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.
In her introduction to August’s Toronto Life, Editor Sarah Fulford writes that “numbers alone can’t communicate the impact of gun violence—on the families of the victims or on the city itself. We hope that our cover, which commemorates the people killed by guns since the spring of 2007, will do what statistics can’t.”
Setting aside that cover—which, with a few dozen bullets representing a few dozen murder victims, is by definition dehumanizing—Fulford’s logic might explain why John Lorinc’s feature on guns and death in Toronto inside the issue is so light on statistics and so heavy on anecdotes. As Toronto Life contributor (and former blogger) Doug Bell wrote in a piece critical of the article, Lorinc’s story “does a good job of reporting the facts on the ground but fails in even one instance to place this ‘trend’ in any sort of context.”
Statistics provide the context. They do what anecdotes can’t, providing a broader view of an issue. They can be used and misused, but in and of themselves they have no intentions at all; they simply convey facts, emotionlessly and objectively. And as far as they extend to homicides in Toronto, statistics are largely ignored unless they can be bent to justify two central theses: that Toronto is a dangerous city, and that it’s getting worse.
But do either of those claims hold water? We’ve pored over ten years of data from the Toronto Police and twenty-six years of crime data from Statistics Canada (including those released last week) to find out. We’ve chosen to focus only on homicides—admittedly only one measure for determining how safe or dangerous Toronto is or isn’t—because homicides are by far the most talked about, most reported on, and most campaigned against crime in our city. As far as statistics go, homicide numbers are also reliable (for Toronto and many other cities, the numbers are thoroughly fact-checked), clear (the definition of homicide is specific, unambiguous, and consistent), accurate (few homicides go unreported or undiscovered), and accessible (statistics not available online are easily found at most libraries).
This week for a series we’re dubbing Metrocide, Torontoist will be taking a look at what we’ve found, eschewing the anecdotal for the statistical and trying to come up with conclusions based not in fear or fantasy but fact. Every evening at 6 p.m., we’ll have a new article framing the data we’ve gathered in a different way: on Tuesday, we’ll look at the historical data, and see how it has changed; on Wednesday, we’ll look at central and downtown homicides specifically; on Thursday, we’ll step back from Toronto to look at dozens of other cities in the United States and Canada to see where we stand in relation to them; and on Friday, we’ll try to summarize the whole thing, and look at where 2008 will fit. Our goal this week is to neither trivialize nor sensationalize homicides in Toronto, but to honestly convey and examine the truth around them. It is undeniably true that “numbers alone” can’t encompass or explain a human problem. But that does not mean they ought to be ignored.
Photo by darkthroness from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.