%) of Canadians believed that crime levels had increased, a slightly lower proportion (43%) believed that they had remained stable and only 4% believed that they had decreased. Thus, fewer and fewer Canadians believe that the number of crimes is increasing, a shift that partly conforms to the trend of police-reported crimes.

Most Canadians believe that the number of crimes committed in their neighbourhood is lower than elsewhere in Canada

While few Canadians believe that crime in their neighbourhood has declined over the past five years, many believe that it is lower than elsewhere in the country. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Canadians believe that the number of crimes committed in their neighbourhood is lower than in other areas of the country. Furthermore, 1 in 5 Canadians (20%) believe that the number of crimes committed in their neighbourhood is roughly the same as elsewhere in Canada and less than 1 in 20 (4%) believe that it is higher (Chart 4).

Chart 4 Canadians’ perceptions of the number of crimes in their neighbourhood compared with other regions of 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 Lower, About the same and Higher, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Lower About the same Higher
percent
N.L. 86Note * 12Note * 2Note E: Use with cautionNote *
P.E.I. 90Note * 9Note E: Use with cautionNote * 1Note E: Use with cautionNote *
N.S. 77Note * 19 3Note *
N.B. 83Note * 14Note * 2Note E: Use with cautionNote *
Que. 70Note * 23Note * 3Note *
Ont. 76Note * 17Note * 4
Man. 72 21 4
Sask. 75 19 5
Alta. 73 20 5Note *
B.C. 72Note * 20 6Note *
Y.T. 75 18 4Note E: Use with caution
N.W.T. 64Note * 23 8Note E: Use with cautionNote *
Nvt. 53Note * 29Note * 12Note *
CanadaData table Note  74 20 4

It is possible that the satisfaction of many Canadians with regard to their personal safety is related in part to the favourable perception they have of the crime level in their neighbourhood. For example, 92% of Canadians who believe that the number of crimes committed in their neighbourhood is lower than elsewhere in Canada reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their personal safety. This compares with 62% who believe that crime in their neighbourhood is higher than elsewhere.

Like the level of satisfaction with personal safety, the perception of the number of crimes committed in the neighbourhood compared with elsewhere in Canada varied across the country and generally followed the differences in crime rates. While the majority of people across Canada believe that the number of crimes is lower in their neighbourhood than elsewhere in the country, the most favourable perceptions were generally in the East and in Ontario, where crime rates are lower, and the least favourable perceptions were in the West and in the Territories.

The majority of Canadians say they take steps to protect themselves from criminal acts

Another way to measure Canadians’ sense of safety is to consider the behaviours they adopt to protect themselves from crime. It is worth noting, however, that people who adopted protective measures in response to a sense of insecurity may actually have improved their sense of safety.

In 2014, the majority of Canadians (94%) said that they currently take or have already taken steps to protect themselves or their possessions against crime. The most common measure, adopted by 85% of Canadians, was to routinely lock the doors and windows at home.

Women were slightly more likely than men to report taking or having taken protective measures (96% versus 91%). Moreover, women usually reported taking more measures than men (an average of four measures for women compared with three for men).

Overall, women were generally much more likely than men to report taking measures to protect themselves rather than their property. For example, nearly one-half of women said that they plan their route with safety in mind (49%) and that they check the back seat for intruders when returning to a parked car (47%), while about one-quarter of men said they take these measures (29% and 23% respectively) (Chart 5).

Chart 5 Use of protective measures, by sex, 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 To protect themselves or their belongings from criminal acts... (appearing as row headers), Men and Women, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
To protect themselves or their belongings from criminal acts... MenData table Note  Women
percent
Routinely locks doors and windows at home 81 88Note *
Routinely plans their route with safety in mind 29 49Note *
Routinely checks for intruders in the back seat when returning to their car 23 47Note *
Routinely uses their car, a taxi or public transportation rather than walk 18 38Note *
Has installed a burglar alarm or a motion detector 32 33
Has changed their routine or avoided certain people or places 23 31Note *
Has installed new locks or security bars 25 26Note *
Routinely carries something to defend themselves or to alert other people 8 16Note *
Has taken a self-defence course 11 13Note *
Has obtained a dog 8 11Note *
Routinely stays at home at night because they are afraid to go out alone 2 10Note *
Has changed residence or moved 3 5Note *

Similarly, women were more likely than men to report that, for their personal safety, they routinely take a taxi, their car or public transportation instead of walking (38% versus 18%) or stay at home at night (10% versus 2%). However, there was very little or no difference between men and women with regard to measures to protect property, such as installing a burglar alarm or new locks (Chart 5).

Perhaps reflecting the fact that they feel safer than before, Canadian men and women alike reported taking protective measures less often in 2014 than in 1999. The largest decreases were noted for checking the back seat of the car for intruders (35% versus 44% in 1999), changing their routine or avoiding certain places (27% versus 36%) and installing new locks or security bars (26% versus 33%) (Chart 6).

Chart 6 Use of protective measures, by all provinces, 1999 and 2014

Data table for Chart 6
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6. The information is grouped by To protect themselves or their belongings from criminal acts... (appearing as row headers), 1999 and 2014, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
To protect themselves or their belongings from criminal acts... 1999Data table Note  2014
percent
Routinely locks doors and windows at home Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 85
Routinely plans their route with safety in mind 42 39Note *
Routinely checks for intruders in the back seat when returning to their car 44 35Note *
Has installed a burglar alarm or a motion detector 31 33Note *
Routinely uses their car, a taxi or public transportation rather than walk Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 28
Has changed their routine or avoided certain people or places 36 27Note *
Has installed new locks or security bars 33 26Note *
Routinely carries something to defend themselves or to alert other people 13 12Note *
Has taken a self-defence course 13 12Note *
Has obtained a dog 12 10Note *
Routinely stays at home at night because they are afraid to go out alone 10 6Note *
Has changed residence or moved 4 4Note *

About one half of Canadians feel very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark

The 2014 General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) also asked Canadians about their sense of safety in specific situations, such as when they walk alone in their neighbourhood after dark, are home alone or use public transportation alone after dark. The majority of Canadians said they felt safe in these situations.

Just under one-half (44%) of Canadians said they felt very safe from crime when walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark (Chart 7). Excluding people who never walk alone after dark, this proportion rises to 52%, or 12 percentage points higher than in 1999 (40%). It should be noted that some people may choose to never walk alone after dark because they do not feel safe. Among those who reported never walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, just under one-third (31%) said they would if they felt safer.Note 

Chart 7 Canadians’ sense of safety from crime when walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, 2014

Data table for Chart 7
Data table for Chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 7. The information is grouped by Sense of safety (appearing as row headers), Percent (appearing as column headers).
Sense of safety Percent
Very safe 44
Reasonably safe 34
Somewhat unsafe 5
Very unsafe 1
Never walks alone after dark 15

Similarly, 84% of Canadians said that they did not feel worried at all when home after dark (89% when excluding those who are never alone) (Chart 8).

Chart 8 Canadians’ sense of safety from crime when home alone at night, 2014

Data table for Chart 8
Data table for Chart 8
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 8. The information is grouped by Sense of safety (appearing as row headers), Percent (appearing as column headers).
Sense of safety Percent
Not at all worried 84
Somewhat worried 10
Very worried 1
Never alone 6

With regard to the sense of safety on public transportation, two-thirds (65%) of usersNote  said they were not at all worried about their safety when using this service alone after dark. However, this proportion was not the same across the country. For example, 90% of public transportation users in Guelph and 85% in Québec reported that they were not at all worried about their safety, compared with 55% in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary (Chart 9).

Chart 9 Users of public transportation who report they do not feel worried about their security from crime when using public transportation, by census metropolitan area, 2014

Data table for Chart 9
Data table for Chart 9
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 9. The information is grouped by Census metropolitan area (appearing as row headers), Percent (appearing as column headers).
Census metropolitan areaData table Note 1 Percent
Guelph 90Note *
Québec 85Note *
St. Catharines–Niagara 83Note *
Saguenay 83Note *
Kingston 81
Sherbrooke 76
Montréal 73Note *
GatineauData table Note 2 73
Victoria 73
Trois-Rivières 72Note E: Use with caution
Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo 72
Saint John 71
Oshawa 70
Saskatoon 69
Kelowna 66
Greater Sudbury 66Note E: Use with caution
Moncton 66
Toronto 65
Regina 63
Ottawa–Gatineau 62
Hamilton 62
St. John’s 61
Peterborough 61Note E: Use with caution
OttawaData table Note 3 60
Vancouver 59Note *
Windsor 58
London 57
Halifax 57Note *
Calgary 55Note *
Winnipeg 55Note *
Edmonton 55Note *
All CMAsData table Note  65
All CAsData table Note 1 68
Non-CMA or non-CAData table Note 4 71

Canadians are among the citizens of OECD countries who feel safest

The General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) is conducted only in Canada and therefore its results do not allow for a comparison of Canadians’ sense of safety to that of residents of other countries. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)Note  publishes data on sense of safety for its member countries. These data are taken from the Gallup World Poll, which uses a similar question to the one used in the 2014 GSS to measure the sense of safety when walking alone in one’s neighbourhood after dark.

