They come with more caveats than an over-the-counter libido booster, but Canada’s national crime statistics will be delivered Wednesday, July 22. The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, a branch of Statistics Canada, will reveal its yearly compilation of data, part of the Juristat, from which much will be inferred that should not or can not. Much will be written that misleads, misinterprets and miscalculates what the numbers tell us. There’s much more that these frail figures do not tell us than what they reveal.
It’s the silly season, with respect to policing, in Calgary and across Canada, as local governments finalize budgets for the coming year (years in some case) and politicians and policing leaders trot out familiar, hollow arguments to justify increases. In Calgary, the police budget now comprises roughly 10% of annual civic spending* ($354** million in 2015) yet officials warn that they may have to spend much more on policing in coming years in response to the city’s ballooning population. They make this argument in the absence of any science that establishes a link between police strength and crime rates and community safety.
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.
There’s plenty of intriguing and heartening news in the latest national crime report. This week, Statistics Canada released its annual compendium of data, based on information provided to hundreds of police departments across the country. Many media reports seized on the simple, big-picture stats: the overall crime rate reached its lowest level since the early 1970s. It would be wrong to key on this as the most important finding. It may be the least useful statistic and likely tells us absolutely nothing about whether the true level of crime has declined in the past 40 years and whether communities are any safer now than they were in the 70s.
Canada’s official crime statistics, the numbers released annually by Statistics Canada, have undergone a historic, but virtually overlooked, transformation. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the stats reflect raw data provided by virtually every police department, meaning StatsCan is able to release a more complete inventory of crimes. In the past, some offences were rolled into broad categories, meaning, for example, that you couldn’t see how many criminal harassment cases came to the attention of investigators – more than 20,000 last year (see the entire list after the jump).
Stockwell Day, the Conservative cabinet minister who is being skewered for his answers today to questions about the government’s plans to spend billions more on new prisons, when police-reported crime rates are declining, got something dead right. Day was bang on when he said lots of crime goes unreported. That’s wholly, completely, totally accurate. The problem is, unreported crime has absolutely nothing – nadda, zippo, zilch – to do with plans to build more prisons and lock up more people for longer sentences. And that’s Day’s big problem, because he drew a big, fat intersecting line from one to the other, as if they were shadow and shape in a kid’s activity book matching game.
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.
Winnipeg, Manitoba has snatched from Regina, Saskatchewan the title of Canada’s (big city) violent crime capital. New figures released today by Statistics Canada show Winnipeg’s violent crime severity index is 187, double the national figure of 93.7. The violent crime severity index measures the severity of crimes reported to police. Among roughly 210 Canadian communities with populations of 10,000 or more, the centre with the most severe violent crime index isn’t a big city.