The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an aging population and a Conservative government have changed the way in which Canadians look at crime and punishment, with a new poll suggesting we are slightly more socially conservative than we were 10 years ago.
The EKOS survey shows that although a modest plurality of Canadians (36 per cent) support prevention as the main goal of the criminal justice system, those who support punishment as priority are on the rise - 30 per cent now, up from 22 per cent a decade ago. (Prevention used to garner 44 per cent support, down 8 percentage points over the past decade.)
"There is a tougher outlook on crime, and punishment takes a more prominent role in views of the underpinnings of the criminal justice system than it did a decade ago," pollster Frank Graves says.
"This is why it is increasingly perilous for a politician to be caught on the wrong side of the 'tough on crime' debate, even if their policy position is more rational."
Mr. Graves tested the attitudes of Canadians regarding crime as part of his study on the so-called "blueing" of Canada. He has also looked at capital punishment, abortion, same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana.
The EKOS study was provoked by a thesis and polling information published by the Manning Centre that concluded Canada is becoming more and more conservative or "blue." The right-leaning think tank's study found that 89 per cent of Canadians believed nothing is more important than family; 67 per cent believed marriage is between a man and woman and 60 per cent believed abortion is morally wrong.
Although, Mr. Graves found that Canadians line up with the Manning Centre's views on crime, they do not in some of the other areas. His polling on abortion rights, for example, found that 52 per cent of Canadians are decidedly pro-choice. And 53 per cent of Canadians support same-sex marriage.
Overall, Mr. Graves says, Canadians are becoming increasingly progressive with the exception of crime. Indeed, the emphasis on punishment is much stronger among older, more poorly educated Canadians.
"The post-boomer cohorts, who are younger and more educated, accord punishment a much lower status in their hierarchy of reasons for the criminal justice system," he says. "So barring another Sept 11, the inexorable forces of demographic change, higher education and the receding effects of Sept. 11 should see punishment diminishing as a factor in the future."
The poll of 1,555 Canadians on the crime issue was conducted between April 7 and April 13. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.