The results show that Canadians are among those in OECD countries with the highest sense of safety, with 82% reporting feeling safe in this type of situation. Only residents of the Scandinavian countries (except Sweden), Switzerland and Slovenia were more likely to report feeling safe. Moreover, this proportion is significantly higher than the average for OECD countries (68%). By comparison, 78% of Britons, 74% of Americans and 71% of the French said they feel safe walking alone in their neighbourhood. Among OECD members, Mexicans were the least likely to say they felt safe (40%) (Chart 10).

Chart 10 Proportion of people who say they feel safe walking alone at night in their city or neighbourhood, by countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2015

Data table for Chart 10
Data table for Chart 10
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 10. The information is grouped by Country (appearing as row headers), Percent (appearing as column headers).
Country Percent
Norway 90
Switzerland 87
Finland 86
Denmark 85
Slovenia 84
Canada 82
Spain 82
Austria 81
Netherlands 81
IcelandData table Note 1 78
United Kingdom 78
Ireland 77
Sweden 77
Germany 75
United States 74
Luxembourg 71
France 71
Japan 70
Czech Republic 70
Belgium 70
Portugal 69
OECD average 68
South Korea 68
Estonia 67
Israel 66
Poland 66
New Zealand 64
Australia 63
Greece 63
Slovakia 62
Latvia 62
Turkey 60
Italy 59
Hungary 53
RussiaData table Note 2 53
Chile 50
Mexico 40
South AfricaData table Note 2 40
BrazilData table Note 2 40

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Text box 1
The various measures of sense of safety in Canada

Most studies on sense of safety—or the fear of crime—acknowledge that it is a concept that is not frozen in time and can be expressed in many ways (Farrall et al. 2009). There are thus many ways to measure sense of safety. For example, the measures that Canadians take to protect themselves from crime can be reflective of a behavioural response to a certain sense of insecurity. Respondents can also be asked about their perception of the crime rate in their neighbourhood, which can provide somewhat of a cognitive assessment of the perceived risk. Finally, the survey can also ask about the sense of safety in specific situations or the fear of being the victim of specific crimes as a way to measure a more emotional aspect of the sense of safety.

Generally, there is agreement that it is better to examine more than one measure in order to produce a complete portrait of the sense of safety. In addition to questions about taking precautionary and preventive measures (see Chart 5), the 2014 General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) included the following questions to measure Canadians’ sense of safety, each of which is touched on in this article:

  1. In general, how satisfied are you with your personal safety from crime?
  2. Compared with other areas in Canada, do you think your neighbourhood has a higher amount of crime, about the same or a lower amount of crime?
  3. During the last five years, do you think that crime in your neighbourhood has increased, decreased or remained about the same?
  4. While waiting for or using public transportation alone after dark, do you feel very worried, somewhat worried or not at all worried about your safety from crime?
  5. When alone in your home in the evening or at night, do you feel very worried, somewhat worried or not at all worried about your safety from crime?
  6. How safe do you feel from crime walking alone in your area after dark?

Responses to question 6 are used for analysis of the characteristics that influence the sense of safety, which appears in the next section. Not only this question, or a similar formulation, is used in most national victimization surveys, it is also one of the most used in studies on the sense of safety. Moreover, key well-being indexes rely on this measure. Focussing on this measure therefore facilitates links and comparisons with other studies.

Specifically, analysis of responses to “How safe do you feel from crime walking alone in your area after dark?” will focus on the people who responded that they felt very safe in that situation. The work of Farrall et al. (2009) has shown that there were many inconsistencies in individuals’ responses, depending on the question asked. However, these inconsistencies are much rarer among those who said they felt very safe. Finally, people who responded that they never walk alone after dark are excluded from this analysis. Although some people may avoid walking alone precisely because they fear becoming victims, most studies agree that hypothetical issues (e.g., the sense of safety a person would have if they walked alone) lead to unreliable results (Farrall et al. 2009; Ferraro and LaGrange 1987).

End of text box

Women feel much less safe than men

The feeling of safety when walking alone in one’s neighbourhood after dark is one of the most frequently used measures in studies that look at the sense of safety. Although some people may choose to never walk alone after dark because they do not feel safe, most studies agree that it is best not to use a hypothetical measure, and therefore to consider only the sense of safety of people who engage in the activity in question (see Text box 1). The following sections address the sense of safety of people who walk alone after dark in their neighbourhood.

Of all the sociodemographic characteristics that influence the sense of safety, sex is likely the most important. For example, while almost two-thirds (64%) of men who walk alone in their neighbourhood after dark said they felt very safe, just over one-third (38%) of women said the same. On the other hand, women were three times more likely than men to say they felt somewhat or very unsafe when walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark (12% versus 4%) (Table 2).

