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.
Over the past week, we’ve examined a number of different homicide statistics: Toronto’s homicides and homicide rates from 1981 to 2007; motor vehicle fatalities compared to homicides from 1993 to 2007; homicides, homicide rates, and percentages of homicides in central Toronto from 1997 to 2007; homicides and percentages of homicides in downtown Toronto from 1997 to 2007; and Toronto’s homicide rate compared to the most populous American and Canadian cities.
Our intention was to see if Toronto, at least as measured by the homicides that occur in it, is dangerous, and whether or not our city is getting worse. On both counts, the statistics we’ve looked at seem to say no. Consider that Toronto’s homicide rate is lower now than it was during the 1980s and early 1990s; that you’re more likely to be killed directly by a motor vehicle than a gun, knife, or any other murder weapon; that in 2006, the year with a media-annointed “summer of the gun,” Toronto had a lower homicide rate than Honolulu and every other American city with a population above 250,000 save for one; that our homicide rate in 2007 was less than Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Trois-Rivières, Regina, Sudbury, and Vancouver’s; or that downtown Toronto has very few homicides, despite its enormous number of residents and day and nighttime visitors.
As for 2008, Toronto Police statistics all show this year to be a better one than both 2006 and 2007. (You know it’s a good summer when the record the media is talking about most is rainfall.) There have been substantially fewer homicides so far this year than by the same date over the last two years—29 this year; 40 by July 25 in 2006 and 2007—and if we keep up the pace we’re currently at, the 2008 homicide rate at year’s end could be the third-lowest over the past twenty-seven years.
Admittedly, Metrocide’s scope was narrow and, as a comprehensive look at homicides in Toronto, incomplete. As the point of the series was to present and examine statistics, but not examine how they came to be or how to reshape them, it directly examined neither causes nor solutions. But what ought to be obvious is that the problem of homicide—indeed, violent crime in any form—is not exclusively a problem of guns, poverty, socialization, geography, policing, surveillance, or the justice system, and that no small change will be enough to drastically improve it.
What is not of any use are two emotional responses to crime that are equally crippling, equally unproductive, and equally dangerous, even though they are polar opposites of one another—complacency and fear. (Toronto Life, in no small feat, simultaneously accused Torontonians of being guilty of the former while trying to evoke the latter.) Any number of homicides above zero is too many, and it’s important that this city keeps talking about homicides and doesn’t accept them as inevitable, whether the victim is a drug dealer in some faraway suburb or an innocent bystander on a downtown street. But fear is not on our side. The media in particular has a duty to not treat anomalies as though they are commonplace, to not breed fear of Yonge and Bloor because of John O’Keefe, Chinatown because of Hou Chang Mao, the Eaton Centre because of Jane Creba, or Richmond because of Oliver Martin and Dylan Ellis.
It’s worth quoting from Toronto Life‘s Editor Sarah Fulford one last time. In her editor’s introduction to this month’s issue, Fulford poses a question about Martin and Ellis’s deaths that her magazine never answers: “if you can be murdered in your car after watching a basketball game, what kind of city is this, exactly?” It’s a city that still has work to do. But, to borrow that conspicuous second-person pronoun from Fulford, it’s not a city that you should be afraid of.
Photo by Jōsé from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.