Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey
Public confidence in Canadian institutions

By Adam Cotter

Release date: December 7, 2015 Correction date: (if required)

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Highlights

Section 1: Confidence in institutions

  • Based on the 2013 General Social Survey on Social Identity, three in four Canadians (76%) have either a great deal or some confidence in the police, making it the institution with the highest level of public confidence. Next highest were the school system (61%), banks (59%), and the justice system and courts (57%).
  • Fewer than half of Canadians expressed confidence in the media (40%), Federal Parliament (38%), or major corporations (30%).
  • Women and older Canadians generally had the highest levels of confidence in government and institutions, with a few notable exceptions. There was no gender difference in views on the media, while younger Canadians, those aged 15 to 24, had the greatest confidence in the Federal Parliament.
  • Overall confidence in institutions was highest among visible minorities and immigrants, particularly among those who immigrated to Canada since 2000.
  • Aboriginal people were less likely than non-Aboriginal people to have high levels of confidence in institutions, though they were equally as likely to say that they had a great deal or some confidence in banks and major corporations.
  • Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick tended to have above-average confidence in most institutions, while residents of Quebec and British Columbia tended to have below-average confidence in institutions.
  • Confidence was generally highest in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Toronto, and lowest in the Quebec CMAs of Montréal and Sherbrooke.

Section 2: Perceptions of police performance

  • According to results from the 2014 General Social Survey on Victimization, in addition to having a high level of confidence in police, the majority of Canadians believe police were doing a good job at being approachable and easy to talk to (73%), ensuring the safety of citizens (70%), promptly responding to calls (68%), treating people fairly (68%), enforcing the laws (65%), and providing information on crime prevention (62%).
  • Canadians who reported having contact with police in the past 12 months for any reason rated police performance lower than those who had no contact with police.
  • Experiences of victimization, either household or violent crime, were associated with lower ratings of police performance, with victims rating police performance lower than those who were not victimized in the previous 12 months.
  • Those who reported the criminal incident to police were more likely to believe police were doing a good job, including at being approachable (64% compared to 54%) and treating people fairly (58% compared to 46%) compared to victims who did not report the incident to police.
  • Perceptions of police performance were generally highest in Quebec and lowest in the western provinces.  Among the CMAs, residents of Winnipeg and Vancouver were least favourable in their evaluations of local police, while residents of Ottawa rated police higher than the average for all other CMAs in each of the six categories.

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Measuring Canadians’ attitudes towards institutions can provide important insights into how members of the Canadian public view key public and private institutions, such as the justice system, schools, Federal Parliament, banking institutions, major corporations, and the media.  In some ways, this information may be considered a measure of their performance, as the quality of the services provided and delivered to the public can suffer when the public lacks confidence (Jang, Lee & Gibbs 2015). In addition, having higher levels of confidence and satisfaction in public institutions has been found to foster a sense of belonging to the country and greater social cohesion (Roberts 2007; Letki 2006). More generally, public perceptions can influence the development of social policies and programs (Cao 2014).

Perceptions of institutions are often based on interrelated feelings of confidence and trust in institutions. While some research on perceptions of institutions uses the terms confidence and trust interchangeably, the two are related, but distinct concepts (Barbalet 2009; Luhmann 2000). In this sense, confidence is related to perceptions the institution’s ability to perform its duties, while trust is related to actions, interpersonal experiences and expectations, and perceptions of integrity (Cao 2014; Maslov 2014; Bean 2003). In this report, measures of confidence are questions that specifically ask about an individual’s confidence (i.e., how much confidence do you have in the police?). Additionally, more detailed questions on contact with police, levels of reporting to police, and overall evaluation of police performance covering certain elements of their job are explored as measures of confidence.

Using data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization and the 2013 GSS on Social Identity (see Data Sources), this report explores issues of confidence and trust in the government and institutions. Overall levels of confidence, measures of perceived performance, levels of generalized trust, and trust in specific institutions are examined. The impact of geography, socio-demographic and neighbourhood characteristics on perceptions are also discussed. 

Section 1
Canadians have higher confidence in police compared to other institutions

The GSS on Social Identity asked Canadians to indicate their levels of confidence in police, the justice system and courts, the school system, Federal Parliament, banks, major corporations, and the Canadian media, using a scale from 1 (no confidence at all) to 5 (a great deal of confidence).Note 1

About three-quarters (76%) of Canadians aged 15 and over, or almost 22 million, indicated that they have a great deal or some confidence in police, a higher proportion than any other institution examined in this report (Chart 1, Table 1).Note 2 This finding is consistent with previous research on confidence in institutions (Grabb et al. 2009).

