General Social Survey - Victimization (GSS)

Detailed information for 2009 (Cycle 23)




Every 5 years

Record number:


The two primary objectives of the General Social Survey (GSS) are: to gather data on social trends in order to monitor changes in the living conditions and well-being of Canadians over time; and to provide information on specific social policy issues of current or emerging interest. A specific topic is usually repeated every five years.

The main objective of the GSS on Victimization is to better understand how Canadians perceive crime and the justice system and their experiences of victimization.

Data release - September 28, 2010 (provincial results); November 30, 2011 (results for Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut's ten largest communities)


The purpose of this survey is to better understand how Canadians perceive crime and the justice system and their experiences of victimization.

This survey is the only national survey of self-reported victimization which provides data on criminal victimization for the provinces and territories. As not all crimes are reported to the police for a variety of reasons, the survey provides an important complement to officially recorded crime rates. It measures both crime incidents that come to the attention of the police and those that are unreported. It also helps to understand why some people choose whether or not to report a crime to the police.

Results from this survey will be used by police departments, all levels of government, victim and social service agencies, community groups and researchers in universities to study Canadians' perceptions of the level of crime around them and their attitudes toward the criminal justice system; to profile victims of crimes; and to study characteristics of criminal incidents.

Statistical activity

This record is part of the General Social Survey (GSS) program. The GSS, originating in 1985, conducts telephone surveys. Each survey contains a core topic, focus or exploratory questions and a standard set of socio-demographic questions used for classification. More recent cycles have also included some qualitative questions, which explore opinions and perceptions.

Until 1998, the target sample of respondents was approximately 10,000 persons. This was increased in 1999 to 25,000. With a sample of respondents of 25,000, results are available at both the national and provincial levels and possibly for some special population groups such as disabled persons and seniors.

Reference period: Calendar year


  • Crime and justice
  • Society and community
  • Victims and victimization

Data sources and methodology

Target population

Canadian population aged 15 and over and not residing in institutions.

The GSS target population in the ten provinces is nearly the same as the Labour Force Survey (LFS), with two small differences: the GSS includes persons living on reserves and Armed Forces personnel not living in barracks. The GSS target population in the territories includes Armed Forces personnel not living in barracks but residents of certain remote regions in Nunavut were excluded from this survey.

Instrument design

The questionnaire was designed based on qualitative testing (focus groups), a pilot test and interviewer debriefing.


This is a sample survey with a cross-sectional design.

In the ten provinces, households were selected for the survey by Random Digit Dialling. The telephone numbers in the sample were selected using the Elimination of Non-Working Banks technique. This sampling technique is a method in which an attempt is made to identify all working banks for an area (i.e., to identify all sets of 100 telephone numbers with the same first eight digits containing at least one number that belongs to a household). Thus, all telephone numbers within non-working banks are eliminated from the sampling frame.

Each of the ten provinces was divided into strata, i.e. geographic areas.

Many of the Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) were each considered separate strata. This was the case for St. John's, Halifax, Saint John, Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria. CMAs not on this list are located in Quebec and Ontario. Two more strata were formed by grouping the remaining CMAs in each of these two provinces. Finally, the non-CMA areas of each of the ten provinces were also grouped to form ten more strata. This resulted in 27 strata in all.

In the three territories, respondents were selected from households which had completed an earlier Statistics Canada survey (Canadian Community Health Survey or Labour Force Survey). The 23 strata selected covered 28 communities. Most strata included a single community, but 7 strata included 2 communities, and Whitehorse was spread over 3 strata. Of those 23 strata, 13 were identified as most in need of face-to-face interviews and were designated as mixed method of collection CATI and CAPI. CATI-only was used for the remaining 10 strata.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: 2009-02-02 to 2009-12-31

Responding to this survey is voluntary.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

Data collection was conducted from February 2 to November 30, 2009 in the ten provinces and from August 31 to December 31, 2009 in the territories.

