Defining and categorizing crime is complicated, as there are many non-violent crimes that do not affect the day-to-day quality of life in a region. Violent crime, on the other hand, is something that can be a scourge to a neighbourhood, community or city – this week we examine crime across Canada. The Crime Severity Index, introduced by Statistics Canada in 2009, represents a more meaningful measure of the impact of crime on Canadian communities than the traditional crime rate indicator, a value that is derived using the total number of crimes reported to police normalized by 100,000 population. The CSI is a weighted calculation, in which more serious crimes (such as murder and aggravated assault) contribute more to the index than mischief and drug offenses. Numbers are benchmarked against a “baseline” value of 100, allowing one to see if crime problems have gotten better or worse over time. What does this week’s map tell us about crime across the country?
What is immediately obvious is that the age-old stereotype of “crime-ridden cities” appears to be patently false in Canada. Many of the cities represented on this map fall lower on the Crime Severity Index than the provinces they fall within. The country’s largest cities skew safer than their smaller counterparts – perhaps related to increased economic opportunities or even just a wider range of things to do to “keep kids out of trouble”.
In Ontario, the urban areas most affected by more serious crime are Brantford (with a CSI of 92), Thunder Bay and London (88 and 74 respectively). That kind of plays against the stereotype of big bad Toronto (with a CSI of 52), doesn’t it? Montréal, on the other hand, actually has a slightly higher CSI (75) than the province of Québec (71) – so at least one major Canadian city is more dangerous than its province, but not by much. The Atlantic provinces are sometimes stereotyped as “sleepy”, but their residents are right to be more concerned about crime than their neighbours to the west. Those who live in the Prairies – particularly the city of Regina – face the reality of a more significant crime problem close to home. However, the Crime Severity Index tends to paint the northern territories in a poor light, with their numbers coming out significantly higher than the provinces. However, Statistics Canada noted in 2009 that the CSI nevertheless acts as a more meaningful indicator of the seriousness of crime than the crime rate, which would have further stigmatized the territories even more. They note that the severity of crime in the North is no worse than in the rest of Canada, though the amount of crime – mostly relatively non-violent acts of mischief – is much higher per capita. Again, this may relate to systemic issues of poverty and the lack of employment opportunities for many northern residents, exacerbated by their much higher cost of living. That said, their communities tend to be much more directly policed than the rest of the country, with a much lower ratio of civilians to police officers – this may have an impact on how much crime gets reported. The statistics don’t lie, there is a lot more nuance to the severity of crime in communities and regions across Canada than we might expect.