In 2013, roughly six in ten Canadians expressed a great deal or some confidence in the school system (61%), banks (59%), and the justice system and courts (57%). In comparison, less than half of Canadians had confidence in the media (40%), Federal Parliament (38%), and major corporations (30%).

Description for Chart 1

The title of the graph is "Chart 1 Confidence in Canadian institutions, 2013."
This is a stacked bar chart.
This is a horizontal bar graph, so categories are on the vertical axis and values on the horizontal axis.
There are in total 7 categories in the vertical axis. The horizontal axis starts at 0 and ends at 80 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 2 series in this graph.
The horizontal axis is "percent of respondents."
The vertical axis is "Institution."
The title of series 1 is "Great deal of confidence."
The minimum value is 6 and it corresponds to "Major corporations."
The maximum value is 37 and it corresponds to "Police."
The title of series 2 is "Some confidence."
The minimum value is 24 and it corresponds to "Major corporations."
The maximum value is 41 and it corresponds to "School system."

Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Institution (appearing as row headers), Great deal of confidence and Some confidence, calculated using percent of respondents units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Institution Great deal of confidence Some confidence
percent of respondents
Major corporations 6 24
Federal Parliament 10 27
Media 9 32
Justice system and courts 20 37
Banks 24 36
School system 20 41
Police 37 38

Almost four in ten (37%) Canadians indicated that they had a great deal of confidence in police, a higher proportion than for any other institution. While Canadians were equally likely to state they had a great deal of confidence or some confidence in police, the proportion of those with a great deal of confidence in other institutions was considerably lower than those stating they had some confidence.

Although fewer Canadians had a great deal or some confidence in the media, Federal Parliament, and major corporations relative to other institutions, they did not rate them entirely unfavourably. For each of these institutions, about four in ten Canadians indicated that they were neither confident nor unconfident. Just under one in ten indicated that they had no confidence at all in major corporations (9%) or Federal Parliament (9%).

Women have more confidence in institutions than men

Generally, women had slightly higher levels of confidence in institutions than men (Chart 2, Table 2). The only exception was the Canadian media, where there was no difference by sex. The largest differences in confidence in institutions were found for banks (63% of women compared to 56% of men) and police (79% of women compared to 73% of men).

Description for Chart 2

The title of the graph is "Chart 2 Confidence in institutions, by sex, 2013."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 7 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 90 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 2 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percent of respondents with confidence."
The horizontal axis is "Institution."
The title of series 1 is "MaleNote ."
The minimum value is 28 and it corresponds to "Major corporations."
The maximum value is 73 and it corresponds to "Police."
The title of series 2 is "Female."
The minimum value is 32 and it corresponds to "Major corporations."
The maximum value is 79 and it corresponds to "Police."

Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Institution (appearing as row headers), Male and Female, calculated using percent of respondents with confidence units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Institution MaleNote  Female
percent of respondents with confidence
Police 73 78Note *
School system 60 62Note *
Banks 56 63Note *
Justice system and courts 56 58Note *
Media 40 41
Federal Parliament 35 39Note *
Major corporations 28 32Note *

Confidence in institutions generally increases with age

For the most part, older Canadians have the highest levels of confidence in institutions. Confidence is generally lowest among Canadians 25 to 34 years of age, before gradually increasing with age and peaking among those 75 years of age and older (Table 2).

The one exception to this trend was the Federal Parliament, where Canadians aged 15 to 24 were the most likely to state they had confidence (50% compared to 38% overall). Canadians between the ages of 15 to 24 also had higher than average levels of confidence in banks, the justice system and courts, and major corporations.

Confidence in institutions lower among Aboriginal people

Overall, Aboriginal people were less likely than non-Aboriginal people to have high levels of confidence in institutions, though they were equally as likely to say that had a great deal or some confidence in banks and major corporations. The most pronounced difference was seen for the justice system and courts, as the proportion of Aboriginal people who stated they had confidence was 15 percentage points lower than for non-Aboriginal people (43% compared to 58%).

Previous research has shown that Aboriginal people are overrepresented in the Canadian correctional system (Perreault 2014; Perreault 2009) and are more likely than non-Aboriginal people to come into contact with the justice system either as victims or accused (Perreault 2011; Perreault 2015).

Visible minorities and immigrants report higher confidence in institutions

While confidence in police did not vary by visible minority status, high levels of confidence were more prevalent among visible minorities for every other institution. For example, 56% of visible minorities stated they had confidence in the Federal Parliament, over 1.5 times higher than the figure (34%) for non-visible minorities.

