Canadians’ understanding and perceptions of the criminal justice system

Outcomes discussed

  • Canadians understand the role of and express confidence in the CJS.
  • The CJS is fair and accessible.
  • Canadians are safe and individuals and families feel safe.

Ensuring that Canadians understand the role of and express confidence in the CJS is a core outcome of the CJS. Research shows that Canadians’ greater awareness and understanding of the roles of the three primary CJS institutions (i.e., police, courts, and corrections) is related to greater confidence in the system (see for example Latimer and Desjardins 2007). This outcome is measured by a number of indicators including awareness of the role of the CJS, confidence in the institutions of the CJS, and measures of fairness and accessibility.

Awareness

In 2018, women were less likely than men to say they were aware of the role of police, courts and corrections.14 Both women (85%) and men (90%) reported a higher level of awareness of the role of police in comparison to courts (74% vs. 85%, respectively) and even more so in comparison to corrections (62% vs. 74%, respectively; See Chart 1). (Department of Justice Canada 2019d).15

Chart 1. Percentage of women and men who reported being aware or moderately aware of the role of the three primary institutions of the CJS, 2018.

Text version
% of respondents
Police Courts Corrections
Women 85% 74% 62%
Men 90% 85% 74%

Source: Department of Justice Canada, National Justice Survey, 2018.

Confidence

In 2014, the vast majority of Canadians reported confidence in the police (91%), with women slightly more likely than men to report being confident in police (92% vs. 89%).16 This gender difference was also observed among Indigenous individuals (84% vs. 82%, respectively) and members of visible minority groups17 (92% vs. 90%, respectively). The proportion of Canadians reporting confidence in the police has increased over time for all groups (see Chart 2). (GSS on Canadians’ Safety [Victimization], Statistics Canada, special request).

Chart 2. Percentage of individuals who reported some or a great deal of confidence in police, by gender and ethno-cultural group, 2009 and 2014.

Text version
% of respondents
2009 2014
Indigenous women 68% 84%
Non-Indigenous women 85% 93%
Visible minority women 76% 92%
Indigenous men 71% 82%
Non-Indigenous men 83% 90%
Visible minority men 79% 90%

Source: GSS on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization), Statistics Canada, special request.

Women were also slightly more likely to report being confident in the courts (73%) compared with men (70%).18 Similar results were found among visible minority women (79%) and Indigenous women (70%) in comparison with their male counterparts (75% and 61%, respectively). The proportion of Canadians reporting confidence in the courts has also improved over time for all groups (with increases between 8% and 21%) (GSS on Canadians’ Safety [Victimization], Statistics Canada, special request).

Fairness, Accessibility and Personal Safety

Another way of assessing confidence in the CJS is through measures of fairness19 and accessiblity.20 In general, women were less likely than men to report confidence in the accessibility (62% vs. 66%, respectively)21 and fairness (52% vs. 62%)22 of the CJS (National Justice Survey, Department of Justice Canada 2019d).

Increased confidence may increase feelings of safety (see for example Cotter 2015), which is another essential outcome of the CJS. In general, the majority of Canadians reported feeling satisfied23 with their personal safety from crime (88%). However, women were less likely than men to report satisfaction with their personal safety (85% versus 91%, respectively). Similar results were found among immigrant24 women (85%), visible minority women (84%), and Indigenous women (80%) in comparison with their male counterparts (92%, 89%, and 89%, respectively). Certain groups of women were less likely to report satisfaction with personal safety from crime. This included women with mental health related disorders (74%), women with a history of homelessness (75%), and gay, lesbian or bisexual women (77%). This was also true for men with a mental health related disorder (83%), men with a history of homelessness (87%), and gay or bisexual men (86%). (GSS on Canadians’ Safety [Victimization], Statistics Canada, special request).25


Footnotes

14 Aware includes responses of “aware” and “moderately aware.” Excludes a small proportion of “unknown” responses.

15 All “special request” data can be found on the Dashboard.

16 Confidence includes people who reported “a great deal” or “some” confidence in police. Excludes data from the territories.

17 “Visible minority” refers to a person belonging to a visible minority group as defined by the Employment Equity Act. The Act defines visible minorities as "persons, other than Indigenous people, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour". The visible minority population consists mainly of the following groups: South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, and Japanese. Non-members of a visible minority include respondents who reported “Yes” to the Indigenous identity question as well as respondents not considered members of a visible minority group.

18 Confidence includes people who reported “a great deal” or “some” confidence in Canadian criminal courts. Excludes data from the territories.

19 Fairness is defined as being treated according to the rule of law, without discrimination, while also having the circumstances of the crime and a person's individual characteristics considered throughout the process (e.g., past behaviours, lived experiences, history of victimization, mental health and substance use and addiction issues).

20 Access to the CJS is defined as having equal access to the information and assistance that is needed to help prevent legal issues and help resolve such issues efficiently, affordably, and fairly.

21 Excludes a small proportion of “unknown” responses. A definition of “accessible” was not provided to respondents.

22 Excludes a small proportion of “unknown” responses. A definition of “fair” was not provided to respondents.

23 Satisfied includes responses of “satisfied” or “very satisfied”. Excludes a small proportion of “unknown” responses.

24 “Immigrant” refers to a person who is, or who has ever been, a landed immigrant or permanent resident. Such a person has been granted the right to live in Canada permanently by immigration authorities. Immigrants who have obtained Canadian citizenship by naturalization are included in this group.

25 Data from this section are from two sources. The 2018 National Justice Survey (NJS) includes indicator data on public perception and public awareness. The 2014 GSS on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) includes indicator data on satisfaction with personal safety from crime and public confidence in institutions (police and criminal courts).