Furthermore, this difference existed regardless of the measure of sense of safety. For example, one-half (50%) of females who use public transportation alone after dark do not feel worried at all when doing so, compared with more than three-quarters (78%) of their male counterparts. Also, 83% of women are not worried when alone at home in the evening or at night, compared with almost all (94%) men. In addition, women were more likely than men to report that they would walk alone more often (30% versus 18%Note ) in their neighbourhood after dark if they felt safer.

However, the sense of safety has increased sharply among women in recent years. In 1999, less than one-quarter (24%) of women reported feeling very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark and even more (28%) reported feeling somewhat or very unsafe. Fifteen years later, these proportions were 38% and 11%. Among men, 54% said they felt very safe and 7% did not feel safe in 1999, compared with 64% and 4% respectively in 2014 (Chart 11).

Chart 11 Canadians sense of safety when walking alone in one’s neighbourhood after dark, by sex, 1999 and 2014

Data table for Chart 11
Data table for Chart 11
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 11 Sense of safety, Men, Women, Very safe, Reasonably safe and Somewhat or very unsafe, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Sense of safety
Men Women
Very safe Reasonably safe Somewhat or very unsafe Very safe Reasonably safe Somewhat or very unsafe
percent
2014 64 32 4 38 50 11
1999Data table Note  54Note * 39Note * 7Note * 24Note * 48Note * 28Note *

In addition to sex, several other factors can affect the sense of safety, such as socioeconomic characteristics, neighbourhood characteristics or victimization history. However, even taking these other factors into account, differences between men and women remained (see Text box 2). This is a relatively consistent finding in studies on the sense of safety (Hale 1996). However, some studies suggest that the internalization of social roles expecting men to be strong and courageous lead some men to underestimate their sense of insecurity or, at least, to have difficulty admitting it. Consequently, the difference between men and women could be less pronounced than the findings suggest (Sutton et al. 2011; Sutton and Farrall 2005).

Young people, especially young women, are less likely to report feeling safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark

In 2014, young people aged 15 to 24 were slightly less likely than Canadians in any other age group to say they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark (44% versus 52% or more for other age groups) (Table 2).

Both young men and young women were less likely than their older counterparts to say they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark. The difference was particularly marked among women: just over one-quarter (28%) of women aged 15 to 24 said they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, compared with 40% of women 25 years and older.

Young people aged 15 to 24 also have the highest victimization rates (Perreault 2015). Several studies suggest that the fear of crime among women is mostly related to the fear of being sexually assaulted (Pain 2000). Young women are, in fact, most likely to be victims of sexual assault and, unlike most other crimes which have decreased, sexual assault rates have remained relatively stable in recent years (Rotenberg 2017; Conroy and Cotter 2017; Perreault 2015). Young women are also more likely to be the targets of harassment or other inappropriate sexual behaviours, which may make them fear for their safety (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights 2014; Pain 2000).

Despite saying that they feel less safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, young adults nevertheless expressed equal levels of satisfaction with their personal safety as Canadians in most other age groups.

Some other characteristics closely related to age also influenced the sense of safety. For example, students (43%) were less likely than employed individuals (55%) to say they felt very safe walking alone after dark, as were single (48%) versus married or common-law (55%) people. However, after adjusting for other factors affecting the sense of safety, these characteristics no longer had a significant impact, unlike age (see Text box 2).

These results challenge the conventional wisdom that older people feel less safe (Killias 1990). At the same time, studies on the sense of safety have often reached conflicting results about the relationship between age and the sense of safety (Hale 1996), with some arguing that the way sense of safety is measured might be the cause of these contradictions (Ferraro 1987). Nevertheless, all measures available in the General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) (see Text box 1) indicate that people aged 65 and older feel as safe, if not safer, than people aged 15 to 24.

Feelings of safety are lower among immigrants and visible minorities

Overall, immigrants and people who reported belonging to a visible minority group were less likely than non-immigrants and persons not belonging to a visible minority group to say that they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark (Chart 12 and Table 3).

Chart 12 Canadians who say they feel very safe walking alone after dark in their neighbourhood, by sex and selected population groups, 2014

Data table for Chart 12
Data table for Chart 12
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 12. The information is grouped by Population group (appearing as row headers), Men and Women (appearing as column headers).
Population group Men Women
percent
Total populationData table Note  64 38
Aboriginal 70Note * 43
Immigrant 58Note * 37
Recent immigrantData table Note 1 52Note * 39
Visible minority 54Note * 32Note *
Religious minorityData table Note 2 52Note * 34
Disabled 57Note * 34Note *
Homosexual or bisexualData table Note 3 55Note * 38

These differences were more pronounced for people who had immigrated since 2005 (46% versus 54% of non-immigrants) and for certain visible minority groups, such as those identifying themselves as Chinese (38%), Filipino (41%) or Southeast Asian (40%) compared with those who do not self-identify with any visible minority group (54%).