Similarly, immigrants were more likely to state that they had confidence in each of the institutions compared to non-immigrants, with the most pronounced difference in confidence in Federal Parliament (18 percentage points higher than non-immigrants). Confidence levels were also much higher for the justice system and courts compared to non-immigrants (72% versus 54%).

Furthermore, recent immigrants had higher levels of confidence than established immigrants or those individuals who were born in Canada (Chart 3). More than half of all recent immigrants expressed confidence in each institution, with the exception of major corporations (44%). Previous research suggests that past experiences with institutions can lead to higher levels of confidence among immigrants when they arrive in a new country, which then changes over time to more closely reflect the general levels of confidence of non-immigrants (Roder & Muhlau 2011; Roder & Muhlau 2010).

Description for Chart 3

The title of the graph is "Chart 3 Confidence in institutions, by immigrant status, 2013."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 7 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 90 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 3 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percent of respondents with confidence."
The horizontal axis is "Institution."
The title of series 1 is "Non-immigrantNote ."
The minimum value is 28 and it corresponds to "Major corporations."
The maximum value is 75 and it corresponds to "Police."
The title of series 2 is "Established immigrant (prior to 2000)."
The minimum value is 33 and it corresponds to "Major corporations."
The maximum value is 76 and it corresponds to "Police."
The title of series 3 is "Recent immigrant (2000 or since)."
The minimum value is 44 and it corresponds to "Major corporations."
The maximum value is 83 and it corresponds to "Police."

Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Immigrant status (appearing as row headers), Police, School system, Banks, Justice system and courts, Media, Federal Parliament and Major corporations, calculated using percent of respondents with confidence units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Immigrant status Police School system Banks Justice system and courts Media Federal Parliament Major corporations
percent of respondents with confidence
Non-immigrantNote  75 59 58 54 38 34 28
Established immigrant (prior to 2000) 76 68Note * 64Note * 69Note * 46Note * 46Note * 33Note *
Recent immigrant (2000 or since) 83Note ** 75Note ** 69Note ** 79Note ** 52Note ** 63Note ** 44Note **

Similarly, those whose mother tongue is a language other than English or French have more confidence in all institutions compared to Canadians whose mother tongue is English, French, or both. When looking at these three characteristics in conjunction, visible minority immigrants with a non-official language as a mother tongue have much higher levels of confidence in institutions, compared to non-visible minorities born in Canada with English or French as their mother tongue. The largest differences were apparent in the levels of confidence in the justice system and courts and Federal Parliament (24 and 28 percentage points higher, respectively).

Higher education and higher income associated with more confidence in police and justice system

Higher income is associated with higher levels of confidence for many institutions. In particular, Canadians with an annual household income of $150,000 or more had more confidence in police and the justice system and courts than those who reported lower annual incomes (Table 2).

Higher levels of education were also associated with the highest levels of confidence in both police and the justice system and courts, with university educated Canadians having more confidence than those who had completed a post-secondary diploma or certificate, high school, or any level below high school.

Having a university degree was also associated with greater confidence in the school system, as two-thirds of university graduates reported having confidence, 8 percentage points higher than Canadians with a post-secondary certificate or high school diploma.

In contrast, Canadians whose highest level of educational attainment was below high school had the greatest level of confidence in banks (67%), Federal Parliament (45%), and major corporations (38%). However, this may also be related to age, as Canadians aged 15 to 24 had higher than average levels of confidence in each of these institutions. One-third (31%) of Canadians who indicated that their highest level of education completed was below the high school level were between the ages of 15 to 24.

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Text box 1 – Canadians who are more trusting have more confidence in institutions

The GSS on Social Identity also asks about trust in others, a concept closely related to confidence. However, as noted, the two concepts are distinct. Based on the 2013 GSS, Canadians who are generally more trusting of others are also more confident in institutions.

In particular, Canadians were asked how much they believed people in general, family, people in their neighbourhood, colleagues at work or school, people who speak another language, and strangers can be trusted. Without exception, Canadians who believe that members of these groups can be trusted have more confidence in institutions than those who believe these groups cannot be trusted (Table 3). 

Similarly, Canadians who believe that a lost wallet containing $200 was very likely to be returned if found by a neighbour, a police officer, or a stranger had higher levels of confidence in public institutions (Table 3). This finding held for each of the three scenarios, and for all seven institutions.

Notably, the proportion of Canadians who had confidence in police was 61 percentage points higher among those who believed it was very likely a lost wallet would be returned if found by a police officer compared to those who believed it was not at all likely (86% versus 25%). This suggests that Canadians who are more inclined to trust individual police officers are more likely to have confidence in the police as an institution. 

