2006 crime stats analysis - time for the truth

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We have this quaint saying in the criminal justice business that used to characterize our work; “The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth.” The recent 2006 Crime Statistics put out by, for some strange reason, the Minister of Industry are indicative, however, that for some, truth has become a casualty of self interested spin.

Headlines and newscasts leads from media outlets told the “story” last week: “Crime down to lowest levels in 25 years”. The average Canadian, especially the average urban dweller, in say Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Regina, Surrey, Montreal and yes, Toronto the Not So Good Anymore, might have a hard time wondering if their reality was the same as the Industry Canada (?) analysts. Same thing goes, by the way, for folks living in smaller urban centers whose day to day experiences don’t quite mirror this latest government report. An ever ready cadre of public trough resident criminologists were immediately on hand however to pontificate that any public perception that there might actually be…you know…more crime than before was ignorance fuelled by media sensationalism.

No doubt it’s just a co-incidence that these crime stats are released in the dead of summer although the simple acceptance of them without critical analysis by the media and the supposedly ‘new’ Harper government is disappointing. The truth is there but it takes some drilling down and comparative analysis to actually find it concealed as it is behind a bureaucratic shell game of mixing apples and oranges and deliberately excluding the fruit that is unquestionably rotten. In fact, stripped of all the statistical scam, this year’s crime stats are an even starker reminder than normal that things are bad and getting worse when it comes to crime in Canada.

Let’s start with what Juristat actually reports and how they choose to report it because those are the first clues to the deliberately deceptive reporting on crime in Canada. Fortunately, as is often the case in honest data analysis, they are also the first indicators of what the truth really is.

1. What the Juristat crime stats include…..and what they don’t

Let’s begin with the survey itself. Buried in the introductory fine print is the admission of what it is and what it isn’t.

Reporting of crime

It is crimes that get reported to the police and which the police then report to the stats gatherers (and even that is watered down in multiple count/crime incidents where only the most ‘serious’ crime is counted). It isn’t crimes that occur that don’t get reported for a variety of reasons including, according to the Report, “…not wanting to involve the police…” which is an alarmingly growing phenomena in big cities. One of the reasons cited for this previously was “…fear of reprisals from aggressors” but this has curiously been sanitized from the current edition.

One stat that is definitely not reported, but should be, is the number of unsolved violent crimes which is increasing because witnesses, and victims, are alarmingly concluding that the bad guys are more powerful than the good guys. As someone with twenty five plus years experience in our justice system I’d regretfully add ‘because nothing will happen’ and ‘because as a victim you can expect grief, expense and abuse’ to the reasons why crime is under reported.

This reality of under reporting isn’t irrelevant. In recognition of that fact, the same folks that conduct this police reported survey also conduct a community survey to directly identify persons victimized by crime (itself with highly restrictive parameters). If the ‘good news’ interpreters of the Crime Stats report are correct then presumably there should be a close co-relation of crimes reported, right? Guess what? The last such survey showed, when asked, Canadians reported crime happening to them at a rate three times higher than what the Crime Stats reveal.

Clearly, the most serious violent crimes such as homicide, robberies etc., are more likely to come to the attention of the police and thus be ‘reported’ while less serious property crimes are more likely to go unreported. Ironically, the supposed drop in crime which Juristat reports is “…driven by declines in non violent crimes…” whereas “…increases were seen in many serious violent crimes.” In other words, Juristat’s announced ‘drop’ in crime is based on an increase in violent crime that is more likely reported and a decrease in reporting of property crime that is less likely reported.

Finally, because many of us appear to have accepted more crime as inevitable is by no means the same thing as saying that crime is decreasing or that we could not take measures to reduce crime if we chose to do so.