Similarly, West Asians (e.g., Iranians and Afghans) and Arabs were more likely than non-visible minorities to say they felt somewhat or very unsafe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark (16%E, 15%E and 7% respectively). Among these groups, women felt particularly unsafe. Specifically, one-quarter (25%) of West Asian or Arab women reported feeling somewhat or very unsafe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark. Similarly, among the largest religious groups, Muslims (14%), and especially Muslim women (21%), were also the most likely to report feeling somewhat or very unsafe.

Some studies suggest that hate crimes can affect the sense of safety of the entire community in question, and not only the direct victim (Perry 2014). The latest police-reported data show an increase in hate crimes against Arabs and the Muslim community (Leber 2017). This could partly explain why Arabs and West Asians are now more likely to report feeling unsafe walking alone after dark, while they were just as likely as any other Canadian belonging to a visible minority 10 years earlier.Note 

Furthermore, most people belonging to a minority group live in urban areas where other factors could adversely affect their sense of safety. For example, about two-thirds of immigrants live in one of the three largest census metropolitan areas, namely Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver (Statistics Canada 2013a), and immigrants and visible minorities are also overrepresented in low-income neighbourhoods (Statistics Canada 2013b). When other factors are considered, being an immigrant was not a significant factor affecting their sense of safety.Note  However, being a visible minority or belonging to a religious minority was still associated with a lower sense of safety. A high proportion of recent immigrants in the neighbourhood,Note  was also still a factor (see Text box 2).

Among other population groups, people who self-identified themselves to be homosexual or bisexual were somewhat less likely than heterosexuals to say they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark (46% versus 53%). The difference, however, was due solely to men since no difference was noted among women based on sexual orientation (Chart 12).

Aboriginal people feel safer than non-Aboriginal people

Overall, the rates of self-reported violent victimization of Aboriginal people are more than twice as high as the rates for non-Aboriginal people (Boyce 2016; Perreault 2015). They are also about seven times more likely to be homicide victims (Mulligan et al. 2016). Nevertheless, Aboriginal people showed a greater sense of safety than non-Aboriginal people: 58% said they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, compared with 52% of non-Aboriginal people (Table 3). This difference was mainly due to men since the difference observed among women was not statistically significant.

Several reasons could explain the slightly higher sense of safety among Aboriginal people despite higher victimization rates. For example, compared with non-Aboriginal people, a smaller proportion of Aboriginal people live in large cities, where the sense of safety is lower. Some also argue that strong community ties of many Aboriginal people could serve as a protective factor, or that more pressing worries and concerns (for example economic ones) could take precedence over concerns related to safety (Weinrath 2000). In every case, the differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people no longer held after adjusting for other factors that affect sense of safety (see Text box 2), which supports the hypothesis that the greater sense of safety observed among Aboriginal people may be attributed to community factors.

Sense of safety is lower among people with a physical or mental disability

People with disabilities, or people who report a physical or mental condition that limits their daily activities, said that overall, they feel less safe walking alone in their neighbourhood than people without a disability (46% versus 54%). They also reported that they were generally less satisfied with their personal safety (Table 3).

Feeling unsafe was more common among those who reported a mental or cognitive disability, with 41% reporting feeling very safe walking alone after dark.

Some studies use vulnerability to explain some of the differences in the sense of safety (Hale 1996). According to this view, people who are less able—real or perceived—to defend themselves against a potential aggressor are believed to show lower levels of personal security. This vulnerability could at least partly explain the lower sense of safety observed among women overall and people with a disability.

Crime victims feel less safe

Victims of crime can experience a loss of their sense of safety. This observation holds true for both victims of violent crimes and victims of property crimes. While more than one-half (54%) of people who have not been victims of any crime in the 12 months preceding the surveyNote  said they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, this proportion decreased to 43% among people who have been victims of a single violent crime and to 41% among those who were victims of more than one violent crime. Among the victims of household crimes, the corresponding proportions were 45% for victims of one household crime and 38% for victims of more than one household crime (Table 4).

Among specific crimes,Note  victims of sexual assault (27%) were the least likely to report feeling very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark. These were followed by victims of robbery (35%E) and breaking and entering (38%). It is noteworthy that crimes against property, especially breaking and entering, seemed to have a more unsettling effect on women than men. Less than one in five women (19%E) who were victims of breaking and entering reported feeling very safe when walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, compared with more than one-half (55%) of their male counterparts (Chart 13).

