Toronto residents, take heart: crime in your city is less severe than you have been led to believe. That’s the word from Statistics Canada, which yesterday released the first edition of the Police-Reported Crime Severity Index, a new ranking created at the request of the police community that takes into account both the volume and seriousness of criminal acts. According to the index, police-reported crime across Canada declined in severity between 1998 and 2007, the last year for which data is available. The index also pegs Toronto as the metropolitan area with the lowest crime severity, well below the national average and that of other major cities such as Montreal and Vancouver.
To some, the fact that both the crime rate and crime severity are dropping—and that Toronto has the lowest crime severity of any city in Canada—would be considered a sign that our country’s justice system is working, at least for the most part. Just don’t tell that to the Toronto Sun. On the very same page as the paper’s story on the Statscan report, columnist Joe Warmington tells us in no uncertain terms that facts and figures are for chumps. Despite what the “crime-decrease movement” would have us believe, he insists, criminals are “still out there and one thing for sure [sic], no report is going to stop them from choosing their next victim.”
To be fair, the Sun‘s obsession with guns and knives is not entirely without factual basis. Statscan’s measure of violent crime severity, as opposed to crime severity in general, places Toronto closer to the national average, with the twelfth-highest severity out of Canada’s metropolitan areas. But the index suggests that the seriousness of violent crime here is significantly lower than in most of Canada’s other largest cities: Winnipeg, Edmonton, Montreal, and gang-ridden Vancouver all come in well above the national average.
The type of sensationalistic reporting seen in the Sun might be a good way to sell papers, but it has also dramatically misled the public on the issue of crime. A recent Harris-Decima survey shows that nearly 60% of Canadians mistakenly believe that crime is on the rise; only 10% of individuals polled said that crime has decreased in recent years.
With the amount of fog surrounding the topic of crime in Canada, it’s no wonder that the federal Conservatives are so easily able to exploit the issue for political gain. Rather than addressing the root causes of crime—such as poverty and, specifically, child poverty—the Harper government has favoured so-called “tough-on-crime” legislation, most of which consists of increasing penalties for offenders. Whether or not such a strategy would actually make Canada safer is beside the point; when the opposition dares to question the government’s criminal justice plan, they are labelled as soft on crime. The fear-peddling continues, with no one willing to speak up for fear of electoral defeat.
To reiterate the central argument made in our Metrocide series nine months ago, Toronto is neither perfect, nor a place to fear. Let the self-serving politicians and tabloid blowhards say what they will. Our city is a great—and safe—place to live.