There’s a perplexing – perhaps alarming – statistic in new national crime figures released today by Statistics Canada. The numbers show that Kingston, in eastern Ontario, now has the highest sexual assault rate of the 33 biggest Canadian urban centres in StatsCan’s crime survey. The sexual assault rate in Kingston (the number of crimes reported to police, factored for population) skyrocketed by 34 per cent from 2011 to 2012. The rate in Kingston for 2012 is 97. Winnipeg, now the most violent city in Canada overall, based on the latest violent crime severity index, is second to Kingston in sexual assault rate at 91.
The Kingston sex assault rate could be a statistical anomaly, perhaps a reflection of new procedures there that elicit more reports to police by victims – a crucial question since this crime data is based only on incidents reported to police, and sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes (victimization surveys indicate that roughly one out of every 10 sexual assaults is reported to police, considered another way, 90% of sex assaults do not come to the attention of police, and so they’re not reflected in these police-reported crime surveys, although an analysis I completed three years ago suggests that the number of sexual assault victims who report to police could be as low as 3%).
The new sexual assault rate for Kingston could also reflect the conclusion of one big investigation that led to many charges. It could reflect the activity of one prolific predator who was in the area and whose victims all called police, or, it could reflect the overall increased occurrence of sex crimes in Kingston, although that won’t be known unless someone parses the data closely, with some detailed information from police. In contrast to the rising sex assault figures, homicide in Kingston, a city that typically sees a handful of murders each year, was at zero. That stat helps to keep the city’s violent crime severity index low, since homicide is the most heavily weighted crime in that index. Kingston has one of the lowest violent crime severity indexes among the big urban centres. Winnipeg has the highest violent crime severity index in the new survey.
Keep in mind that these figures for the big urban centres in Canada track census metropolitan areas. The Kingston CMA includes the city and three, small adjoining municipalities. The bulk of the population and the crime in the region is based in the City of Kingston.
This new report also reveals that Canada’s homicide rate hit its lowest level since 1966. There were 543 homicides reported to police in Canada in 2012. Homicide is considered a reliable barometer of crime and violence in society, since it one of the few crimes that is difficult to conceal. Most analysts operate on the assumption that the figures known to police represent the true level of criminal activity. By this measure, Canadian society has steadily grown safer over the past four decades. By contrast, the homicide rate (2011) in the United States, is 4.7 per 100,000, triple Canada’s rate. In 2011, 14,612 people were murdered in the U.S.
The crime severity index is a new tool to measure crime in Canada, introduced by StatsCan in 2009. Here’s an explanation of how it is calculated.
Here is an embedded version of the new national, police-reported crime stat report released today: