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Metrocide: A Tale Of Sixty Cities

Is Toronto a dangerous city? And is it getting worse? This week for Metrocide, Torontoist is examining a sea of homicide data and trying to come up with conclusions based not in fear or fantasy but fact.
Photo of Calgary by D’Arcy Norman.
Ever since Toronto earned its reputation as a safe city, safe has tended to be a relative term—safe compared to Detroit, safe compared to New York, safe compared to Chicago. Comparisons between individual cities’ crime rates are at once useful and flawed; while they help contextualize a city by putting it into dialogue with others, they also “provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction” (so says the FBI). But insofar as they measure the effects of crime, rather than their causes, city-to-city comparisons are a good basis for determining relative safety, and—especially when it comes to homicide rates—play a large role in shaping public perception.
Today, we’ll look at how Toronto’s recent homicide rates stand up to thirty-four American cities and twenty-seven Canadian ones.

A Note on Statistics

Today, we’re comparing Toronto to American and Canadian cities only. Not that we wouldn’t like to toss worldwide cities into the mix, of course, but there are some problems with doing so. No over-arching body (say, the United Nations) seems to have homicide data for individual cities (rather than whole countries) measured in any consistent way. Second, if we researched cities on an individual basis (say, picked twenty large European cities based on size), it is unlikely that each would measure homicides and homicide rates the same way as every other city or country did. (Would negligent manslaughter count in the numbers? Would non-negligent manslaughter? Infanticide? Will they provide rates, or just numbers? And if it’s just numbers, will they provide a population that the rate can be determined from?) Geography is an issue, too: as we’ve shown in the past two days, homicide rates change for Toronto depending on what you define “Toronto” as. At this point, thus, accurately comparing worldwide cities is unfortunately beyond the scope of this week’s project.
Fortunately, Statistics Canada and the FBI do make good statistical bedfellows; so far as we can see, their data measures cities in the same way for determining the same data. So: how does Toronto’s homicide rate compare to American cities’?
Extraordinarily well; Toronto’s numbers absolutely pale in comparison to American cities. Its metropolitan homicide rate in 2006 was lower than every American city with a population above 500,000 (charted above). And of the seventy-two American cities with populations over 250,000, Toronto’s 2006 metropolitan homicide rate (1.8 per 100,000) was lower than every other city except for Plano, Texas—the wealthiest city in the United States—which had a homicide rate of 1.6 per 100,000.
In Canada, the picture is different. (Do note the change in scale from the American cities chart, and that this chart lists 2007 homicide rates.) Canadian cities, overall, do quite well in comparison to American ones in terms of homicide rate, regardless of geographical proximity; in 2006, Windsor’s homicide rate (1.5) was thirty-one times smaller than Detroit’s, and in the same year, Toronto’s homicide rate (1.8) was fourteen times smaller than Buffalo’s.
But, as we noted in March, and as was widely-reported last week, Toronto still holds its own against other Canadian cities. Of the twenty-seven Canadian cities with a Central Metropolitan Area (CMA) population above 100,000 (charted above), Toronto’s homicide rate in 2007 (2.0) ranked ninth highest, tied with Saint John. Of the nine cities in Canada with a CMA population above 500,000, Toronto’s homicide rate in 2007 ranked fifth highest—with a lower rate than Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver—and is not far from Montreal, Hamilton, and Ottawa’s rates (for all three, 1.6 homicides per 100,000). No large city in Canada had as good of a year for homicides as Quebec City had in 2007: of a population of about 750,000, it had no homicides whatsoever. Even if that was in part the result of good fortune—the last year it hadn’t had a homicide before 2007 was 1962, its violent crime rate is similar to Toronto’s, and it will unfortunately not be able to repeat the feat this year—the Québec capital consistently has a homicide rate that is on the low end of Canada’s larger cities.


