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Metrocide: Conclusions

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.


  • dcooper

    Too many people are concerned with Violent crime and I’ve long said that it’s an unnecessary and frankly ridiculous thing to worry yourself with. Your statistics didn’t examine this, but I’m certain that a large percentage of the (stark few, per capita) murders that do happen in Toronto are gang-related, and not random crimes.
    Meanwhile, somehow (in my personal experience), the rest of Ontario and even Canada believe Toronto to be a “dangerous” city, when in fact, per capita, it is one of the safest in the world. While I agree that even a stark

  • matty

    Round of applause. I think I misjudged David Topping. Nice work and I think you made a very convincing argument against what is popular perception (I was once mugged in Toronto…).
    The study merits further discussion and I hope you do more of these articles in the future.

  • McKingford

    Excellent work, bringing us to a reasonable conclusion. We have, well maybe not nothing, but *little* to fear except fear itself. There are a lot of people whose agenda is well served by keeping us, as a society, afraid; we should resist this. By way of comparison, there was a recent report that up to 400 Ontarians have died in the last year from c. dificile. in the hospital, and I doubt the Toronto Sun has given this 1/10000 the ink it has murders in the city.
    I would also point out that as much as I have issues with the TPS and police in general, when it comes to murders in Toronto, they have an excellent clearance rate. When someone is murdered in Toronto, the police work exceptionally hard to find the killer (you really have little idea the great detective work that goes on here), and in the great majority of cases, this person is found and convicted.
    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?”
    I think it’s a little early to be drawing any conclusions about the Martin and Ellis case. We really don’t know a thing about the case. I don’t want to be seen spitting on graves here, but I would be very surprised if, when all the facts come out, we learn that this was a random stranger-on-stranger murder.

  • Green Sulfur

    Correction: “Summer of the Gun” was 2005, not 2006.
    I appreciate the work that went into this series and I guess it’s worth it if it helps the crazed among us get a grip but I guess I’m left with a “well duh!” feeling at the conclusions. I would have been surprised if they were anything else.

  • David Topping

    Green Sulfur, the Sun and CTV—which I linked to—both labeled 2006 as another “summer of the gun” when it began…though, yes, 2005 was widely labeled one as well; that’s why I said above that 2006 was “a media-anointed ‘summer of the gun’” not “the media-anointed ‘summer of the gun.’” (Interestingly, at the end of summer 2006 a lot of organizations were talking about the summer of the gun that wasn’t.)
    I’m not at all surprised by the vast majority of the conclusions, either, but it doesn’t hurt to have what I thought was the case backed up by a big pile of data.

  • PickleToes

    Violent crime may be down. But the injustices of Toronto’s out of control and socialist government continue to sky rocket.

  • rek

    Aw, no charts with this post? I love infographics.

  • andrew

    Congratulations, and well done David. This is Torontoist at its best.

  • Green Sulfur

    The socialists are sure terrible PickleToes. First they give small businesses a tax break, then they give all commercial properties a tax break, then they start doing financial incentives for economic development projects, then they enter into public-private-partnerships to replace aging street furniture and to top it off they have more police on the streets.
    …Oh wait, that’s not socialist.

  • veektah

    Hi all, I’ve been following the Metrocide series lately and I have some powerpoint slides that I’d like to share that I’ve obtained from my studies in criminology at UofT. Each powerpoint provides a compilation of statistics dealing with crime in Toronto, homicide rates, violent crimes (by various types), race, incarceration rates, gangs, victimization rates, police, etc. It’s a more in-depth look at crime statistics in Toronto and Canada if anyone is interested and would like to know more about this topic. All credit to Prof. Scot Wortley for the powerpoint slides.
    You can view them here, here, here, here, and here (plenty more charts for ya).
    You’ll find that Toronto is a very safe city for its size and population. For example, a smaller city like Abbotsford, BC has a higher homicide rate than Toronto. I’d also rather remain living in Ontario than a province like Nunavut. You’d be surprised.