Crime rate versus crimes committed

The rate of crime reflects the number of crimes committed in relation to a fixed amount of the population. If the population increases (as it has by more than 10% since 1989), then there will be an inevitable decline in the crime rate unless the volume of crime continues to increase beyond even its recent explosive growth. Put in non-Justice Department terms, there are more of us out there for robbers, killers, car thieves, and child molesters to choose from. Somehow I don't take great comfort in this. This year’s Juristat reports a 2006 population of 32,623,490 which is an approximate 1% increase from 2005 and approximately 4% since 2002 which are the comparator years used for this year’s analysis.

Additionally, population grows from two sources; births and immigration. I haven’t read of armed and diapered gangsters dealing crack, so including newborns as part of the potential criminal population is illogical. In fact, the legal age of potential criminal responsibility is twelve in Canada so persons under that age artificially inflate the comparative base and decrease the real ‘rate’ of crime. Given that youths (12-17) are counted as a separate category, including them in the general population category would also appear to be a double counting of them. Finally, if persons who have just immigrated to Canada are engaging in crime sprees, which is highly unlikely, then at the very least this should be identified which, of course, it isn’t.

The fact is that the overall marginal growth in population, throughout the entire country, is largely irrelevant to the increase in the amount of crime in Canadian communities. Juristat’s analysis indicates that PEI has a greater crime problem than Ontario as its crime rate is actually higher (6793 per 100K to 5689 per 100K). While potato theft may be annoying, it hardly compares with gun toting crackhead gangsters shooting up the neighbourhood. PEI reported 989 total violent crimes in 2006. Ontario reported 95,881 violent crimes or approximately 100 times more violent crime in the same year and 196 times more homicides (196 to 1). This illustrates the absurdity of the generic crime rate reporting approach as a measure of change in crime in Canada.

The best measure of the change in crime, therefore, is in the comparative amount and types of crimes being committed over defined time periods. Although Juristat captures and reports this information, it deliberately chooses to present its conclusions about crime in an artificial crime rate format that inherently minimizes the results. There are legislative and operational options available to Canadians to reduce crime, but a pre-condition to using them is a government willingness to confront the truth rather than conceal it.

What’s not included

For some reason, known only to criminologists and Justice Department officials, we don’t include criminal driving or drug offences in the annual crime stats reporting. Maybe it’s me, but if the Constitution or the Criminal Code says it’s a crime, I’d suggest that’s more relevant than what some federal bureaucrat decides. Actually, here the news is not all bad. The number of criminal drinking and driving offences are down (78K to 74K although leaving the scene of the accident and the most serious driving offences are significantly up (37.2K to 39.2K). Declining frequency of drinking and driving is frequently cited as a ‘success’ of public education in relation to changing anti-social behaviour. We didn’t achieve this success by pretending that these offences weren’t crimes

Perhaps the most inexplicable exclusion from the crime stats are drug crimes. Last time I checked, the cops of Canada were universal in declaring that the illegal drug trade was the cornerstone of huge volumes of gangs and gun crime and was linked to increases in serious youth crime as well. Does any parent in Canada really think that drug trafficking and illegal drug use is not a huge part of their kid’s safety and the very quality of life they enjoy in communities big and small?

Turns out total drug crime is up from 2002 to 2006 (92,781 to 96,164) although cannabis possession incidents are way down (49,647 to 43,634). Cynicism would suggest that this is more a result of the courts and the Liberal government dithering on decriminalization of marihuana than fewer kids deciding not to light up a joint.

Some drug crimes are definitely not down. Possession, production, importing and trafficking in drugs like cocaine, heroin and crystal meth are up, in total, a staggering 21% (43,134 to 52,630) over the past five years and 4% since 2005. Last year, I reported that even using the deliberately deflating crime ‘rate’ analysis, Ontario had shown a 24% increase in cocaine crime. This year shows a 17% increase from even that astonishing number which means cocaine crime in Ontario has increased 41% over the past two years. Apparently, Juristat felt this fact didn’t merit inclusion in their crime statistics calculation.