Canadian cities’ 2007 metropolitan homicide rates are from the just-released Statistics Canada report. 2006′s rates can be found in last year’s report.
American cities’ homicide rates are from the FBI, via Wikipedia.


  • clever_cloud

    where in the heck is metroville?

  • rek

    Near Cityton and across the river from Townberg.

  • spacejack

    lol @ graph #1.

  • Rosemary Mosco

    this is a great post. i was wondering about metroville, too. i can’t seem to find anything on google… did someplace get renamed?

  • David Topping

    It appears that either my graphing software or I decided at some point to condense “Louisville Metro” into “Metroville,” which, while snappy, is not at all correct. I’ll fix the graphs right now.

  • matty

    I truly believe that the only statistically difference between the US and places like canada is GUNS. Guns and the inner-city do not mix. There are way more guns down here and they are really, really easy to get.
    You can have every complicated theory in the world, a la freakonomics, but in the end it comes to down to access to guns, imo.

  • canrocks

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  • Vaneska

    I hate to say it, but the photo is beautiful.

  • jcloth

    It’s probably a little simplistic to say guns are completely to blame, though no doubt their relative accessibility plays a large part.
    What probably plays a larger role is that in Canada, the divide between rich and poor is much smaller than in the US — less poverty tends to correlate pretty well with less crime (check out the note on Plano).
    Tied closely to poverty, there are also race factors to consider (can I mention race here without getting lambasted?). Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Calgary at the top of the Canadian list all have big problems with poor, marginalized native populations which, if you have never experienced them, are hard to believe exist within Canada.
    I would also blame some cultural differences but I’ve never seen anything looking at ideas such as the effect that being a global superpower for 2 generations has on an individual’s personal sense of entitlement.

  • TokyoTuds

    (Cross-posted from Part 2)
    Although any murders are too many, it is naive to say so, as human nature will insure future murders. Crimes of passion will happen, and people will get murdered with guns, knives, a candlestick, whatever …..
    The reason I favour gun bans is that in a crime of passion, the victim is more likely to survive and fully recover physically from a candlestick attack than a gun attack.
    My final point however, is that In Canada (and Toronto, I’m sure) you are more likely to kill yourself, or die in a fall, than to be murdered.
    2004 Rate per 100,000 for Suicide 10.8
    2004 Rate per 100,000 for Falls 5.4
    2004 Rate per 100,000 for Murder 1.7

  • uskyscraper

    What happened to Ottawa on the Cdn chart?
    I wonder why Toronto’s (admittedly low number of) murders are so evenly shared between the central city and the rest of the city (as per the last Metrocide post), something not common in many American cities. Perhaps this is because:
    - Toronto’s downtown has a large residential population. More people equals more homicides
    - People go out in downtown for clubs and other late night activity, as opposed to say Atlanta (where they go out in Buckhead and not downtown).
    - The city has significant pockets of poverty but they are suburban in nature, unlike US cities. This leads to an odd tolerance/mobility/desire for the thugs to bring their crime to downtown. Gangs that would bump into each other and have a shoot-out on the street in Bed-Stuy in New York will in Toronto fight it out on the Gardiner or Yonge St. US homicide rates may be sky-high compared to Toronto but not in their tourist/business areas.

  • David Topping

    uskyscraper: I’ve added Ottawa (rate in 2007: 1.6 per 100,000) to the chart.

  • rek

    uskyscraper: Your first two points mirror my own.

  • rek

    I feel like this series could be the start of a much larger thing: Toronto The Misunderstood, Or, Why You’re Wrong To Hate Us

  • pukegreen

    Thank you very much for this. I tried to dig up similar statistics a few months ago (using nothing but google) and was confounded by inconsistent measurement methods in different places, and couldn’t come up with anything nice and difinitive like this. That first graph is EXACTLY what I was seeking. It helps put things into perspective for those who seem to love preaching that Toronto is a crime-ridden hellhole, something that is so opposite to my personal experiences living downtown for 14 years that it infuriates me.