Chart 13 Canadians who say they feel very safe walking alone after dark in their neighbourhood, by their experience of criminal victimization in the previous 12 months, 2014

Data table for Chart 13
Data table for Chart 13
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 13. The information is grouped by Most serious victimization (appearing as row headers), Men and Women, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Most serious victimization MenData table Note  Women
percent
Was not a victim 65 40Note *
Was a
victim
58 28Note *
Sexual
assault
46Note E: Use with caution 24Note *
Robbery 37Note E: Use with caution Note F: too unreliable to be published
Assault 59 32Note *
Break and enter 55 19Note E: Use with cautionNote *
Theft 58 30Note *
Vandalism 60 28Note *

Domestic violence also appears to have a negative impact on the sense of safety. For example, 44% of victims of domestic violence in the 12 months preceding the 2014 General Social Survey (on Victimization) reported feeling very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark. This proportion is lower than for people who were not victims of domestic violence (55%). However, people who were victims of domestic violence in the five years preceding the 2014 GSS, but not in the previous 12 months, were just as likely to say they felt safe than people who had not been victims. These results suggest that, similar to what was observed by Russo and Roccato (2010), the negative effect of victimization might dissipate after a certain time. Some victims may also become more resilient by developing coping strategies (Calhoun and Tedeschi 2006).

Moreover, experiences of victimization during childhoodNote  had little impact on the sense of safety. This may suggest that, as was observed for domestic violence, the effect of victimization on the sense of safety could in many cases dissipate over time. A lower sense of safety was observed among people who were sexually abused in childhood, but this was explained by the fact that most of the victims were women. When accounting for sex, there were no significant differences in the level of the sense of safety between victims of sexual violence during childhood and people who had not been victims.

In addition to asking Canadians about their experiences with violent crime and property crime, the 2014 GSS also collected information on Canadians’ experiences with harassment, cyberbullying and discrimination over the previous five years. In all cases, the people who had been victims reported a relatively low sense of safety (41%, 48% and 41% respectively) compared with the total population (52%).

Contrary to what was observed for domestic violence, people who had been victims of harassment in the previous five years, but not the last 12 months, reported feeling safe in a proportion similar to those who had been victims in the last 12 months (41% and 40% respectively), suggesting that harassment may have a somewhat more lasting effect on the sense of safety.

People living in buildings of five storeys or more feel less safe

Even though buildings of five storeys or more sometimes have security devices, and even security guards, and their tenants are less likely to be victims of property crimes (Perreault 2015), the inhabitants of these buildings were least likely to report feeling very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark (38% compared with 56% among those living in a single-family dwelling) (Table 5).

Similarly, people living in a neighbourhood where there is a high proportionNote  of apartments were less likely to say they felt very safe than people living in neighbourhoods where the proportion was lower (41% versus 62%).

In fact, lower sense of safety reported by people residing in buildings with five storeys or more might have more to do with the neighbourhood they live in than the type of building they live in, as they were also the most likely to report feeling safe when home alone at night (92% versus 88% of those living in a single-family dwelling). For example, this type of building is found more often in urban areas, where the sense of safety is generally lower. When other factors affecting the sense of safety were considered, the type of dwelling inhabited was no longer a significant factor. However, the proportion of such buildings in the neighbourhood remained a factor. In other words, it is not so much living in a multi-storey building that has an impact on the sense of safety as is living in an environment where there are many of these buildings.

Several other neighbourhood characteristics had an impact on the sense of safety, including the proportion of lone-parent families and recent immigrants (Table 5 and Text box 2). The proportion of visible minorities and families living below the low-income threshold, as well as people living in the neighbourhood for less than five years, was also associated with the sense of safety, but this effect was not statistically significant after adjusting for other factors (see Text box 2).

The presence of physical or social disorder increases the level of insecurity

In the literature, there is a relative consensus that the presence of social or physical disorder is an important factor affecting the sense of safety (Hale 1996; LaGrange et al. 1992).

Results from the General Social Survey on Victimization point in the same direction. In 2014, just over one-half (53%) of Canadians reported the presence of at least one sign of social or physical disorder, the most common being the presence of graffiti or vandalism (Chart 14). Among people who reported the presence of social disorder in their neighbourhood in 2014, 44% said they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, compared with almost two-thirds (63%) of those who did not report any kind of disorder. Among the different types of social or physical disorders, some seemed to have a greater impact on their sense of safety. For example, less than one-third of people who said that people in their neighbourhood are attacked or harassed because of ethnicity or religion (28%), or that there are people hanging around on the streets (31%), reported feeling very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark (Table 6).

