The 2007 National Justice Survey: Tackling Crime and Public Confidence

3. Results

3. Results

3.1 Public Confidence in the Criminal Justice System

Respondents were asked to rate their level of confidence in several public services on a scale from 1 (representing very low confidence) to 10 (representing very high confidence). For the purposes of presenting the overall confidence levels, the ten-point scale was grouped into low confidence (1, 2, 3), moderate confidence (4,5,6,7) and high confidence (8,9,10). Respondents generally expressed lower confidence in the criminal justice system compared to the education system, the health care system and the social welfare system (see Figure 1). Even more evident was the lack of confidence expressed in the youth criminal justice system. One-quarter of respondents indicated a low level of confidence in the criminal justice system and one-third rated their confidence in the youth criminal justice system as low. Although confidence in the youth criminal justice system was rated relatively low, when further probed, the vast majority of respondents (86.4%) provided a moderate or high level of support for the idea that the youth criminal justice system should take into consideration the fact that youth are less mature than adults.

Figure 1: Public Confidence in Specific Systems in Canada

When asked to express their confidence in specific aspects of the criminal justice system, the pattern was clear (see Figure 2). Respondents were more likely to indicate lower confidence as they moved further along in the criminal justice process from police to parole. Confidence in the ability of the criminal justice system to be responsive to the needs of victims was also rated quite low.

Figure 2: Public Confidence in Specific Criminal Justice System Components

In order to gain a general understanding of the public’s confidence in the specific responsibilities of the police, courts, correctional system and parole system, additional questions were asked on each component. Figure 3 indicates that, generally, respondents had more confidence that the police will solve a crime once it has occurred compared to preventing the crime from occurring in the first place. With regards to the courts, respondents expressed more confidence that courts will determine an individual’s guilt or innocence compared to its ability to hand down an appropriate sentence. Within the correctional system, respondents felt relatively confident that facilities prevent offenders from escaping. However, they expressed much less confidence that the correctional system rehabilitated offenders. Finally, respondents were equally concerned with the parole system’s ability to safely release and supervise offenders within the community.

Figure 3: Public Confidence in Specific Criminal Justice System Responsibilities

In order to understand the relative impacts of participation in the criminal justice system on specific answers, respondents were asked if they had, within the last ten years, been an accused, a witness, a juror, a victim or had worked within the justice system in some capacity. Table 3 indicates that a third of the respondents had one or more experiences with the justice system within the past 10 years, the majority as a victim of crime.

Table 3: Involvement in the Criminal Justice System
Involvement in the Justice System N (%)
Being a victim of crime 1,069 (28.8%)
Being a witness to a crime 435 ( 9.7%)
Working in the justice system 214 ( 4.8%)
Being a juror 150 ( 3.3%)
Being charged with a crime 141 ( 3.1%)
Any involvement 1,489 (33.1%)

1. These categories are not mutually exclusive as respondents could select multiple categories.

Approximately three-quarters of those who reported being a victim of crime within the previous ten years (76.2%) indicated that the offence was a property offence (e.g., break and enter, theft), while 23.8% indicated the offence was violent in nature (e.g., assault). Confidence in the criminal justice system can be measured indirectly by examining crime reporting rates within the general population. For example, a low level of reporting may indicate a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system (or some aspect of the system). When asked, the vast majority of respondents (88.8%) indicated that they had reported their most recent victimization to the police. Among the small percentage that had not reported the crime, many thought that the crime was not important enough to report (41.8%), thought that the police could not help them (32.0%) or had taken care of it themselves (11.7%).

Respondents were also asked to rate the importance of a number of information sources in shaping their views on the criminal justice system. Figure 4 indicates that, generally, respondents valued the information they received from television news, friends and family members, and newspapers and magazines more than from the government.

Figure 4: Information Sources Rated as Highly Important

Respondents were also asked about the accuracy of official parole statistics and told that 55% of eligible federal offenders were denied full parole in 2005, which is the official data reported by the National Parole Board. Using a scale from 1 (representing not at all accurate) to 10 (representing very accurate), two-thirds of respondents (66.1%) ranked the accuracy below a score of 8, which likely indicates some concern with the reliability of the statistics. Among these, a large majority of respondents (70.8%) believed that more offenders were actually released on parole and only 29.0% believed that fewer offenders were released.

