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

1. Canadians' Concerns in Relation to Crime (continued)

1. Canadians' Concerns in Relation to Crime (continued)

1.6 Fear of walking at night in neighbourhood

When asked in the CBC/Maclean's survey about walking the streets alone at night in their community, 32% of respondents indicate that they somewhat or strongly agree that they would not. Significantly higher proportions of women than men responded that they would be unwilling to walk alone (48% vs. 16%).

According to National Gallup polls, levels of fear of walking alone at night in the neighbourhood have remained relatively constant over the years, with the exception of 1998 during which reported fear fell to an all-time low (Table 3). Since 1970, approximately one-third of those polled have responded that they would be afraid to walk at night in certain areas near where they live. In 2000, of those asked whether there is any area around where you live, that is say within a couple of kilometres, where you would be afraid to walk at night? 27% responded that they were afraid. This percentage has been increasing slightly since 1998, when fear was at its lowest recording, 25%. The highest rate of fear was recorded in 1974 and 1991 when it reached 37% of those polled.

Question:

Is there any area right around where you live, that is say within a couple of kilometers, where you would be afraid to walk at night?

Table 3: Fear of walking at night in one's neighborhood: 2000
  Yes No Unsure
2000 27% 72% 1%
1999 26 73 1
1998 25 74 1
1997 30 69 1
1996 33 66 1
1995 33 66 1
1994 35 64 1
1992 36 63 1
1991 37 60 3
1990 34 63 4
1987 27 71 2
1979 31 67 2
1974 37 63 0
1970 29 66 5

Source: Gallup, 2000.

Gender differences have remained relatively constant, with fear levels higher among women than men. In 1996, almost one-half of women polled expressed fear of walking at night in the neighbourhood. In 1996 the rate was 47%, while in 1998 the rate drops to 37%, the lowest ever recorded so far. The 2000 rate is 41%. The rates are substantially different for men, of whom 17% in 1996 and 13% in 1998 expressed similar fears. This rate drops in 2000 to 12%.

Those age groups that express the greatest fear are in the 65 and over age group, and the 18-29 age group. Thirty-four percent of 18-29 year olds indicate that there is an area around where they live that they would be afraid to walk at night. This percentage is higher than the 65 and over age group (32%) and the 50-64 year age group (25%). Twenty-one percent of those aged 40-49 express similar fears.

1.7 Levels of violent crime

A 1998 national Gallup poll asked Canadians about the perceived level of violent crime in their community: Do you think that the level of violent crime in your community has been increasing or decreasing recently or has it remained at the same level?

Canadians continue to perceive the violent crime rate in their community as declining (Table 4). This perception has reached an all-time low of 33% in 1998, down from 45% in 1997. This is in contrast with 51% in 1998, and 48% in 1997 who perceive crime as remaining the same.

Table 4: Perceived level of violent crime
  Increasing Remained the same Decreasing No Opinion
1998 33% 51% 12% 5%
1997 45 48 4 5
1996 43 48 4 5
1995 48 46 5 2
1994 54 39 4 2
1990 51 41 3 5

Source: Gallup, 1998.

1.8 Crime trends

As in other public opinion polls (Angus Reid, Gallup), a 1998 Environics survey indicates that the majority of Canadians believed that crime in general is increasing (Figure 3). While these rates have declined since 1994, they remain relatively high. In 1994, 81% of Canadians polled believed that criminal behaviour in general was increasing, compared with 77% in 1998. Youth crime is also believed to be on the increase and the 1998 rate of 89% of respondents perceiving an increase is once again lower then the 1994 rate of 91%.

Figure 3: Perceived increases in crime: 1998

Figure 3: Perceived increases in crime: 1998
[Description of Figure 3]

Source: Environics, 1998.

Despite the public's perception, violent crime in Canada has decreased for the seventh consecutive year (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1999). Prior to 1992, the crime rate had been increasing steadily over the past 15 years (Figure 4). The majority of assaults are level 1, the common and least serious form of assault, and account for 62.3% of all assaults. While it would appear that the 1998 violent crime rate is 12% higher than the corresponding 1988 rate, the increase is reduced to only 4% when common assaults are excluded from total violent crime.

Figure 4: Violent crime rate/100,000: 1999

Figure 4: Violent crime rate/100,000: 1999
[Description of Figure 4]

Source: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1999.

1.9 Homicide

The homicide rate also continues to drop (Figure 5). In 1998, there were 555 homicides, (which includes first and second-degree murder, as well as manslaughter and infanticide) and 738 attempted murders recorded by the police across Canada. The homicide rate, which currently stands at 1.8 per 100,000, has been declining since the 1970s, and the 1998 rate represents a 6% drop over the previous year. The 1998 rate is the lowest since 1968. The rate of attempted murders (2.4 per 100, 000) also declined in 1998.

Figure 5: Homicide and attempted murder rate/100,000

Figure 5: Homicide and attempted murder rate/100,000
[Description of Figure 5]

Source: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1999.

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