Chart 14 Proportion of Canadians reporting signs of social or physical disorder in their neighbourhood, 2004 and 2014

Data table for Chart 14
Data table for Chart 14
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 14. The information is grouped by Type of social or physical disorder (appearing as row headers), 2004 and 2014, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of social or physical disorder 2004Data table Note  2014
percent
Drunk or rowdy people 21 18Note *
People using or selling drugs 24 20Note *
People being attacked because of their ethnic origin or religion 10 6Note *
Vandalism/graffiti 28 25Note *
Garbage or litter lying around 24 22Note *
People hanging around on the streets 23 17Note *
Noisy neighbours or loud parties 22 24Note *

Moreover, the proportion of those who reported the presence of social or physical disorder in their neighbourhood has decreased since 2004 for almost all types of disorder. This could also partly explain why Canadians’ sense of safety has improved since.

Trusted neighbours contribute to a better sense of safety

The relationships that Canadians have with their neighbours can greatly affect their sense of safety. For example, people who believe that their neighbours are trustworthy were twice as likely to report feeling very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark than people who do not trust their neighbours (60% versus 31%) (Table 6).

Similarly, people who reported living in a welcoming community (54%) and who believe that their neighbours would call the police if they witnessed a crime (57%) had a higher sense of personal safety than people who believed the opposite (34% and 40% respectively).

People who trust the police feel safer

The 2014 General Social Survey on Victimization asked Canadians if they had confidence in their local police and to evaluate police on various aspects of their work. Previously published results (see Cotter 2016) have shown some link between trust in the police and sense of safety.

People who reported having a great deal of confidence in the police were more likely to report feeling very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark than people who have little or no confidence in the police (59% compared with 49%). This difference remained significant even when other sociodemographic factors and neighbourhoods were considered (see Text box 2).

The nature of the relationship between confidence in the police and the sense of safety is, however, not clear. Some studies suggest that trust in the police may have a reassuring effect (Skogan 2009), and thus increase the sense of safety, while others argue that people with a low sense of safety will blame the police, and therefore will have less confidence in them (Farrall et al. 2009).

Start of text box

Text box 2
Multivariate analysis

As the analysis in this article has shown, many characteristics and factors are associated with a sense of safety. However, some of these factors are interrelated. For example, it has been shown that women and victims of harassment are less likely to feel safe. However, victims of harassment are also more likely to be women. As a result, does being a woman, being harassed, or both of these factors together influence the sense of safety? A multivariate analysis can help answer such questions (see the “Methods for multivariate analysis” section).

The results of the multivariate analysis undertaken show that women have significantly (3.5 times) less odds than men to feel very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, even when all other factors are taken into account (see table in this text box).

Multivariate analysis specifically by sex tells us even more about the factors that influence the sense of safety among men and women. In particular, sociodemographic characteristics had very little impact on women’s sense of safety. Only women aged 15 to 24 had 1.5 times less odds than their older counterparts to say they felt very safe. Women with a disability also had slightly lower odds to say they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark.

Moreover, having been the victim of a crime—except breaking and entering for women—or harassment no longer seems to have any effect on the fear of crime when other factors are taken into account. This could reveal that the link between victimization and the sense of safety is not direct. For example, being a crime victim could possibly affect confidence in the police and neighbours, or cause one to perceive a greater level of crime in the neighbourhood, which in turn would have a negative effect on one’s sense of safety. However, the people who share these perceptions—whether or not they have been victims—would likely have a similar sense of safety.

Unlike the situation among women, many sociodemographic characteristics continue to be associated with the sense of safety among men when other factors were held constant. In addition to characteristics that were associated with the sense of safety for both men and women, such as being young or having a disability, being retired, having a university degree or belonging to a visible or religious minority were also factors for men. However, knowing their neighbours did not influence the sense of safety among men, though it did for women.

Text box 2 table: Multivariate analysis models (logistic regression): Feeling unsafe when walking alone in one’s neighborhood after dark, Canada, 2014

Finally, for both men and women, the characteristics that seemed to have the greatest influence on their feeling of safety were perceiving social disorder in the neighbourhood (e.g., incivility and “petty crimes” such as drug dealing or vandalism) and the belief that the number of crimes in the neighbourhood is as high as or higher than elsewhere in Canada. While the relationship between crime rates, victimization and the sense of safety is not always clear or direct, the perceived level of crime seems at the very least to be a particularly determinant factor.

End of text box

Summary

The vast majority of Canadians say they are satisfied (50%) or very satisfied (38%) with their personal safety. Moreover, Canadians are among those in developed countries who posted the strongest sense of safety, according to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranking.

