Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, September 15, 2002

Canadians ignorant of justice issues: poll

Even 'hot button' issues don't register with most surveyed

By Janice Tibbetts
The Ottawa Citizen

Most Canadians cannot name an issue in the entire justice system that is important to them or their families, including the hot-button topics of terrorism or youth crime, a government survey suggests.

One-third of respondents could not cite any justice issue as being important to the country, and most considered themselves uninformed about basic elements of the system.

"The findings point to a population that is largely unengaged in justice issues, on both a personal level and in their role as citizens or residents of Canada," found the survey, commissioned by the Justice Department.

"Not only are almost three-quarters of survey respondents unable or unwilling to identify any justice issues of relevance to them or their family at this time, one-third do not identify any issues of importance to Canadians as a whole."

Furthermore, 91 per cent described their knowledge of the justice system, including how laws affect them and their families, as "moderate" to "poor"

Department spokeswoman Irene Arseneau said the results are not surprising, given most Canadians would rather avoid the justice system.

"It's something that if you don't have to use, all the better," said Ms. Arseneau.

"What came out of this report is that Canadians don't usually get engaged in the abstract. If you get a divorce, then yes, then you want information on divorce services and the same with the criminal justice system and others. If it hits close to home, chances are they will be more interested or concerned."

The telephone survey of 1,502 Canadians was conducted in March by the polling firm Compas. Results are considered accurate to within 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The Justice Department commissioned the survey as part of an initiative to improve public legal education and make government services and information more accessible to those who need them. The results probably are in line with a general lack of knowledge about government information and services, said Ms. Arseneau.

"In terms of basic information, I can't say it was a big surprise," she said. "We get a lot of calls here and it's obvious from the kind of questions that are asked that Canadians don't know who is responsible for what. The challenge for us is to find new ways to package information that is meaningful to people when they need it."

The results suggest people think youth crime is the most pressing issue facing Canada -- although only 17 per cent said it was a concern. Tougher sentencing was the second most worrisome issue, with 11 per cent of people saying it was important.

The survey was taken just six months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., but only two per cent of respondents identified terrorism as a concern facing them or their families.

Just over half of Canadians said they have used the legal system, with the vast majority needing it for assistance with a real estate transaction or making a will.

© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen