In the lead up to the Toronto mayoral election, several candidates centred their campaigns on what was needed to make the city safe again. But city residents must reflect on what public safety means and to whom.
Contrary to popular discourse, most Torontonians actually feel their neighbourhoods are safe and that their neighbours are helpful. According to the 2022 Toronto Social Capital Study, 76% of residents feel their neighbourhoods have safe places for their children to play and 61% say people in their neighbourhood are willing to help each other. In other words, despite several undoubtedly alarming incidents of compromised public safety in the city over the past year, the majority of us feels quite physically safe.
But for many Torontonians, public safety isn’t just about their physical selves. Psychological safety is a key factor in wellbeing and yet is taken for granted by many.
LEVELS OF TRUST VARY BY RACE
Those who identify as Chinese, South Asian or white generally believe people in their neighbourhoods can be trusted, while less than half of Black Torontonians feel the same way.
The picture gets bleaker when residents reflect beyond their neighbourhoods. When asked whether most people can be trusted, just over 40% of South Asian Torontonians agreed and less than 30% of Black Torontonians felt the same (the city average is 42%).
Black Torontonians’ trust in most institutions like schools, the justice system, and local media is much lower than average. When comparing data from 2018 to 2022 the only area where trust saw a considerable drop common to most residents was with respect to the police. Torontonians who identify as white were considerably less likely to trust the police over this five-year timespan. Clearly, the increased awareness of systemic racism and, in particular, the exposure of police brutality against racial minorities, has played a role here.
EVERYDAY RACISM A FACT OF LIFE FOR MANY
The experience of feeling safe also varies based on racial identity. It is important to recognize that what might make some groups feels safe, such as police presence in public space, does not hold true for others, particularly those who experience discrimination on a regular basis.
Using a standard research scale on “everyday discrimination,” racialized (non-white) Torontonians, and especially those who identify as Black, are significantly more likely to face discrimination on a regular basis. In fact, racism is the most common form of discrimination in Toronto.
61% of racialized Torontonians who experience discrimination, say the reason they are discriminated against is because of their ethnicity or race; this rises to 76% for Black Torontonians who experience discrimination.
The frequency of experiencing the 10 different types of discrimination covered in the Toronto Social Capital Study were also combined into an index of everyday discrimination. Among the largest racial identity groups in the city, Black Torontonians have the highest index scores. White Torontonians (46%) are almost twice as likely as their Black counterparts (25%) to have a very low index score.
DESPITE THE ODDS, RESILIENCE IS HIGH
Black Torontonians (55%), report a much higher than average belief that people working together can have a big impact on the challenges facing their communities. In fact, Black residents have the most faith in their ability to change their communities of the three largest racial identity groups in the city (41% city average.)
The level of trust in local neighbourhood centres is consistent for most Torontonians – with one exception. This confidence is highest for Black Torontonians, and it is the only public institution in which Black Torontonians have high confidence.
These findings point to the critical role of community organizations operating at the local and neighbourhood level. Whether registered charities or more informal, grassroots groups, community safety comes down to all of us. In a time when civic engagement is at a record low point, support for this essential social infrastructure has never been more important.
When thinking about public safety, it is important to consider all the factors that go into making this city safe. And most importantly, remember that we are only as strong as the community organizations that underpin a healthy and democratic society.
This article was written by Claire DeVeale-Blane. She is the Director of Communications & Engagement for Toronto Foundation. She’s passionate about Toronto, has worked to make change across issues, such as the inclusion of immigrants, transportation, equality, social justice and philanthropy, and is a proud east-ender.