Canadians also feel increasingly safer. Just over one-half said they felt very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, compared with 4 in 10 Canadians 15 years earlier. Paradoxically, the vast majority (74%) of Canadians believe that crime levels have remained stable over the past five years, even though the crime rate has been decreasing during that period. However, compared with what they said 20 years earlier, fewer Canadians believed that the crime rate had increased in the previous five years.

Across the country, people living in provinces where the crime rate was lower generally felt safer. The residents of the Atlantic provinces and Ontario posted the highest levels of satisfaction with their personal safety. These data suggest that the sense of safety is at least partly related to crime levels.

Furthermore, victims of a crime in the 12 months preceding the 2014 General Social Survey on Victimization were less likely to report feeling very safe walking alone after dark. Sexual assault, robbery and breaking and entering were the crimes that most negatively affected the sense of safety. People who had been victims of harassment also saw their sense of safety negatively affected.

However, while the sense of safety is partly linked to crime and victimization, other factors also had an influence. For example, even though their rates were not higher than average, residents of census metropolitan areas were less likely than residents of rural and small communities to say they felt safe. Knowing one’s neighbours and trusting them, among others, is thought to positively contribute to a sense of safety. This may also explain why Aboriginal people have a greater sense of safety than non-Aboriginal people, even though the former have significantly higher rates of victimization.

On the other hand, despite lower victimization rates, immigrants feel less safe overall. Arab and West Asian women were particularly likely to report feeling unsafe. This finding could be related to the increase in police-reported hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims. Several studies show that hate crimes are related to lower sense of safety not only for the direct victims, but for the entire community targeted.

Being a woman is by far the factor with the greatest impact on the sense of safety. In all population groups and in all circumstances, women reported a lower sense of safety than men. Particularly, women were more likely than men to take measures to protect themselves against criminal acts. Their sense of safety was also more likely than men’s to be affected by sexual assault, harassment and property crimes. On the other hand, women’s sense of safety has increased more than that of men in the past 15 years.

Methods for multivariate analysis

The influence of a factor is indicated by the odds ratio, which should be read in relation to the reference category. To make the results easier to read, these regressions model the probability of not reporting feeling very safe walking alone in one’s neighbourhood after dark. An odds ratio greater than 1 indicates that the characteristic increases the odds for the variable of interest (in this case, not feeling very safe) and an odds ratio lower than 1 indicates that this odds decreases. For example, the logistic regression analysis shows that, all things being equal, women have odds 3.5 times higher than men to say they did not feel very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark.

People who said they never walk alone in their neighbourhood after dark were excluded from these analyses. All the variables in tables 2 to 6 were considered, except sexual orientation (since the question was not asked of all respondents). Only variables that proved significant in the multivariate analysis were retained in the final models presented in this report.

In addition to a logistic regression analysis, a multilevel analysis was also conducted for this study (data not shown). Logistic regression analysis normally requires independent observations (respondents), which becomes problematic when the characteristics associated with the environment (e.g., the neighbourhood) are shared by several observations and influence the variable in question (in this case, the sense of safety). A multilevel analysis (or hierarchical linear model) can overcome this limitation. The General Social Survey (GSS) uses weights to generalize results to all Canadians. Bootstrap (replicate) weights are used to estimate variances – and hence establish statistical significance. However, GSS bootstrap weights are not designed to take neighbourhood level effects into account so a hierarchical analysis is not possible in this case. For this reason, only logistic regression results are presented.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Sense of safety when walking alone in one’s neighbourhood after dark, overall satisfaction with personal safety from crime and confidence in the police, by province, census metropolitan area or census agglomeration, 2014

Table 2 Sense of safety, by selected sociodemographic characteristics, Canada, 2014

Table 3 Sense of safety, by selected population groups, Canada, 2014

Table 4 Sense of safety, by selected victimization experiences, Canada, 2014

Table 5 Sense of safety, by selected housing and neighbourhood characteristics, Canada, 2014

Table 6 Sense of safety, by selected neighbourhood and community perceptions, Canada, 2014

Text box 2 table Multivariate analysis models (logistic regression): Feeling unsafe when walking alone in one’s neighborhood after dark, Canada, 2014

Survey description

General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization)

In 2014, Statistics Canada conducted the sixth cycle of the General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization). 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 the 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 2014 data at the Canada level. This report combined 2014 GSS on Victimization data from both the Provinces and Territories in order to report on the feelings of safety of the whole Canadian population. However, any trend analysis is limited to the Provinces.

The target population for the GSS on Victimization is the Canadian population aged 15 and older, living in the Provinces and Territories. Canadians residing in institutions are not included. Once a household was contacted an individual 15 years and older was randomly selected to respond to the survey.

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.

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 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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