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Confidence in institutions varies by province

In general, levels of confidence in institutions were above average in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. More precisely, confidence was above the provincial average for six of the seven institutions in New Brunswick, with the exception of Federal Parliament (six percentage points lower) (Table 4). In Newfoundland and Labrador, while confidence in the justice system and courts and Federal Parliament was on par with the provincial average, confidence in the other institutions was at least five percentage points higher in this province.

In contrast, residents of Quebec and British Columbia tended to have less confidence in institutions than residents of the other provinces. Residents of Quebec had lower than average confidence in five of the seven institutions, while there was no difference in their level of confidence in media and Federal Parliament. In British Columbia, perceived confidence in four of the institutions was below the total of Canada’s provinces, while similar proportions of residents had confidence in banks, media, and major corporations.

At the census metropolitan area (CMA) level, confidence was generally highest in Toronto (Table 5). Residents of Toronto reported the highest confidence in banks, the justice system and courts, and Federal Parliament, while confidence in major corporations was also above the CMA average.

Reflecting the provincial variations, overall confidence was lowest in the Quebec CMA of Montréal, where confidence levels were below the CMA average for five institutions. In particular, residents of Montréal had less confidence than average in police (71%), the school system (59%), banks (53%), the justice system and courts (54%), and major corporations (26%). Residents of Sherbrooke, meanwhile, had lower levels of confidence in four institutions: banks (46%), the justice system and courts (47%), media (32%), and major corporations (20%Note E).

Factors associated with general confidence

Regression models were developed to examine the relative importance of socio-demographic and economic characteristics associated with confidence in institutions. When controlling for other characteristics measured by the GSS, gender remained a predictive factor for five of the seven institutions (Table 6).

Similarly, the regression model also reflected the influence of age, with Canadians aged 75 and over generally having the highest probabilities of confidence in public institutions, all else being equal. The only exceptions were the justice system and courts, where Canadians aged 15 to 24 had a similar probability as older seniors, and Federal Parliament, where 15-to-24-year-olds had the highest probability of confidence.

Being a visible minority, immigrant and having a non-official language as a mother tongue remained closely related to higher confidence in institutions even when controlling for other factors. The sole exception was found with confidence in police, where, after controlling for socio-demographic and economic characteristics, visible minorities had a lower probability of confidence in police (0.71) compared to non-visible minorities (0.77).Note 3

While the impacts of gender, age, marital status, education, income, visible minority status, immigrant status, and mother tongue remained predictors of confidence for some or all institutions, not all characteristics remained significant. Notably, once other demographic characteristics were held constant, Aboriginal identity was no longer a significant predictor of confidence in institutions, with the exception of the justice system and courts, where non-Aboriginal people had a slightly higher probability of confidence (0.57 compared to 0.52).

Section 2
Perceptions of police performance

Along with overall feelings of confidence, perceptions of institutions can also reflect what is believed to be the level of performance of particular tasks or duties. That is, does the public believe an institution is carrying out the tasks associated with its mandate? In 2014, the GSS on Victimization collected information on measures of performance for one institution – police. While limited to one institution, examining the perception of police performance provides important insight into the institution in which Canadians are most confident.  Police are the most visible component of the criminal justice system (Roberts 2007), and perceptions of police performance can impact Canadians’ perceptions of police legitimacy, willingness to report crime, and levels of cooperation with police (Sindall et al. 2012; Roberts 2010; Sunshine & Tyler 2003; Tyler & Blader 2003).

Most Canadians believe police are doing a good job

The GSS on Victimization asked Canadians to evaluate if their local police service is doing a good job, an average job, or a poor job based on six categories: being approachable and easy to talk to, ensuring the safety of citizens, promptly responding to calls, treating people fairly, enforcing the laws, and providing information on ways to prevent crime.  

In 2014, the majority of Canadians believed that the police were doing a good job at each of the six specific measures (Chart 4). Of note, Canadians rated police highest at being approachable and easy to talk to, as nearly three-quarters (73%) of believed their local police were doing a good job in that area.  About six in ten (62%) believed police are doing a good job providing information on crime prevention, the lowest proportion of any of the measures.