3.2 Perceptions of Crime in Canada

When asked about overall crime rates within the last five years, respondents generally indicated that the rate had either gone up (57.8%) or stayed the same (29.9%). This changed, however, when specific forms of crimes were considered (see Table 4). Respondents felt that property crimes had increased much more than general crime and more than violent crime.

Table 4: Perceptions of National Crime Rates within the Last Five Years
Crime Rate All Crime N (%) Property Crime N (%) Violent Crime N (%)
Gone up 2,556 (57.8%) 3,309 (74.4%) 2,791 (62.7%)
Stayed the same 1,324 (29.9%) 926 (20.8%) 1,172 (26.3%)
Gone down 543 (12.3%) 212 ( 4.8%) 490 (11.0%)

Table 5 provides information on respondents’ perceived level of safety in their communities compared to other communities in their city and compared to other communities across Canada. Only a small percentage (16.4%) believed that their neighbourhood was not as safe as other neighbourhoods in their city and even less believed that their neighbourhood was not as safe as other neighbourhoods across Canada.

Table 5: Community Level Perceptions of Safety
Level of safety Within City N (%) Across Canada N (%)
My neighbourhood is safer 1,902 (42.6%) 2,442 (55.3%)
My neighbourhood is the same 1,828 (41.0%) 1,686 (38.2%)
My neighbourhood is not as safe 733 (16.4%) 286 ( 6.5%)

Not surprisingly, there was a difference between rural respondents (i.e., from cities with 10,000 population or less) compared to urban respondents. Seventy-one percent of rural respondents (71%) felt that their neighbourhood was safer than other neighbourhoods across Canada compared to only 48% of urban respondents.

3.3 Federal Government’s Tackling Crime Agenda

When asked if the government was moving in the right or wrong direction in their approach to crime and justice issues, two-thirds (66.6%) of respondents felt the government was moving in the right direction. However only 8% felt they had a high degree of knowledge of the government’s "Tackling Crime" agenda, while five times as many (43%) considered their knowledge level to be quite low. Interestingly, respondent views on the appropriateness of the government’s direction did not vary with their stated degree of knowledge of the tackling crime agenda. In other words, there was a general sense that the government was moving in the right direction regardless of whether or not they could describe the specific approaches to tackling crime.

The tackling crime agenda was then described in simple terms to respondents as follows:

  • increasing the number of police officers on the streets;
  • strengthening Canada’s laws by introducing tougher sentences; and
  • investing in crime prevention to reduce drug and gang involvement among youth.

Figure 5 presents the perceived effectiveness of each of these initiatives with regards to reducing crime, increasing public safety, increasing public confidence and increasing victim satisfaction. Approximately half of respondents felt that increasing the number of police officers would be highly effective in reducing crime (48%) and subsequently increasing public safety in Canada (56%). In fact, increasing police presence was the highest rated facet of the tackling crime agenda across all four outcome measures. Strengthening laws through tougher sentences was ranked second in all four measures while investing in crime prevention was the lowest ranked facet of the agenda.

Figure 5: Components of the "Tackling Crime" Agenda Rated as Highly Effective

3.4 Principles of Sentencing

When the courts are sentencing an offender, a judge can consider many different sentencing purposes and principles. Section 718 of the Criminal Code outlines six objectives when determining a sentence:

  1. to denounce unlawful conduct;
  2. to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;
  3. to separate offenders from society, where necessary;
  4. to assist in rehabilitating offenders;
  5. to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and
  6. to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and to the community.

Respondents were asked to rate the importance of each of these objectives. The concept of deterrence as found in 718(b), however, was divided into specific deterrence (i.e., punishing the offender so he or she will not re-offend) and general deterrence (i.e., punishing the offender so others will not commit an offence). According to Figure 6, respondents placed a higher degree of importance on sentencing objectives that are often labelled as non-punitive or as restorative justice principles (i.e. reparation, accountability and rehabilitation) than the traditionally labelled punitive principles (i.e. deterrence, denunciation and incapacitation).

Respondents were further asked to prioritise the sentencing principles by choosing
the single most important objective a judge should consider when deciding on an appropriate sentence (see Figure 7). The same three emerged as the most important objectives (i.e., reparation, accountability and rehabilitation) but the order was different. Approximately one quarter of respondents believed that rehabilitation should be the most important sentencing objective. Denunciation was the least important objective (1.9%), followed by incapacitation (5.1%) and general deterrence (8.3%).

