Public Perception of Crime and Justice in Canada: A Review of Opinion Polls
The Young Offenders Act elicited the most distrust of all institutions according to the 1998 Environics poll. Roughly 72% of Canadians reported a lack of faith in the Act. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed were not at all confident in the youth justice system, and 26% were at least somewhat confident.
The 1998 Environics poll looked at specific aspects of the justice system's treatment of young Canadians, and 74% of respondents agreed that problems that children are having with the law could be solved by parents and community without involving the legal system. At the same time, there was a lack of consensus as to whether there should be separate and independent criminal justice systems for youth under 18 and adults, with 52% being for a separate system, and 47% being against.
In 1998, Gallup introduced a new question relating to Canadians' perceptions of the number of youth gangs. The results indicate that 43% of respondents felt that the number of youth gangs had increased from 5 years ago, while 15% believed that such gangs were less prominent. Thirty-two percent believed that the number has remained the same and 2% had no opinion.
This same poll asked respondents how violent they thought the actions of youth gangs were. Thirty-six percent reported the actions to be very violent, 42% indicated that they are somewhat violent and 14% believe the actions of youth gangs are not very violent.
A national Gallup poll conducted in 1998 indicates that Canadians are in favour of stricter penalties for and treatment of young offenders (Figure 8). Of adults polled, 57% are of the belief that accused youth (between ages 12-17) should be tried in courts similar to adult courts. When asked if young offenders should be provided with special provisions and sentences, 38% were in favour of this option. These rates are slightly different from the 1994 results, which indicate that 59% of those adults polled would like to see accused youth tried similar to adults, and 32% of which would like to see youth tried with special provisions.
Do you believe that people accused of being young offenders in Canada, that is people between the ages of twelve and seventeen, should be tried in courts similar to accused adult offenders, or should there be special provisions and sentences for accused young offenders?
Source: Gallup, 1998.
When questioned further about the proposed changes to the Young Offenders Act, 70% of respondents, in both 1998 and 1994 favour lowering the maximum age limit from 17 to 15, so that 16 and 17 year olds can be tried in adult courts and serve time in adult prisons. The 1994 poll indicates that 26% oppose lowering the maximum, and the 1998 poll indicates that 27% are opposed. In both polling years, 4% are of no opinion.
When asked if the minimum age should be lowered from 12 to 10 so that 10 and 11 year olds can be charged with crimes under the act, a smaller percentage of respondents were in favour. A smaller percentage in 1998 (52%) than in 1994 (59%) favour such changes, and opposition to such changes is greater in 1998 (44%) than in 1994 (36%).
Respondents in 1998 are less in favour (57%) of requiring parents to pay for loss and damage caused by their children than respondents were in 1994 (61%). Opposition to such a proposal is also stronger in 1998, at 40%, than in 1994 when it was 32%.
When asked if it should be mandatory for all youth convicted of offences of violence such as armed robbery, assault, rape and murder to be tried in adult court and serve time in adult prisons, a larger percentage of respondents in 1998 (74%) than in 1994 (68%) were in favour (Figure 9). Fewer respondents in 1998 (23%) were opposed to such changes than in 1994 (27%).
Please indicate whether you would favour or oppose making it mandatory for all youths convicted of violent offences, such as murder, rape, assault, armed robbery, to be tried in adult court and serve time in adult prisons?
Source: Gallup, 1998.
Finally, when asked whether criminal records of repeat young offenders should remain active, and not be destroyed once the individual reaches adulthood as under the current legislation, 82% of Canadians polled were in favour of keeping them active. Fourteen percent were opposed. This was the first year that this question had been posed.
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