Angus Reid Survey of Policing in Canada, Defend or Defund Part ll: A Brief Exegesis

Essay, Government, Anil Anand

The politicization of policing, and of law and order issues generally, has led to a chorus of protests demanding that the community or its representatives be allowed to participate in policing decisions — a demand supported by a view that police remain too independent of political control when carrying out their “operational functions”; a view that suggests that the lack of explicit provisions for political control means that the control is simply exercised surreptitiously, and not impartially.

There are now two distinct views about the future of policing, one advocating for the defunding of police budgets, and the other defending the sanctity of policing as it is. But what exactly defunding entails remains unclear. 

Policing is not a monolithic institution or profession. Police governance, oversight, and accountability vary from country to country, and in Canada between provinces and police agencies. And while policing is highly circumscribed by laws, rules, policies, and procedures; by oversight, by governance, and by changing priorities, policing has also been a product of a long history of surreptitious norms – institutional and societal norms. These are norms, which on the one hand must reflect the freedom and rights of the individual, and on the other hand, consider the interests of society at large; norms that suppose that police will find and pursue wrongdoers, and norms that suggest that honest, law-abiding citizens will help and not hinder the police in keeping society safe – a balancing of the individual rights over those of society at large.  

Policing for many represents the guardianship of the moral order of societies, but the imbalanced representation of guardianship of communities within societies has led to an increasing polarization between advocates for effective policing and advocates of civil liberties in Canada and elsewhere.  

There is now a growing view that police are too independent of control when carrying out their “operational functions”, a view that suggests that the lack of explicit control has led to an over-expansion of police powers, engagement, and abuse.  

Three quarters (73%) of those surveyed in the Angus Reid survey reported that they do not feel that police officers are held accountable. And yet at the same time, a majority of those surveyed view their officers with pride. 

Amongst its findings, in Part l of the report, three-quarters of those surveyed view the police in their community favourably, despite concerns about how officers may treat some demographics. For a similar number, 72 percent agree that the local police are a source of pride. This included two-thirds of Indigenous and visible minority respondents.1

Part ll of the Angus Reid survey: Defend or Defund? provides an important, deeper insight on how many Canadians perceive their police services, their attitudes, and expectations.  

Importantly, the report also addresses what defunding means, a term, which has become ubiquitous and yet means a myriad of things to different people: reducing police budgets, structural change, reinvestment in social welfare strategies, and to some even, the elimination of policing as it exists today.

In fact this report notes: “Some have said calls to “defund the police” are not necessarily to be taken literally. In many cases, advocates wish to transfer money from traditional law enforcement techniques to social welfare focused solutions with an emphasis on understanding mental health and de-escalating conflict.”2

It should be noted that despite the fact that 72 percent of those surveyed reported that their local police are a source of pride,3 25 percent felt that police funding should be reduced where they live, a proportion that increased to 38 percent in the Greater Toronto Area, and 36 percent in Winnipeg.4  

Further, 63 percent of Canadians across the country would rather see investment in social welfare strategies rather than increasing policing presence in high crime areas. This is an important indication that for many Canadians it’s more important that the police do a better job policing rather than increasing policing.5

Six-in-ten (59 percent) of those surveyed felt that the Canadian justice system should prioritize crime prevention and the rehabilitation of criminals over longer sentences to punish them – a view supported by those in all regions of Canada.6 This preference for crime prevention and rehabilitation suggests that those surveyed would prefer the reinvestment of public funds into social strategies – social services to prevent crimes and rehabilitation equated with improvement of the corrections systems.

Another more critical finding is that two-in-five Canadians feel that there is a “serious problem” with the way police interact with Black, Indigenous, and other non-white people across the country, while 27 percent felt that is a serious problem in their own communities. Four-in-ten (41 percent) of those living in Toronto felt that police interactions with non-white people are a serious problem in their own community, the most of any major city in Canada.7

The fact that 73 percent of those surveyed felt that police in Canada interact inappropriately with non-white people at least some of the time should raise serious concerns about how police leaders manage the legitimacy of their members and services.  

The fact that 63 percent felt that systemic racism is a serious problem for the RCMP should signal alarm bells for the RCMP.  

The indictment of the RCMP in The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,8 Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s initial inability to acknowledge systemic racism,9 or the outing of a culture of harassment against its own members outlined in Broken Dreams Broken Lives10 are undeniable indicators of the challenges within and with the services of the RCMP, and signal that the systemic issues are likely even more pervasive than perceived by those surveyed.