3.5 Age of Consent

Currently, the age at which an individual has the ability to legally consent to sexual activity is 14 years in Canada. Below this age, all sexual activity with a young person, ranging from sexual touching to sexual intercourse, is prohibited. The current age of consent is 18 years old when the sexual activity involves exploitative activity. This applies to such cases as prostitution, pornography, or where there is a relationship of trust, authority, dependency or any other situation that is otherwise exploitative of a young person. Bill C-22, which at the time of this report is within the House of Commons for review, seeks to increase the age of consent for non-exploitive sexual activity to 16 years of age. Close-in-age exceptions have been included in the legislation to protect against the criminalization of consensual teenage sex. This exception would apply to 14 and 15 year old youth who engage in non-exploitative sexual activity with a partner who is less than five years older.

Survey respondents were asked about the age at which Canadians should be able to legally consent to sexual activity. A large majority (82%) of respondents felt that 16 or older was an appropriate age for a young person to be able to legally consent to sexual activity. However, 70% felt that the age of consent should be lowered when it involved two people who are within a few years of each other in age. In other words, the vast majority of respondents deemed it appropriate to raise the age of consent to at least 16 years but to also include a close-in-age clause.

3.6 Illegal Drugs

In dealing with the issue of illegal drugs in Canada, the government can focus resources on numerous different approaches. Respondents were given four possible approaches to consider and asked to rate how appropriate each one would be in addressing the problem of illegal drugs:

  • Tougher penalties for drug traffickers and manufacturers;
  • Treatment programs for drug addiction;
  • Prevention of illegal drug use by educating youth on the dangers of drugs; and
  • Reducing the harm caused by drug use through such things as needle exchange programs and methadone clinics.

Figure 8 provides the results from this question. Respondents considered tougher penalties (72.0%) to be most effective response in addressing the problem of illegal drugs in Canada while harm reduction was considered the least effective (40.2%). There was no distinction made between treatment programs and educating youth as highly effective approaches to addressing illegal drug crime (57%).

Figure 8: Approaches to Dealing with Illegal Drugs Rated as Highly Effective

3.7 DNA Sampling

The courts in Canada can order someone convicted of particular criminal offences (primarily violent offences such as murder, robbery, sexual offences and assault) to submit a sample of their DNA so it can be used in past and future criminal investigations. When asked how appropriate respondents thought this practice was using the ten-point scale, less than half of respondents (42%) felt that it was highly appropriate for all crimes. When someone was convicted of a crime involving serious violence, however, the proportion of respondents indicating high support doubled to 84%. There is clear support for DNA to be used in the criminal justice system when the offence is serious in nature.

3.8 Bail

Crown prosecutors are normally required to prove to a judge why an accused should not be granted bail, either because they represent a threat to society, because they may flee to avoid prosecution or it is required in order to maintain confidence in the administration of the justice system. Respondents were asked if this "burden of proof" should be on the Crown to prove why an accused should not be granted bail, or, if the burden should be on the accused to prove why he or she should be granted bail. In the case of those charged with any crime regardless of severity, just over half (52%) felt that the burden of proof should rest with the Crown. When the charge involved serious violence, slightly less (47%) said the Crown should shoulder the burden of proof. In other words, respondents were generally divided on the issue of who should have the burden of proof and this division did not change much even when the alleged offence was a serious violent crime.

When an accused is not granted bail, he or she is sent to jail to wait for their trial. If they are convicted and sentenced, the court sometimes reduces the final sentence to account for this time spent in custody for several reasons:

  • facilities are often overcrowded;
  • facilities do not always provide the same opportunities as regular prisons; and
  • parole eligibility guidelines do not count this time spent in custody when determining an offender’s release date.

Respondents were provided with the following options and asked which would be the most appropriate for an offender convicted of a crime regardless of the seriousness of the offence (see Figure 9):

  • No extra credit given at all for pre-trial custody;
  • A standardised approach like counting each day in pre-trial custody as two days for their sentence; or
  • Leave it to the judge’s discretion.

Over three-quarters (77%) of respondents supported the use of credits (either through judicial discretion or some standardized approach) in the case of a non-violent offence. However, more than half of respondents (58.8%) felt that no credit should be available in determining the custody period for an offender convicted of a serous violent offence. Generally, when respondents were supportive of some form of pre-trial credit, support was higher for providing judges discretion than instituting a standardised response.

Figure 9: Approaches to Dealing with the Issue of Pre-trial Credits by Offence Type

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