By: Yvon Dandurand & Darryl Plecas

Strained police relations with visible minorities are reflected in the fact that these minorities are much less likely than other citizens to view the police as legitimate, fair, or trustworthy, or to report crime to the police. Police in and outside of Canada have long understood the importance of improving their relationship with minorities, and in this regard, they have undertaken multiple initiatives intended to improve minority-police relations. Considerable resources and energy were devoted to trying to enhance police relationships with various visible minority groups. These efforts have included extensive outreach initiatives, force-wide sensitivity training for police officers, substantial recruitment and promotion of minorities, and policy changes relating to police practices. Have those efforts made any significant difference in how visible minorities view the police?

ICCLR is releasing a report on a study that attempted to answer that question. This study was supported financially by The Office of Crime Reduction and Gang Outreach, Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Province of British Columbia. It examined the extent to which police efforts aimed at improving police-minority relations over the past 20 years have improved perceptions of the police among visible minority groups in Canada (with special attention to British Columbia). More specifically, the study examined the degree to which attitudes of visible minorities over that 20-year period between 1999 and 2019 can be distinguished from those of the overall population in Canada and British Columbia  – with special attention to the matter of crime victims’ contacts with police. The core analysis for this study involved a comparison of data from Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey (GSS) panels on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) conducted in 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2019.

The findings of the analysis tell a simple story. The GSS national data collected over a period of twenty years do not show significant improvements in how visible minorities in British Columbia and in Canada perceive the police. Visible minorities hold more negative views of police behaviour than non-minorities. Minorities are less likely than non-minorities to agree that police treat people fairly or do a good job in approaching people. Since the turn of the century, minorities’ views of police behaviour and fairness have generally worsened. Notably, by 2019 those views had become more negative than at any time in the previous twenty years. By then, survey results indicated that less than half of visible minorities agreed that police treat people fairly and do a good job in the way they approach people.

While it is true that a similar deterioration of views of the police was also observed among Canadians in general, the persistent gap between minority and non-minority views in British Columbia is an ongoing concern. That gap can be interpreted as an indication that the efforts of police organizations to improve their relationships with visible minorities did not bare the expected results or worse, that minorities are still reacting to what they perceive or experience as discrimination. That situation is not unique to Canada. The much poorer perception of the police by visible minorities as compared to non-minorities is also apparent to one extent or another in the United States, the UK, Australia, and throughout Europe.

Evidently, much remains to be learned about the process by which relationships between the police and visible minority groups can be improved. Beyond training, improved communication strategies, better relationship with the media, or consultations with visible minority leaders, or even new technologies, police organizations need to be looking for new approaches to improve their relationships with visible minorities. Improved police governance, transparency, and accountability, with greater participation of members of visible minorities, are likely to be key to the implementation of a broader vision of procedural justice.

Police leaders need to set a higher bar in terms of what they expect of their organizations and officers in terms of community-police relations, including and especially during daily interactions between the police and members of visible minorities.


Reference: Dandurand, Y., Maxim, P., Plecas, D. (2022). Police Relationships with Visible Minorities: A Review of the Impact of the 20-Year Effort by Police in British Columbia and Canada to Improve Visible Minorities’ Assessments of Police Services. Vancouver: International Centre for Criminal Law Reform.

Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash.

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