All respondents in the ten provinces were interviewed by telephone. Households without telephones were therefore excluded. There is evidence, however, that persons living in such households represent approximately 0.9% of the target population (Residential Telephone Services Survey (RTSS), 2008). As interviews were not conducted by cellular telephone, persons with only cellular telephone service were also excluded. The 2008 RTSS reported that 8% of households in Canada have cellular telephone service only.

In the territories, the method of collection was a mixture of telephone (CATI) and personal interviews (CAPI). Hence, all residents in the territories aged 15 years and over not living in an institution were part of the target population because those residing in a household without a telephone would be reached in person. The mixture of methods of collection is due to the lower penetration rates of telephone services in the territories compared to the provinces, particularly in Nunavut where at least 20% of households did not have regular land line in 2005. All cases started as CATI at the regional office and could be transferred to a CAPI-interviewer depending on the communities and collection constraints. It should be noted that some cases could have been assigned to CAPI for the purpose of contacting the household, but the interview was completed by CATI.

View the Questionnaire(s) and reporting guide(s) .

Error detection

Processing used the SSPE set of generalized processing steps and utilities to allow subject matter and survey support staff to specify and run the processing of the survey in a timely fashion with high quality outputs.

It used a structured environment to monitor the processing of data ensuring best practices and harmonized business processes were followed.

Edits were performed automatically and manually at various stages of processing at macro and micro levels. They included family, consistency and flow edits. Family relationships were checked to ensure the integrity of matrix data. A series of checks was done to ensure the consistency of survey data. An example was to check the respondent age against the respondent birth date. Flow edits were used to ensure respondents followed the correct path and fix off-path situations.

Error detection was done through edits programmed into the CATI system, as well as into the CAPI system that was used to conduct some interviews in the territories.

The CATI and CAPI data capture programs allow a valid range of codes for each question and built-in edits, and automatically follow the flow of the questionnaire.

All survey records were subjected to computer edits throughout the course of the interview. The CATI and CAPI systems principally edit the flow of the questionnaire and identify out of range values. As a result, such problems can be immediately resolved with the respondent. If the interviewer was unable to correctly resolve the detected errors, it was possible for the interviewer to bypass the edit and forward the data to head office for resolution. All interviewer comments were reviewed and taken into account in head office editing.

Head office edits performed the same checks as the CATI and CAPI systems as well as more detailed edits.


A similar approach to that followed in 2004 was taken for 2009. The flow editing carried out by head office followed a 'top down' strategy, in that whether or not a given question was considered 'on path' was based on the response codes to the previous questions. If the response codes to the previous questions indicated that the current question was 'on path', the responses, if any, to the current question were retained, though "Don't Know" was recoded as 9 (99 or 999, etc.) and refusals were recoded as "Not Stated", i.e. 8 (98 or 998, etc.). If the response codes to the previous questions indicated that the current question was 'off path' because the respondent was clearly identified as belonging to a sub-population for which the current question was inappropriate or not of interest, the current question was coded as "Not Applicable", i.e. 7 (97 or 997, etc.).

Due to the nature of the survey, imputation was not appropriate for most items so missing data were coded as "Not Stated".

However, non-response was not permitted for those items required for weighting. Values were imputed in the rare cases where either of the following was missing: sex or number of residential telephones.


When a probability sample is used, as is the case for the GSS, the principle behind estimation is that each person selected in the sample represents (in addition to himself/herself) several other persons not in the sample. For example, in a simple random sample of 2% of a population of 1000 people, each person in the sample represents 50 persons in the population. The number of persons represented by a given person in the sample is usually known as the weight or weighting factor of the sampled person.

GSS 23 was a survey of individuals and contains two microdata files from which estimates can be made.

The first microdata file is the Main Analytical file which contains questionnaire responses and associated information. For the provinces, it contains responses from 19,422 respondents, whereas in the territories, the responses are from 1,094 respondents.

