Do Canadians trust their police?

Do Canadians trust their police?

Surveys show that some residents continue to face discrimination.

In light of recent events, with people being killed in downtown shootings and banks being robbed at gunpoint, Canadians are wondering if the police are doing their job properly?

Canada is a calm and safe country where everyone's hard work is highly valued. Police officers are respected and listened to.

However, on February 16, 2022, Statistics Canada released a shocking report stating that one in five black people in Canada does not trust the police.

And while more than half of the population as a whole trusts the police, the proportions vary considerably among ethnocultural groups. According to the 2020 Social Identity Study, seven in ten (70%) non-indigenous, invisible minorities ages 15 and older had confidence in the police, compared to about half of blacks (54%). And by early 2022, the numbers had dropped significantly.

Let's take a look at what's going on in Canada's police system, look at the statistics, and see if these low numbers are that surprising.

Police Department in Canada

1. Work

Canadian police officers work to maintain order and obey the law, ensure public safety and deal with emergencies. They protect residents, investigate crimes and do preventive work. It is not easy to join, the selection process is rigorous and the requirements are strict.

In order to work for the Canadian police, many conditions must be met:

  • be a citizen or resident of Canada;
  • have a high school education, but you need a degree in criminology to qualify for high positions;
  • be over the age of 19 (18 in some provinces);
  • have knowledge of English or/and French;
  • not have a criminal record;
  • meet the standards for vision and hearing;
  • meet the standards of physical fitness;
  • have good health and mental health.

Before being hired, a candidate must pass a series of checks and tests:

  • written exam;
  • physical training exam;
  • psychological test;
  • medical examinations;
  • polygraph test;
  • biographical investigation.

Even if a candidate passes all the tests, a job offer is not guaranteed, much will depend on completing the training at the Police Academy. The length of training depends on the future job: for example, the Royal Mounted Police spend 26 weeks studying and Vancouver's 44 weeks.

Each province adds a number of its own to the general list of requirements. For example:

  • The Vancouver Police Department requires candidates to have first aid certification, a certain amount of driving and driving experience, and training in 30 additional disciplines in addition to their basic education; the Vancouver Police Department also prioritizes candidates with a degree, bilingualism and volunteer work experience;
  • The Calgary Police Service requires residents to have lived in Canada for 3 years, a Class 5 driver's licence with a minimum of penalty points, a current certification in first aid and CPR.

The most serious requirements are for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP):

  • Residents must have lived in Canada for at least 10 years;
  • have an unrestricted driver's license;
  • the opportunity to spend 26 weeks at the RCMP academy in Saskatchewan;
  • be prepared to move anywhere in Canada;
  • not have tattoos that depict or incite hatred, harassment or discrimination.

Salaries also vary: in Calgary the starting annual salary is about $66,000 CAD, in Toronto it is about $63,500 CAD, the feds — RCMP — offer $53,000 CAD. This is well above the Canadian average salary, and it's worth bearing in mind that during the first three years the salary increases steadily, reaching $80,000-90,000 CAD.

But serious training, countless regulations, and statutes are irrelevant if the public mistrusts the officers called to protect them. Citizens' opinions of the police are an important indicator of how well the system is doing, and can help shape police practice as well as public policy.

Canadian police officers

2. Trust

Trust in the police is measured mainly on the basis of three indicators: reliability, legitimacy and willingness to cooperate. In 2019, the Canadian Centre for Statistics conducted a study of public perceptions of police in the provinces. Among other things, interesting trends were identified:

  • 41% of respondents said they had a great deal of confidence in the police;
  • In metropolitan areas, residents trust the police less than in rural areas;
  • only 30% of the indigenous population said they trusted it;
  • Older adults were more likely to report greater trust in the police compared to young people between the ages of 15 and 24;
  • Canadians with disabilities are less likely to report great confidence in the police.

In 2019, nine in 10 Canadians living in the provinces said they trust the police very or somewhat (90%). More than four in ten (41%) said they trust the police very much and almost half (49%) said they trust the police somewhat. Less than one in ten (7%) said they did not trust the police very much. A small minority (2%) of Canadians said they did not trust the police at all.

The confidence of Canadians, however, varies by province: Newfoundland and Labrador (49%), Prince Edward Island (59%), New Brunswick (45%) and Saskatchewan (46%) had a higher proportion of residents reporting high trust in the police than the Canadian average; by contrast, Manitoba had a lower than national average.

