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Majority of Canadians feel racism prevalent in policing: poll

Last Updated Jun 15, 2020 at 8:45 pm EDT

A majority of Canadians feel there is “a lot” of racism in Canadian police forces today, according to an Abacus Data poll commissioned by CityTV.

The poll surveyed 1,750 Canadians between June 5 and 10 and found that most Canadians believe the police treat Black and Indigenous people with more suspicion than other groups to at least some degree and that police are more likely to use force and give them harsher punishments than others.

Note: The poll has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.31 per cent, 19 times out of 20. 

From those surveyed, only six per cent feel they are treated with more suspicion by police frequently, but 25 per cent say both Black and Indigenous people are frequently treated that way and 20 per cent also believe each group is given more severe punishments frequently.

Twenty-four per cent believe that police are frequently inclined to consider using or do use force against Indigenous people and 22 per cent believe the same for Black people.

Overall, less than 20 per cent of the people polled felt police were not more likely to exhibit any of those three behaviours towards Black and Indigenous people.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah from the University of Toronto says the results of the poll are not surprising given the scrutiny the issue of race and policing has been under in recent weeks and represents an increase of awareness among Canadians.

“White Canadians 20 years ago were not as in tune with the presence of discrimination within policing as clearly this survey has demonstrated they are now,” he tells CityNews. “The changing attitudes among Canadians on a whole has come, not as a response to any drastic changes in policing … but increased attention to the problems that have been well known to those that have been impacted for a long time.”

Note: the following data has a margin of error of +/- 9.0 per cent for Black respondents, +/- 2.9 per cent for White respondents and +/- 5.0 per cent for immigrants.

While the poll found that only six per cent of all Canadians feel they have experienced “a lot” of discrimination in police treatment, 23 per cent of Black people and 25 per cent of Indigenous people feel this to be the case.

Nine per cent each of immigrants and Muslims feel they have experienced a lot of discrimination by the police. Seven per cent of Asians and four per cent of white people feel the same way.

The poll also reveals a disparity between how the majority of Canadians feel Black people are treated by police and how Black people themselves feel they are treated.

Twenty-five per cent of Canadians feel Black people are frequently treated with more suspicion by police whereas 53 per cent of Black people feel this to be the case. Similarly 22 per cent of respondents feel police are frequently inclined to consider the use of force against Black people whereas 52 per cent of Black people feel the same. In terms of punishment, only 20 per cent of respondents felt police were frequently inclined to lay more severe charges against Black people, while 46 per cent of Black people felt this way.

“Where you stand and your position influences how you see things,” says Owusu-Bempah. “On the policing side there might be a tendency to look at these behaviours in isolation … so often we hear from people within policing that these are the actions of bad apples instead of what we might call a rotten tree or a systemic problem.”

However, for the public, the situation has gone beyond isolated incidents, he says.

“We’re seeing patterns of behaviour involving largely Black and Indigenous people in the country and I think the public are awakening to the fact that these are part of systemic patterns that have existed across our history,” says Owusu-Bempah.