Edmonton region divided on policing and systemic racism, new study suggests

·3 min read

A new study suggests that residents of Edmonton and the surrounding area are divided in opinion about police and systemic racism.

The data published by Angus Reid Institute on Monday compares findings about Canadians' attitudes on policing and systemic racism across different demographic groups, including geographic, age, and political leanings.

Results from across Alberta, including Edmonton, reflected one of the highest proportions of pro-police attitudes in the country, said Schachi Kurl, Angus Reid Institute president.

"There is a significant segment of people in Edmonton who believe that, and who are of that view, but they don't represent the majority," Kurl said. "There is, I would say, a diverse cross-section of views in the city."

She said that the more conservative people are — politically or in their values — the more likely they are to value law and order. She said Alberta and Saskatchewan were "outliers" in having a higher than average proportion of people who support police and don't think systemic racism is a problem at all.

Nearly a quarter — 24 per cent — of respondents from Edmonton and its surrounding communities said they believe there is a serious problem with the way police interact with Black, Indigenous and other non-white people. Another 28 per cent said it's sometimes a problem but not a major one, while 27 per cent said there is no problem. The remaining 21 per cent said they weren't sure.

Findings were gathered in an online survey conducted between Aug. 26 and Sept. 1 of 5,005 members of Angus Reid's forum. A probabilistic sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 1.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Albertans account for 599 of the respondents, most from the two largest cities, including 240 from the Edmonton metropolitan area and 160 from Calgary.

The study's release comes after several months of debate about policing and systemic racism across Canada and abroad. Thousands of people attended an anti-racism rally at the Alberta Legislature in early June.

Over the summer dozens of speakers called for change during public hearings at Edmonton's city hall. Officials heard from many Black, Indigenous and Edmontonians of colour who said they were not treated equally by the city's largely white police force.

Around the same time as the public hearings, two cases made headlines involving white police officers accused of racism and using unnecessary force on Edmontonians of colour.

After the hearings, city council passed a motion to push for reform of the province's Police Act, and includes cutting $11 million from an estimated $389-million budget in 2021 and redirecting savings to support community development, human services and housing.

Asked about police funding levels in the Angus Reid survey, respondents across the greater Edmonton area were split:

  • 23 per cent said funding should be reduced;

  • 31 per cent said funding is about right;

  • 30 per cent said funding should be decreased;

  • 15 per cent said they didn't know.

Regardless of what they thought about funding, 60 per cent of Edmonton area respondents said they would like more funding allocated to social welfare solutions, such as mental health resources and housing programs, while 40 per cent wanted more police presence in high crime areas.

A divide was also apparent across the province when it comes to how the criminal justice system should function: 53 per cent said rehabilitation and preventing crime should be prioritized, while 47 per cent said sentences should be longer to punish people who commit crimes.