It is revealed that the trust in the police in large cities is at a high level, but when it comes to such an indicator as "very trusted", the difference is significant: Trois-Rivières (56%), Moncton (53%), Regina (50%) vs. Winnipeg (31%) and Toronto (37%).

Statistics Canada attributes the difference in attitudes in part to the demographic composition of the areas: for example, Prince Edward Island has more seniors than the Canadian average, Winnipeg has a huge indigenous agglomeration, while Toronto has almost half of its population from various ethnic minorities.

Indigenous Peoples

3. Black and Indigenous Peoples

According to the 2020 General Social Survey (GSS) of Social Identity, one in five Black (21%) and Indigenous (22%) people have little or no trust in the police.

According to GSS 2019 data on the safety of Canadians, Black and Indigenous people are more likely to rate police performance poorly. About one in three Blacks (30%) and Indigenous people (32%) said police were doing poorly on at least one measure of their performance.

Compared to the general population, blacks and natives were particularly negative about the police's ability to treat people fairly, be available for dialogue, and be easy to talk to.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that all people in Canada are equal before the law and, under it, all must be afforded the equal protection and benefits of the law without discrimination. However, members of national minorities continue to report violations of their rights and negative experiences with the police. Discrimination within the criminal justice system has been the subject of national and international debate for many decades.

First Nations' faith in justice is undermined by First Nations' hate crimes, illegal arrests, and even murder by police officers.

Nearly eight years ago, a native Regina resident was unreasonably arrested and forcibly arrested. Simon Ash-Mokasin, the victim, said officers were looking for a robbery suspect and, even though he didn't fit the description, they took him into custody anyway. He was very frightened:

"I was stopped under false pretenses. My heart was beating hard, I didn't understand what was happening, because this had never happened to me before."

The Regina Police Service did not formally apologize to him until four years after he filed his human rights complaint. All this happened in 2014, but to this day he says he doesn't feel trusted by police officers.

Tiro Mtembu of Heritage Helpers says the roots of this attitude toward the police go deep in history:

"The first police services were raids on runaway slaves. Native communities know that the first people to rob and take our children to boarding school were police officers. It's part of our colonial history."

He stresses that the problem lies in the system and that indigenous communities need time to heal, not brutality.

Separate surveys have been conducted about black Canadians. Canadian public relations firm Proof Strategies created a specific sample of black Canadians for the first time as part of its annual CanTrust index, which measures not only community faith in political and law enforcement institutions, but also in commercial brands. More than 1,000 other Canadians who were not black were also surveyed.

It turns out that trust in police among blacks surveyed fell below the national average. About four in ten black Canadians said they trusted law enforcement, compared to about five in ten Canadians overall.

In another section of the report, black Canadians surveyed said they had experienced or witnessed racism. This number was much higher among those born in Canada. In addition, over 85% said that corporations and governments have a responsibility to combat racism in society, but only 41% said they see any positive change.

The May 25, 2020 accident in Minneapolis, USA, when black suspect George Floyd died during an arrest, had a huge impact on confidence scores. In the aftermath, there was a wave of anti-racism protests in Canada, and the police confidence index dropped 11 points.

In June 2022, data was released showing that racial minorities were 1.2 to 1.6 times more likely to experience violence when interacting with Toronto police in 2020, and that officers were more likely to point guns at unarmed black residents than at whites.

After a review of more than 900 violent incidents involving Toronto police was published, Toronto Police Chief James Ramer issued a public apology and tried to assure members of racial and ethnic minorities that he supported them:

"I want our communities to know that I'm listening."

Canada's police force has a lot of work ahead of it: systemic racism still exists, so various measures are being developed, primarily to address the disproportionate use of force. One component of trust in the police is power limitation, so plans are underway to develop new training on fairness and inclusiveness for recruits, to test the curriculum already in place and the current procedure for use of force.

Training on racial bias and discrimination, as well as disclosure of use of force data, will reportedly be ongoing.

Despite the scale of the plans and measures the police intend to take to increase the credibility of their work, members of Canada's black community continue to react negatively. Sam Tackle, associate professor of sociology at Toronto Metropolitan University and member of Action Against Poverty, says he doubts the value of the police apology and calls it political PR.

He believes that the government should demand much more when it comes to accountability, because residents suffer first and foremost:

"We do wonder, 'Will I survive this interaction?

Racial discrimination is a phenomenon that has accompanied humanity for centuries, permeating public services as well. And it is only with the competent and ongoing interaction of government, employees, and residents that the equality necessary for civil society can be achieved.

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