Two weighting factors were placed on the Main File. Two key weighting factors are listed and explained below:

WGHT_PER: This is the basic weighting factor for analysis at the person level, i.e. to calculate estimates of the number of persons (non-institutionalized and aged 15 or over) having one or several given characteristics.
WGHT_HSD: This is the usual GSS household weight, to be used only for estimate of household characteristics. For example, to estimate the number of households that live in low-rise apartments, WGHT_HSD should be summed over all records with this characteristic.

The second microdata file is the Incident file. In the provinces, 7,096 records on this file contain reports of victimization incidents. In the territories, the incident file contains 669 records. Each victimization incident experienced by a respondent of the survey is included on one of the file's records, excluding spousal/ex-spousal and partner/ex-partner violent victimization incidents.

Each record of the Incident File can be thought of as representing a number of victimization incidents experienced by persons in the overall population. This number is given by the weighting factor WGHT_VIC.

In addition to the estimation weights, bootstrap weights have been created for the purpose of design-based variance estimation.

Quality evaluation

Quality assurance measures were implemented at every collection and processing step. Measures such as recruitment of qualified interviewers, training provided to interviewers for specific survey concepts and procedures, observations of interviews to correct questionnaire design problems and instruction misinterpretations, procedures to ensure that data captures are minimized and edit quality checks to verify the processing logics. Data are verified to ensure internal consistency and they are also compared to previous survey results to ensure historical continuity.

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects that could identify any person, business, or organization, unless consent has been given by the respondent or as permitted by the Statistics Act. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.

In order to prevent any data disclosure, confidentiality analysis is done using the Statistics Canada Generalized Disclosure Control System (G-Confid). G-Confid is used for primary suppression (direct disclosure) as well as for secondary suppression (residual disclosure). Direct disclosure occurs when the value in a tabulation cell is composed of or dominated by few enterprises while residual disclosure occurs when confidential information can be derived indirectly by piecing together information from different sources or data series.

Revisions and seasonal adjustment

This methodology does not apply to this survey.

Data accuracy

The methodology of this survey has been designed to control errors and to reduce the potential effects of these. However, the results of the survey remain subject to error due to both sampling error and non-sampling error.

Sampling error:

As the data are based on a sample of persons they are subject to sampling error. That is, estimates based on a sample will vary from sample to sample, and typically they will be different from the results that would have been obtained from a complete census. The potential range of this difference has been estimated for key data and used to produce tables that can be used to estimate the sampling variability of many estimates. More precise estimates of the sampling variability of estimates can be produced with the bootstrap method using bootstrap weights that have been created for this survey.

Non-sampling error:

Even a census of the population of interest produces estimates subject to error. While these are called non-sampling errors, estimates from samples still contain errors of this type. Common sources of these errors include imperfect coverage, non-response, response errors, and processing errors.

Coverage of the GSS-23 targeted population by the RDD frame in the ten provinces is estimated to be approximately 91% complete. These rates were high for virtually all socio-demographic groups, but lowest among those households with the lowest incomes. As a result, persons living in such households were slightly under-represented in the GSS-23 sample. In addition, while every effort was made to avoid non-response, the overall non-response rate in the provinces for GSS-23 was 38.4%. Little or nothing is known about the non-responding cases, and so the results may be biased to the extent that the non-responding cases differ from those that provided responses.

The communities covered represent over 90% of the population aged 15 and over in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. In Nunavut, the ten largest communities covered represent approximately 70% of the population aged 15 and over (These include Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Baker Lake, Arviat, Pangnirtung, Cape Dorset, Igloolik and Pond Inlet.). The overall non-response rate in the territories for GSS-23 was 49.3%. Types of non-response included respondents who refused to participate, could not be reached, or could not speak English or French. Respondents in the sample were weighted so that their responses represent the non-institutionalized populations in Yukon and Northwest Territories aged 15 years or over. The estimates from Nunavut are weighted to the population aged 15 years and over in the ten largest communities.


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