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Recreation Research

Recreation Policy Branch November 1993

Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Recreation Communique No. 13

The Recreation Research Communique is intended to disseminate information obtained from studies and analyses conducted or funded by the Recreation Policy Branch.

A report submitted to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation by the Parks and Recreation Federation of Ontario identified an increasing problem of instances of violent behaviour occurring in or around recreation facilities. In response to the concern expressed in the report, the Ministry was asked to assess the degree to which the problem of violent behaviour in recreational environments existed in Ontario, and to help, if necessary, in ameliorating the problem. As a first step, it was decided that a survey be undertaken across Ontario to better understand the scope and nature of the issue.


A questionnaire was developed and tested with selected members of the Parks and Recreation Federation of Ontario. The questionnaire was directed at people who work in or at recreational facilities and who, it was expected, would have first hand experience with regard to the issue of violent behaviour at the facility. The questionnaire inquired as to whether violent behaviour was a major problem at the facility, and if so, the nature of the problem. For each of 10 specific types of violent behaviour identified, the respondents were asked to note if it had been observed, and then to rate its frequency. For each specific behaviour noted, they were then asked to rate several variables (time of day, location, perpetrator, factors) as to their importance. In total, over 1300 recreational facilities were issued questionnaires.

Because the population of recreational facilities is unknown, it cannot be determined what percentage of that population was covered by the distribution of the questionnaires. Consequently, it is impossible to determine the representativeness of the responses received, either in terms of the proportion of the total population sampled or in terms of the concern that those responding to the survey might have different experiences of the problem of violent behaviour than those that did not respond. As a result, the data presented below should be considered as a 'consultation', and no statistical inferences are made or should be drawn.


A total of 438 responses to the survey were received and tabulated. Of this group, 138 respondents (31.5%) indicated that they observed or reported a problem at their facility.

Types of Violence

Verbal abuse, either of staff members or of other patrons/participants, was the behaviour most often reported by the respondents, being reported at about 25% of the facilities that responded. Break-ins/ malicious damage were reported at about 21% of the facilities that responded.

Verbal abuse and break-ins/malicious damage were also the behaviours most frequently observed at facilities. Although robberies and verbal abuse of officials were each reported by only about 15% of the facilities, these behaviours were observed at about the same frequencies as verbal abuse of staff and patrons, and break-ins, which suggests that they were moderately important problems at those facilities where they occurred.

Area of Province

The communities that the respondents represented were grouped into the four (previously) operational regions of the Ministry. Metropolitan Toronto was separated from the Southern Region and considered as a separate area.

About 45% of the respondents in Metropolitan Toronto reported a problem with violent behaviour, compared with 31% in the Southern Region, 29% in the Eastern Region, and 25% in each of the Northeast and Northwest regions.

Size of Community

Communities with populations of less than 10,000 people reported a much lower percentage of instances of violent behaviour (19%) than in communities greater than 10,000 people (38%). The highest percentage (40%) was reported in communities with populations greater than 250,000 people.

In communities with up to 250,000 people, verbal abuse was the problem most frequently reported, whereas in the largest communities (more than 250,000 people) robberies were most frequently reported. The frequencies of reports of drug trafficking and the presence of weapons was also much higher in the large communities.

Parameters of Violent Behaviour

Respondents were asked to provide detailed information concerning several variables associated with acts of violent behaviour. In total 645 responses concerning the 10 types of behaviour were received.

When and Where Does Violent Behaviour Occur - The evening hours are the time of the day when acts of violent behaviour are most often observed or reported. Only rarely are they reported in the morning and afternoon. The playing areas (e.g., gymnasia, skating rinks) of the facilities were the areas that was identified as most important in terms of where the violent behaviour occurred.

Perpetrators and Victims of Violent Behaviour - The two most important groups identified as perpetrators of violent behaviour were patrons/participants of the facility aged 13-17 years and 18-25 years. Males, more so than females, tended to be perpetrators.

Victims or targets of violent behaviour tended to vary depending on the type of behaviour observed. For several of the types of violent behaviour, no victims were identified. When identified, however, the victims tended to be the same groups as the perpetrators - young male patrons/participants aged 13-25 years.

Associated Factors - A lack of respect for rules and regulations was the primary factor cited as being associated with acts of violent behaviour. (This factor can possibly be considered a surrogate for a lack of respect for anything or anybody representing authority.) Peer pressure was also identified as a relatively important factor associated with violent behaviour.

Consequences - The most important consequence of violent behaviour identified was increased cost as a result of repairs, presumably a reflection of the relatively high frequency of break-ins and malicious behaviour as a form of violent behaviour. Eviction of people from the facility and calling for assistance from police were also considered to be important consequences. Interestingly, fearful staff and the fear that violent behaviour would result in decreased participation in programs were relatively unimportant as consequences.


  • About 30% of the respondents reported that there was a problem with violent behaviour at their recreational facility/environment.
  • The issue of violent behaviour in recreational environments appears to be concentrated in larger urban areas. About 40% of facilities in communities with more than 250,000 people reported a problem, compared with less than 20% in communities with less than 10,000 people.
  • Verbal abuse, of staff, patrons and officials was the most frequently reported type of violent behaviour at recreational facilities, followed by damage to the facility as a result of break-ins or vandalism.
  • Young patrons, aged 13-25 years of age, and more often males, were reported as the most important perpetrators of violent behaviour in recreational facilities. To the degree that there were people at whom the violent behaviour was directed, young people, including both males and females, were also the victims or targets.
  • A general lack of respect for rules and regulations (i.e., authority?) was cited as the most important factor associated with incidences of violent behaviour. Peer pressure, possibly in the form of gangs or groups, was also cited as a contributing factor.

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