Description for Chart 4

The title of the graph is "Chart 4 Perceptions of police performance, 2014."
This is a bar clustered chart.
This is a horizontal bar graph, so categories are on the vertical axis and values on the horizontal axis.
There are in total 6 categories in the vertical axis. The horizontal axis starts at 0 and ends at 80 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 3 series in this graph.
The horizontal axis is "percent of respondents."
The vertical axis is "Measures of police performance ."
The title of series 1 is "Poor job."
The minimum value is 4 and it corresponds to "Ensuring the safety of citizens in your area."
The maximum value is 8 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The title of series 2 is "Average job."
The minimum value is 22 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."
The maximum value is 31 and it corresponds to "Enforcing the laws."
The title of series 3 is "Good job."
The minimum value is 62 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 73 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."

Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Measures of police performance (appearing as row headers), Good job, Average job and Poor job, calculated using percent of respondents units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Measures of police performance Good job Average job Poor job
percent of respondents
Providing information on ways to prevent crime 62 30 8
Enforcing the laws 65 31 5
Treating people fairly 68 25 7
Promptly responding to calls 68 25 6
Ensuring the safety of citizens in your area 70 26 4
Being approachable and easy to talk to 73 22 5

Perception of police performance has improved over the past decade

Canadian’s perceptions of police have become more favourable over time, with more Canadians believing police are doing a good job compared to a decade ago (Chart 5).  While a similar proportion of Canadians believed police were doing a good job at being approachable and easy to talk to compared to 2004, the proportion of Canadians stating police were doing a good job increased for each of the remaining five categories.

Description for Chart 5

The title of the graph is "Chart 5 Perceptions of police performance, 2004, 2009, and 2014."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 6 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 80 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 3 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job."
The horizontal axis is "Measures of police performance."
The title of series 1 is "2004."
The minimum value is 56 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 73 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."
The title of series 2 is "2009."
The minimum value is 54 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 71 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."
The title of series 3 is "2014Note ."
The minimum value is 62 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 73 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."

Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5. The information is grouped by Measures of police performance (appearing as row headers), 2004, 2009 and 2014, calculated using percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Measures of police performance 2004 2009 2014Note 
percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job
Being approachable and easy to talk to 73 71Note ** 73
Ensuring safety of citizens 65Note * 65Note * 70
Promptly responding to calls 63Note * 63Note ** 68
Treating people fairly 65Note * 63Note ** 68
Enforcing the laws 62Note * 61Note ** 65
Providing information on ways to prevent crime 56Note * 54Note ** 62

Over the past decade, the ranking of the six police performance indicators has remained fairly stable. In 2014, as in 2004, Canadians rated police most favourably at being approachable and easy to talk to, with more than seven in ten indicating that their local police were doing a good job. 

Women more likely to perceive police as doing a good job

Some of the same factors associated with greater confidence in public institutions were also associated with perceptions of police performance. For example, just as women were generally more confident in institutions than men, they also rated the police more favorably in nearly all categories (Table 7). The sole exception was ensuring safety of citizens, where men and women were equally likely to say their local police were doing a good job.

As with overall confidence in institutions, the belief that police are doing a good job generally increases with age, and the highest proportion who believe their local police are doing a good job is found among Canadians 75 years of age and older in all six categories.

Overall, visible minorities rate police performance lower than non-visible minorities

Previous research has noted a distinction between questions relating to the operational aspects of policing, as compared to questions on interpersonal relationships between the police and the public (Sprott & Doob 2014). Operational aspects refer generally to the duties of police to enforce laws, maintain safety, and respond to crime, while the interpersonal measures are related to the informal social control and general value system upheld by police (Cao 2014; Jackson & Bradford 2010).

Of the questions primarily related to the ability of police to perform their duties, there was no clear pattern among visible minorities. For instance, visible minorities rated police higher than non-visible minorities on promptly responding to calls but lower at providing information on crime prevention (Table 7). In contrast, the elements of policing involving interpersonal relationships – being approachable and easy to talk to and treating people fairly – were rated lower by visible minorities than by non-visible minorities.

Aboriginal people rate police lower than non-Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people rated police lower than non-Aboriginal people for each of the six police performance measures (Table 7).  The largest differences between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people were found in the perceptions of police’s ability to promptly respond to calls (69% compared to 52%) and to enforce the laws (65% compared to 51%). While the extent of the difference was smaller, Aboriginal people were also less likely to believe their local police were doing a good job at the interpersonal measures compared to non-Aboriginal people. 

Contact with police associated with lower rating of police performance

Police, due to the nature of their work, are the most visible element of the criminal justice system, and as a result, the public is more likely to come into contact with police than other criminal justice professionals (Roberts 2007; Skogan 2006). In 2014, 31% of Canadians reported coming into contact with police in the 12 months prior to completing the survey. In contrast, about one in five (20%) reported ever having contact with Canadian criminal courts. Canadians who had contact with police in the past twelve months rated police less favourably in each of the six specific performance measures (Table 8, Chart 6). 

