So what does it mean that Quesnel, a tiny city of about 10,000 people in the Cariboo District of central British Columbia, has the most severe violent crime in Canada? That dubious distinction is documented in this new ranking of 208 Canadian municipalities with populations of 10,000 or more, released this week by Statistics Canada. It is based on police-reported crime for 2009. The unwelcome honour bothers Quesnel Mayor Mary Sjostrom, but she doesn’t believe it means her community is unsafe.
The highlighted figures above show Quesnel’s violent crime severity index, 329.7 and its ranking as No. 1 (worst) among 208 communities. It’s a measure of the seriousness of violent crime in the community, compiled by StatsCan based on last year’s violent crimes reported by police – the Mounties who patrol Quesnel. The new crime severity indexes (there are also overall and non-violent indexes) are meant to take into account the fact that violent crimes are more time consuming for police, more troubling for citizens and often more difficult to solve. In the severity scale, one murder is equivalent to 300 assaults. In traditional crime rates, one murder and one assault count as equal, violent crimes.
Remarkably, no national reporter from a television network, newspaper or other major media organization had called Mayor Sjostrom, when I spoke to her today about the new StatsCan ranking and crime stats. Listen to the brief interview below:
So what do we make of the mayor’s assertion that Quesnel isn’t an unsafe place, despite this ranking? I don’t think that’s surprising, given the complexity of crime stats and crime. There may be a significant amount of violent crime that comes to the attention of police in many communities – and a substantial amount that police never hear about – but few Canadians are victims of violent crime. In fact, the last General Social Survey – considered a more reliable measure of the true level of criminal activity acrosss the country, as compared to police stats – showed that violent crime hit just 5% of the Canadian population. To put it another way, 95% of Canadians, at least in the survey year of 2003, were not victims of any violent crime. Which would explain why most folks in Quesnel, or any Canadian city for that matter, don’t have much to fear.
Keep in mind that the crime stats released this week count only crimes known to police, and the General Social Survey, completed every five years, tells us that lots of crime is never reported to police, even violent crime. For example, this year’s crime stats tell us that there were roughly 21,000 sexual assaults in Canada in 2009. The GSS suggests there were really 210,000 sexual asasults last year. That’s right – 10 times more sex assaults than the figure reported to police, and then reported by police departments to StatsCan. According to the GSS, roughly 90% of sexual assaults are never reported to police, for a variety of reasons.