Hysterical Fear-Mongering in Toronto

Allow me to take this opportunity to say that I’m sick of people out there (such as local radio talk-show host Bill Carroll, although he is by no means the only one) attacking Toronto as Canada’s Murder Capital. This is a complete falsehood, and it is based upon the apparent inability of radio talk show hosts, other assorted media alarmists, and rural bumpkins to perform simple mathematics. Now of course, I know that some of you will get angry and write me to complain that I used the term “rural bumpkins”. You will no doubt complain that I shouldn’t generalize about the education of rural people despite all of the statistical evidence showing that you are much less likely to be well-educated. Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you. I understand that you don’t know any better.

In any case, for those of you who flunked grade-school math (and it appears, based on calls to radio talk-shows and letters written to newspapers, that many of you did), a city with five point two million people living in it (ref: StatCan) can have a low crime rate but still produce many dozens of murders in any given year. I know some of you people out there are allergic to numbers, but the fact is that numbers tell an objective tale, as opposed to a sensationalist one. And here are the numbers, from Statistics Canada’s The Daily report from July 21, 2005:

Crime rates for selected offences by census metropolitan area
Homicide Robbery Break-ins Motor vehicle theft Total Criminal Code Offences
2004 rate* 2004 rate* 2004 rate* 2004 rate* 2004 rate* % change in rate 2003 to 2004*
CMAs with population of 500,000 and over
Winnipeg1 4.9 229 1,124 1,932 12,167 1.9
Vancouver 2.6 148 1,325 1,104 11,814 0.2
Edmonton 3.4 141 1,129 1,018 11,332 3.0
Montréal 1.7 150 894 663 8,173 2.7
Calgary 1.9 91 815 457 7,101 -3.2
Hamilton 1.3 88 680 540 5,764 -13.0
Ottawa2 1.1 84 578 316 5,663 -10.0
Quebec 0.8 59 783 277 4,997 -0.9
Toronto 1.8 103 449 325 4,699 -8.6
CMAs with population between 100,000 and 500,000
Regina 5.0 211 2,112 1,351 15,430 2.4
Saskatoon 3.3 209 1,797 590 13,767 -9.1
Abbotsford 4.4 97 1,390 1,529 13,252 -1.2
Victoria 1.5 76 935 336 10,309 -2.2
Halifax 2.4 161 957 540 9,924 5.0
Thunder Bay 0.0 85 865 323 9,226 8.2
Windsor 1.2 70 922 455 7,676 4.0
London 1.1 70 732 611 7,335 -3.0
Saint John 0.7 63 679 135 7,056 -8.3
Kingston 0.0 49 647 233 7,010 2.6
St. John’s 0.6 50 1,149 325 6,787 4.2
St. Catharines-Niagara 1.6 63 737 354 6,222 -9.0
Greater Sudbury/Grand Sudbury 0.0 41 851 489 6,188 -4.7
Sherbrooke 0.0 49 855 526 6,094 -9.0
Gatineau3 0.4 59 928 304 5,909 -4.9
Kitchener 1.3 80 738 459 5,887 -0.2
Trois-Rivières 0.7 45 692 367 4,787 -9.9
Saguenay 1.3 18 542 337 4,079 -2.4
* Rates are calculated per 100,000 population.
1. Crime data from April to December 2004 for Winnipeg are estimates (except for homicide and motor vehicle theft) due to the implementation of a new records management system.
2. Ottawa refers to the Ontario part of the Ottawa-Gatineau CMA.
3. Gatineau refers to the Quebec part of the Ottawa-Gatineau CMA.

Oops, that’s not what you expected, is it? It looks like Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Abbotsford, and Halifax all have much higher homicide rates than Toronto. It also appears that Montréal and Calgary are in the same ballpark as Toronto, despite hardly ever being fingered as high-crime cities by the national media. In fact, the highest homicide rates among Canadian cities (defined by this source as census metropolitan areas above 100,000 population) are found in Winnipeg (pop: 700k), Regina (pop: 200k), and Abbotsford (pop: 150k). Yes, that’s right: the worst murder rates in Canada are in some of the smallest cities, not the biggest ones.

And hey, how does this compare to American cities? Well, based on the FBI’s statistics for 2002 as reported in Best and Worst Cities for Crime, Toronto has a lower murder rate than all large American cities, most mid-sized American cities, and even a majority of the tiny little burgs ranging right down to 55,000 population (try looking through their charts for a murder rate below 1.8; you won’t find that many).

But of course, those are just numbers, and as Bill Carroll would say, “don’t give me statistics”, and “just try telling that to the parents of the 4-year old who got shot”. Yeah, I’m sure all of those other murders in other cities did not leave grieving parents behind. This is the problem with fearmongers; they appeal to emotion and hysteria in order to dismiss these odd and annoying things called “facts”.

And the facts say this: Toronto, which is Canada’s largest and most multi-racial city (in fact, with more than a third of the population consisting of a highly mixed group of visible minorities, it is one of the most multi-racial cities in the world), has the lowest overall crime rate among all of Canada’s large cities, and it has the third lowest overall crime rate even if you include the small cities. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Bill Carroll.

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One Response to Hysterical Fear-Mongering in Toronto

  1. anarchistsocialism says:

    MIke,

    I recently stumbled across your blog, and I have to give my support, This particular article was much needed with all the sensationalism and fear mongering concerning the safety of toronto. I think you hit the issue right on and I really appreciate how you are trying to clear up the irrational fears. I also wanted to add an additional point, that this fear mongering can have very dangerous consequences. By making ludicrious claims of high crime rates, people will be duped into pouring more (and totally unneccessary, and wasteful) money into hiring more police and giving up more of our rights to these agents of social control. I know my username gave it away but I had to drop a little anarchist flavor, but seriously, the fear mongering plays right into the hands of those who want more police and want to increase the police state.

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