Description for Chart 6

The title of the graph is "Chart 6 Perception of police performance, by contact with police in the past 12 months, 2014."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 6 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 80 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 2 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job."
The horizontal axis is "Measures of police performance."
The title of series 1 is "Contact with policeNote ."
The minimum value is 58 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 68 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."
The title of series 2 is "No contact with police."
The minimum value is 64 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 75 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."

Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6 Measures of police performance, Being approachable and easy to talk to, Ensuring safety of citizens, Promptly responding to calls, Treating people fairly, Enforcing the laws and Providing information on ways to prevent crime, calculated using percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Measures of police performance
Being approachable and easy to talk to Ensuring safety of citizens Promptly responding to calls Treating people fairly Enforcing the laws Providing information on ways to prevent crime
percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job
Contact with policeNote  68 65 63 62 59 58
No contact with police 75Note * 73Note * 71Note * 71Note * 67Note * 64Note *

Previous research has suggested that contact with police is often related to a negative perception of police (Bradford et al. 2009; Skogan 2006).Note 4 The 2014 GSS largely confirms these earlier findings. While overall, contact with police is related to more negative perceptions of police performance, some types of contact had more of an impact than others.Note 5

Most notably and perhaps unsurprisingly, Canadians who had been arrested had more negative evaluations of police performance, especially when it came to the interpersonal measures of being approachable and easy to talk to (40% compared to 73% of Canadians who were not arrested) and treating people fairly (34% compared to 68%).

Along the same lines, Canadians who came into contact with police due to their own emotional, mental health, or alcohol or drug use problems were less likely than those who did not have contact with police for these reasons to believe their local police were doing a good job being approachable (51% compared to 73%) or treating people fairly (45% compared to 68%).   

On the other hand, other forms of contact with police were either more neutral or favorable. For example, ratings of police did not differ between Canadians who attended a police public information session and those who did not, with the exception of a more positive perception of the police’s ability to provide information on crime prevention (68% compared to 61%). 

Canadians who are satisfied with their personal safety from crime rate police higher

Levels of crime are influenced by a number of factors external to the police, and while law enforcement is a central component of the duty of police, it is just one of many tasks they perform on a daily basis (Boyce 2015; Hutchins 2015). There are many factors outside of police work which can impact the level of crime, such as neighbourhood characteristics (Livingston et al. 2014; Charron 2011; Savoie 2008), age demographics (Carrington 2001), or economic conditions (Andresen 2012; Phillips & Land 2012). That said, Canadians’ perceptions and experiences of crime and criminal victimization have an impact on their perceptions of police performance.

Canadians who report a high level of satisfaction with their personal safety from crime rate police performance – in particular, operational measures – higher in all categories compared to those who are less satisfied (Table 8). More than three-quarters of those who were very satisfied believed police are doing a good job enforcing the laws (75%), promptly responding to calls (77%), and ensuring the safety of citizens (80%), well above the proportion of those who were very dissatisfied with their safety (28%, 35%, and 46%, respectively).

Along the same lines, there was an inverse relationship between the perception of neighbourhood crime compared to other neighbourhoods, and the perception of police performance. Canadians who believed crime in their neighbourhood was higher were more likely to give a lower rating of police performance, while the opposite was true for those who believed their neighbourhood had a lower crime rate. Similarly, people who believed crime in their neighbourhood stayed the same or decreased in the last five years were more likely to believe the police were doing a good job compared to those who believed neighbourhood crime had increased.

Also related to perceptions of neighbourhood crime, Canadians who perceived one or more indicators of disorderNote 6 to be a big problem in their neighbourhood had less favourable ratings of police performance. In particular, residents who perceived one or more big problems in their neighbourhood were less likely than those who did not perceive any problems to believe police were doing a good job at ensuring the safety of citizens (47% compared to 79%) and enforcing the laws (41% compared to 73%).

Victims of crime rate all aspects of police performance lower than non-victims

While perceptions of personal safety and neighbourhood crime can influence perceptions of police, direct experience as a victim of crime also has an impact. Canadians who were victims of crime in the 12 months preceding the GSS on Victimization held less favourable views of their local police for each of the six measures. While victims did not necessarily come into contact with police as a result of their victimization, positive perception of police performance decreased steadily with subsequent victimizations (Chart 7, Table 8). This was the case for both self-reported violent and self-reported household victimization.