Views of systemic racism have generated strong opinions. Moreover, 63 percent of those surveyed strongly agree with Commissioner Lucki’s statement, “I do know that systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included”. In fact a majority of Canadians across the age spectrum agree that there is systemic racism in the RCMP.11 

Interestingly, the report found that those surveyed were less likely to believe that there is a local problem with how police treat minorities than a national one. While three-quarters believe there is a larger problem with the way that police interact with non-white people in this country, two-thirds believe the same about their province, and about half (54 percent) believe inappropriate treatment of non-white people either happens some times or is a serious problem.12 This would suggest that there are differences between perceived police treatment of non-white people (perceptions of treatment outside one’s community), the reality (reality within one’s community), and what those surveyed believe may be happening (expectations).  

The survey also points to areas where community policing, the predominant philosophy of modern policing, had been largely rhetorical or failed from the perspective of some. In fact, 39 percent of those surveyed felt that there is a serious problem with the way police interact with Black, Indigenous, and other non-white people in Canada, while 31 percent felt that it was a problem in their province, and 27 percent in their community.13  

From a perception perspective, 44 percent of Indigenous respondents felt that there is a serious problem at all levels of policing when it comes to the way they and Black people are treated, compared to 39 percent of Caucasians, and 35 percent of other visible minorities.14 Regardless of which group one examines, the fact that 35 to 44 percent of Canadians feel that police interactions with Black, Indigenous, and visible minorities is an indictment of the police-community relations, and of community-based policing across Canada.15  

This challenge is particularly marked in urban areas where 29 percent of respondents felt that there is a serious problem, compared to rural areas where the response was 14%.  None-the-less the fact that more than a quarter of Canadians (27%) feel that there is a “serious problem” is clearly concerning.16  

The sentiment that there is a problem with police interactions with Black, Indigenous, and other non-white communities is particularly marked in the Greater Toronto Area (41%), Halifax (39%), Winnipeg (36%), and Montreal (35%).17 The leadership in these urban centres cannot ignore or marginalize these findings while at the same time claiming success with community policing, a central tenet of modern policing and a legislated requirement in most provinces.

Negative experiences vary by age, gender, and ethnicity. Indigenous respondents and those who identify as a visible minority are slightly more likely than Caucasians to hold an unfavourable view of their community police. The gap in opinion is clear across generations. 

50 percent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 perceive there is an anti-Black and Indigenous bias by police in Canada as a whole as compared to 32 percent of those over 65.18 Younger Canadians between the ages of 18 and 44 are far more likely to perceive this bias compared to those over 45.19 Indigenous respondents ages 35 to 54 are also more likely than others their age to feel this way.20

The divide is, however, most stark when viewed from an ideological perspective. Just 13 percent of past federal Conservative voters perceive the treatment of Indigenous and visible minorities as a serious problem, compared to 55 percent of past Liberal voters and 67 percent of past New Democrat voters.21

The survey, as in Part l,  provides an index categorizing responses into four groups – True Blue, Silent Supporters, Ambivalent Observers, and Defunders. The True Blue category is comprises 26% of the population, Silent Supporters 26%, Ambivalent 22%, and Defunders 25 %.22

True Blue and Silent Supporters, tend to be older, wealthier, and more conservative, have had few poor experiences with a police officer. The Defunders, younger, urban, left-leaning Canadians, are far more divided in their views.23

The four groups have very different ideas about whether police treatment of non-white peoples constitutes a major issue. While 7 percent of True Blue responders think police treatment of non-white peoples constitutes is a serious problem in Canada as a whole, nearly eighty per cent (79%) of those in the Defunders category feel it is a major issue.24

Two-in-five (42%) among the True Blue vehemently disagree that there is systemic racism within Canada’s national police force, and only 2 percent strongly agree that there is systemic racism within Canada’s national police force. Amongst the Defunders, only 1 percent vehemently disagree that there is systemic racism within Canada’s national police force, and 70 percent strongly agree that there is systemic racism within Canada’s national police force.25

Perhaps the most striking finding is that 85 percent of those in the Defunder category feel that the police in their community should have funding reduced and none feel that it should be increased, while those in the Silent Supporters group are largely comfortable with the status quo, and those in the True Blue category would like to see more investment in the police.26 Support for reducing finding is the highest in the GTA (38%), followed by Winnipeg (36%), and Vancouver (27%).27 

For those for whom defunding is a call for diverting funding from law enforcement to social welfare particularly mental health and conflict de-escalation. 87 percent of past NDP voters say they would prefer this versus more police presence in high crime areas.28 

Across the Policing Perspective Index, only the True Blue lean toward police presence in reducing crime, while the majority of the other three groups prefer using social welfare solutions. Importantly, the survey found that the desire to cut funding surpasses the desire to increase funding.29  

While the majority of those surveyed (59%) say they prefer prevention and rehabilitation to longer sentences to punish and deter criminals (41%) both viewpoints are well represented across Canada.