  • TokyoTuds

    “whether the victim is a drug dealer in some faraway suburb or an innocent bystander on a downtown street”
    This quote is opposite to what you might here in an analysis of an American city, eh?
    Great work David!

  • David Newland

    According to today’s Sun, murders are down for the year, but shootings are up. So the cover declares it “Summer of the Gun… Again.”
    Great work on the stats and conclusions, David. The conversation continues.

  • David Topping

    Thanks David; I’ve actually been working on a separate article about that cover story. Here’s my response.

  • skynet

    I think what this pretty decent series totally misses, and what I hear a lot of by people from Toronto all the time is that crime is no big deal in Toronto, comparing ourselves to other places, and giving ourselves a pat on the back. In reality if you look at the statistics its really worrying. Crime in Toronto is disproportionately concentrated in places like 31 division. Jurisdictions like 31 division have crime rates (look at the police reports) which are drastically higher in auto theft, guns, and assaults, then other parts of the city. Just because crime in Toronto is compartmentalized does not mean its not serious. Compton (population of 97k) had around 35 murders in 2006. The general area of the Jane strip (around 130k) on a bad year can have 25 murders. What we need to look at is why this is happening. Because Toronto is so huge (even compared with many of the US cities posted), that areas of Toronto which are much smaller population-wise, will have a higher rate of homicide than other parts of the country (compare Winnipeg to West End Toronto). Gun crime affects poor communities, and crime rates in those communities are definitely on par with US levels– that is what Torontonians continue to gloss over with studies like this.

  • David Topping

    @skynet, do you have sources for those numbers (particularly “Compton [population of 97k] had around 35 murders in 2006. The general area of the Jane strip [around 130k] on a bad year can have 25 murders”)?

  • rek

    (I *really* wish the blog wouldn’t log me out in the time between when I load a page and when I hit Post.)
    skynet – We can be realistically concerned but we don’t have to accept the designed-to-terrorize Summer of the Gun 3, Autumn of Stabbings, or School Shooting Apocalypse sensationalizing the media delights in.

  • skynet

    Hey David Topping. I got the Compton information from the wikipedia page on Compton. The Jane strip area I calculated using neighbourhood demographic profiles. I’m not trying to put down all your hard work, which was really cool, I just wish someone would look at this issue from a different angle. The fact that a relatively small corner of Toronto measures up or surpasses Canada’s “murder capital” Winnipeg, is significant. Another thing about these homicide rates is that Toronto is huge compared to other Canadian cities, and thus there is an equalizing effect to the data. If we just take Scarborough for instance which had 29 murders in 2007 (taken from Toronto Star homicide map), which surpasses Winnipeg (with 22 murders in 2006), but has been deemed homicide capital at various points. The fact that in 2006 nearly 2,000 people were subject to violent gun-related crime is very significant. Especially when you consider the number of “offensive weapons” seized from 31 division the year following was 800. The rest of the divisions were sitting at around 250! This is what worries me. NYC has a fairly low homicide rate compared to most other US cities. But to say that you are safer in Brownsville NY, compared to anywhere in a place like Atlanta is unreasonable.
    Yes I totally agree with you Tyrannosaurus, because the type of negative reporting really dehumanizes certain neighbourhoods in the city, especially Jane and Finch or the entire city of Scarborough. My dad’s side of the family has been in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood for 40 yrs, and crime has gotten much more serious. The fact is that for many the fanfare about low homicide/crime rates, rings hollow in many places in Toronto who do not experience this luxury.

  • David Topping

    @skynet: Thanks for the info on sources. (I wasn’t personally offended, I just wanted to make sure there were sources.) I am thinking of doing something at some point in the future that breaks down crime a little closer in different areas—Metrocide was limited in that respect, but I’m not sure if I can find the historical data I need (for, say, the division that Jane and Finch is in). But if some key areas like Jane and Finch are getting worse, then, based on the data I’ve looked at, the rest of Toronto must actually be getting significantly better.