Description for Chart 7

The title of the graph is "Chart 7 Perceptions of police performance, by self-reported victimization in the past 12 months, 2014."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 6 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 80 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 4 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job."
The horizontal axis is "Measures of police performance."
The title of series 1 is "Not victimizedNote ."
The minimum value is 65 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 75 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."
The title of series 2 is "Victimized once."
The minimum value is 53 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 65 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."
The title of series 3 is "Victimized twice."
The minimum value is 43 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 56 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."
The title of series 4 is "Victimized three or more times."
The minimum value is 38 and it corresponds to "Enforcing the laws."
The maximum value is 51 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."

Data table for Chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 7. The information is grouped by Self-reported victimization in the past 12 months, 2014 (appearing as row headers), Measures of police performance, Being approachable and easy to talk to, Ensuring safety of citizens, Promptly responding to calls, Treating people fairly, Enforcing the laws and Providing information on ways to prevent crime, calculated using percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Self-reported victimization in the past 12 months, 2014 Measures of police performance
Being approachable and easy to talk to Ensuring safety of citizens Promptly responding to calls Treating people fairly Enforcing the laws Providing information on ways to prevent crime
percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job
Not victimizedNote  75 74 72 71 68 65
Victimized once 65Note * 61Note * 60Note * 60Note * 55Note * 53Note *
Victimized twice 56Note * 49Note * 49Note * 50Note * 46Note * 43Note *
Victimized three or more times 51Note * 42Note * 45Note * 43Note * 38Note * 39Note *

Victims who reported incident to police rate police performance higher

Research suggests that confidence in police can be related to willingness to report criminal incidents, both as victims and as witnesses (Sindall et al. 2012).  While victims of crime, as a whole, rated police performance lower than those who were not victims, victims who reported the incident to police had a more favourable evaluation of police performance than those who did not.

Victims who reported the incident to police were more likely to believe police were doing a good job at the interpersonal measures compared to those who did not report the incident. More specifically, victims of crime who reported the incident to police were more likely than those who did not report the incident to state that local police were doing a good job being approachable (64% versus 54%) and treating people fairly (58% compared to 46%).

Not only were victims who reported the incident more likely to favorably assess police on an interpersonal level, they were more likely to believe they were doing a good job enforcing the laws (50% compared to 43%) and providing information on crime prevention (51% compared to 44%).

Experiences of discrimination related to less favourable perceptions of police

In 2014, about 4 million Canadians, or 13% of those aged 15 and over, reported that they were victims of discrimination in the past five years. Of these, about 330,000 (8%) perceived that they were discriminated against by police.Note 7 It has been argued that experiences of discrimination by police may undermine both public confidence in police as a legitimate and effective institution, as well as lessen the more general trust in individual police officers (Cao 2014).

Canadians who believed that they were discriminated against by police rated police performance considerably lower than Canadians who perceived discrimination in other situations or Canadians who did not experience discrimination (Chart 8). In particular, perceptions of police performance on the interpersonal level were much less favourable among those who perceived discrimination by police. The proportion of Canadians who believed police were doing a good job treating people fairly was 51 percentage points lower for those who perceived discrimination by police compared to those who did not experience discrimination. Similarly, 30% of those who perceived police discrimination believed that police were doing a good job being approachable and easy to talk to, 45 percentage points lower than those who were not discriminated against in any situation.

Description for Chart 8

The title of the graph is "Chart 8 Perceptions of police performance, by experiences of discrimination, 2014."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 6 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 80 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 3 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job."
The horizontal axis is "Measures of police performance."
The title of series 1 is "Discriminated against by police."
The minimum value is 20 and it corresponds to "Treating people fairly."
The maximum value is 36 and it corresponds to "Promptly responding to calls."
The title of series 2 is "Discriminated against, but not by police."
The minimum value is 47 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 59 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."
The title of series 3 is "Not discriminated againstNote ."
The minimum value is 64 and it corresponds to "Providing information on ways to prevent crime."
The maximum value is 75 and it corresponds to "Being approachable and easy to talk to."

Data table for Chart 8
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 8. The information is grouped by Measures of police performance (appearing as row headers), Discriminated against by police, Discriminated against, but not by police and Not discriminated against, calculated using percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Measures of police performance Discriminated against by police Discriminated against, but not by police Not discriminated againstNote 
percent of respondents stating police are doing a good job
Being approachable and easy to talk to 30Note * 59Note ** 75
Ensuring the safety of citizens in your area 33Note * 56Note ** 73
Promptly responding to calls 36Note * 56Note ** 71
Treating people fairly 20Note E: Use with caution Note * 51Note ** 71
Enforcing the laws 25Note * 51Note ** 67
Providing information on ways to prevent crime 32Note * 47Note ** 64

Police performance generally rated lower in the West

Views on police performance vary across Canada. Generally, perceptions of police performance were lower in the West, while perceptions were more mixed in the remaining provinces. In particular, residents of the Prairie provinces and British Columbia were less likely to state their local police were doing a good job in five of the six measures of police performance. Only the perceptions of police’s ability to be approachable and easy to talk to were similar to the provincial average. Previous research has shown that the overall prevalence and severity of police-reported crime and the rate of self-reported victimization are higher in the West (Boyce 2015; Perreault 2015).