The True Blue group lean toward prioritizing longer sentences (62%), but nearly two-in-five (38%) dissent. Silent Supporters are relatively split each way. Defunders lean more heavily toward a focus on rehabilitation and prevention (79%) compared longer sentences (21%).30

Nonetheless, this type of focus remains contentions across both education and political demographic. Those with a college or technical education (56%), university education (76%), Liberals (76%), NDP (81%), Bloc (54%), and Green party (77%) voters were more likely to prefer rehabilitation and prevention.31

Although the sample size for a study of a social justice issue of this importance and scope is relatively small and therefore requires extreme caution when extrapolating findings to Canadians generally, it is nonetheless an important indication of the types of questions that police leaders should be increasingly concerned with. The types of questions surveyed are indicative of the concerns that communities across Canada are increasingly grappling with. More importantly than the results of a survey of this type should be the fact that how communities, and institutions for law enforcement, corrections, social services, public health, and justice respond to the normative expectation of their communities will have increasingly greater impact on the social cohesion of Canadians generally.  

Furthermore, policy makers must do better to ensure that concepts and public demands for the allocation and expenditure of public funds and social services are better defined and communicated to taxpayers generally, that emerging concepts such as defunding, or Black Lives Matter, are put into a public context that influences positive, and gainful participative democracy, informed engagement, and timely responses for demystifying, and uncloaking the mal-intended hijacking of, may otherwise have merit as legitimate social concerns.   

The credibility and legitimacy of our police services is an important pillar in the overall structure, and health of Canadian democracy. How police leaders, whether chiefs of police or front line officers, conduct themselves serves to impart larger, moral, and normative messages about how citizens view the state of their communities, and relationships with other members of their communities and institutions.   

 

 

Anil Anand is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Anil served as a police officer for 29 years; during his career some of his assignments included divisional officer, undercover narcotics officer, and intelligence officer. He has worked in Professional Standards, Business Intelligence, Corporate Communications, the Ipperwash Inquiry (judicial public inquiry), and Interpol.

”SeeEndnotes”

Endnotes

  1. Policing in Canada: Major study reveals four mindsets driving current opinions and future policy preferences, Angus Reid Institute, http://angusreid.org/policing-perspectives-canada-rcmp/
  2. Defend or Defund? One-in-four support cutting local police budgets; most back social welfare over hiring more cops, http://angusreid.org/rcmp-systemic-racism-indigenous/, Page 19
  3. Policing in Canada: Major study reveals four mindsets driving current opinions and future policy preferences, Angus Reid Institute, http://angusreid.org/policing-perspectives-canada-rcmp/
  4. Ibid. Page 1
  5. Ibid. Page 1
  6. Ibid. Page 1
  7. Ibid. Page 6
  8. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/
  9. Leblanc, Daniel; Kirkup, Kristy. “RCMP commissioner ‘struggles’ with definition of systemic racism, but denies its presence in organization”, Globe and Mail, June 10, 2020, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-systemic-racism-not-present-in-rcmp-commissioner-says-though-some/, Accessed: November 29, 2020
  10. Broken Dreams Broken Lives, Final Report on the Implementation of the Merlo Davidson Settlement Agreement, The Honourable Michel Bastarache, https://merlodavidson.ca/wp-content/uploads/RCMP_Final-Report_Broken-Dreams.pdf, Accessed: November 29, 2020
  11. Ibid. Page 8
  12. Ibid. Page 3
  13. Ibid. Page 3
  14. Ibid. Page 4
  15. Ibid. Page 4
  16. Ibid. Page 5
  17. Ibid. Page 6
  18. Ibid. Page 7
  19. Ibid. Page 7
  20. Ibid. Page 7
  21. Ibid. Page 8
  22. Ibid. Page 12
  23. Policing in Canada: Major study reveals four mindsets driving current opinions and future policy preferences, Angus Reid Institute, http://angusreid.org/policing-perspectives-canada-rcmp/
  24. Ibid. Page 12
  25. Ibid. Page 13
  26. Ibid. Page 15
  27. Ibid. Page 19
  28. Ibid. Page 20
  29. Ibid. Page 20
  30. Ibid. Page 23
  31. Ibid. Page 22

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