Residents of all four Atlantic provinces more often believed that their local police were doing a good job at being approachable and easy to talk to. However, Canadians in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia were less likely to state that police were doing a good job at the operational components of policing, notably ensuring the safety of citizens, promptly responding to calls, and enforcing the laws (Table 9).

While residents of Quebec were less likely to believe police were doing a good job being approachable and easy to talk to than the other provinces, they were more likely to state that their local police were doing a good job in each of the remaining five areas (Table 9).

Residents of Ottawa rate all measures of police performance higher than average

Among the CMAs, residents of Ottawa were more likely to state their local police were doing a good job for each of the six categories, ranging from providing information on crime prevention (6 percentage points higher than the CMA average) to promptly responding to calls (11 percentage points higher) (Table 10).

Residents of Winnipeg and Vancouver were least favourable in their evaluations of local police (Table 10). In each of the six components of police performance, residents in Winnipeg were less likely to state local police were doing a good job, in particular at enforcing the laws and promptly responding to calls (12 and 19 percentage points below average, respectively). While the proportion of residents stating police were doing a good job was lower for five of six categories in Vancouver, the relative difference was smaller, with the largest differences noted for police’s ability to enforce the laws and provide information on crime prevention (each 6 percentage points below average).

Factors associated with perception of police performance

Additional regression models were constructed to identify the socio-demographic and economic characteristics that remained significant predictors of perceptions of police performance when other factors were held constant (Table 11).  

Once other factors are controlled for, three factors remained significant for each of the six measures of police performance. Canadians 65 years and over and those who immigrated to Canada since 2000 were more likely to have positive perceptions. Those who were a victim of crime in the past 12 months were more likely to have negative perceptions. In particular, the largest differences in the probabilities between victims and non-victims were noted for perception of police ability to ensure the safety of citizens (0.60 compared to 0.74) and enforcing the laws (0.55 compared to 0.68).

Other factors, while not being significant for each measure, remained significant predictors for some measures of police performance. Sex, marital status, income, education, visible minority status, and contact with police each remained a significant predictor of perception of police performance for at least one measure. In some cases, the influence of certain variables had opposite effects depending on the measure. For instance, all else being equal, having a university degree was associated with a higher probability of believing police were doing a good job enforcing the laws, but a lower probability of believing police were doing a good job treating people fairly and providing information on crime prevention.

Unlike the regression model for public institutions in general, Aboriginal identity continued to be associated with perception of police performance after controlling for other factors. Non-Aboriginal people had higher probabilities of a positive perception of police’s ability to be approachable and easy to talk to, promptly respond to calls, treat people fairly, and enforce the laws.

Summary

The majority of Canadians aged 15 and over had a great deal or some confidence in police, the school system, banks, and the justice system and courts. In contrast, fewer than half of Canadians had confidence in the media, Federal Parliament, and major corporations.

Several demographic and socio-economic characteristics were associated with confidence in institutions. With the exception of media, women reported more confidence in government and institutions than men. While Canadians aged 15 to 24 were most likely to state they had confidence in Federal Parliament, a greater proportion of older Canadians had confidence in each of the other institutions. Generally, visible minorities and immigrants were more likely to have confidence in institutions.

The majority of Canadians believe the police are doing a good job at each of six specific performance measures. Overall, the proportion of Canadians believing their local police are doing a good job has increased since 2004.

Self-reported victimization is associated with lower ratings of police performance, with Canadians who reported being the victim of a crime in the past 12 months rating police lower than those who did not. In addition, the proportion of Canadians who stated police were doing a good job at each of the six measures decreased with each additional reported victimization.

Data sources

This report is based on data from the 2013 and 2014 General Social Survey. The target population consisted of persons aged 15 and older living in Canada’s 10 provinces, excluding people living full-time in institutions. The number of respondents was 27,695 in 2013 and 33,127 in 2014.

For more information on the data sources, please consult the following documents:

In this report, missing responses have been excluded from the denominator. For this reason, some results may differ slightly from those presented in other reports.

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