The exclusion of serious drug crime is especially puzzling when one considers the inclusion in minute detail of such crimes as shoplifting (theft under), vandalism (mischief) and causing a disturbance, even though Juristat confirms (albeit in literally the ‘fine print) that some police agencies don’t even report such offences as crimes. The specifics of the increase in drug crimes are detailed in part 2 of this Report but anyone who thinks these kinds of most serious drug crimes are not relevant to the prevalence of crime in Canada should not be involved in shaping policies to reduce crime. (Note: Since authoring this analysis I see that Juristat defends not including drug crimes in crime stats because police can target such crimes and thus cause an “increase” in their reporting. Huh? By this logic I guess we shouldn’t include gun crimes as they certainly are targeting those these days. Planet Earth to Juristat: Police targeting crime doesn’t create it, it detects and interdicts it. It’s a good thing.)

Juristat also provides no statistical information or analysis of what is clearly the most important issue about crime and its prevention, namely what common offender characteristics exist. Wouldn’t it be informative to know if there is a recurring profile for the most serious offenders such as how many were on bail, probation, conditional sentence, parole or were already eligible for deportation because of past crimes? Wouldn’t it be good to know how many non citizens that committed these crimes over the past five years have actually been deported?

Additionally, given the billions of dollars spent by the justice system in supervising and ‘rehabilitating’ persons already convicted of crimes, isn’t it logical to expect that the hundred thousand or so of persons in this category aren’t committing crimes anymore? And let’s not be unrealistic about our expectations of the corrections and parole industries. We don’t expect bank robbers to become bank presidents but we do expect that they stop robbing banks.

While that might be logical it unfortunately isn’t true. We know from Correctional Services of Canada’s own statistics that 47% of all federal offenders released from custody commit a new crime within the first year of their release and 44% commit a new crime within the second year. We also know that more than 80% of all federal offenders (serving a sentence of two years or more) have previously been incarcerated. Success this isn’t.

The purpose of this information is not idle speculation because, if, for example, a disproportionate amount of crime is being committed by persons on parole, we can always change the parole laws. If repeat child molesters like Peter Whitmore are somehow free to assault kids, we can change laws to lengthen supervision terms and impose electronic monitoring so we don’t “lose” him…without knowing it. Once again, the pre condition for effective action is information that is clearly available. Despite repeated requests for this information over the years, this vitally relevant information remains concealed from Canadians who, were they to possess it, must just pass their own judgment on the justice system and the people who supposedly run it.

2. The truth is in the numbers……..

For the purpose of this Report, the Juristat comparative statistical categories have been used. These include:

>Year to Year Comparison (2005 and 2006)
> Five Year Comparison (2002-2006)
> Violent and Property Crime Rate Comparison (1962-2006)

Select crime examples have been chosen based on the significance of the crimes involved and their systemic importance. The crimes selected for analysis include:

>Most Violent Adult and Youth Crimes
>Adult and Youth Weapons Crimes
>Adult and Youth Robberies and Robberies with Firearms
>Adult and Youth Unlawful Confinement (Home Invasion) and Kidnapping
>Adult and Youth Most Serious Drug Crime
>Adult and Youth Crimes involving ignoring court orders
>Select Adult and Youth Property Crimes

Young Offenders

Any youth crime analysis is significant because it unfortunately is in many ways a glimpse into the future. The former Liberal government chose to overhaul the Youth Justice system after public outrage over the reviled Young Offenders Act reached fever pitch. What they chose in the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) was a strange system designed to push away young people responsible for less serious and initial conduct which structure and intervention could impact on all the while retaining repeat and serious offenders. Several commentators predicted at the time that the real goal was to keep crime stats down although even these stats suggest that too is failing.

Unfortunately, this Juristat report does not include a five year comparative base for youth crime so only the 2005/2006 comparisons can be made. Youth crime statistics are already hugely artificial and unreliable as a result of the passage of the Youth Criminal Justice Act which causes the deliberate ‘diversion’ of young persons away from the youth justice system. This diversion focus has become so pronounced that more youths are now diverted than charged even though the pre condition for either is police determination that a crime has been committed. Faced with this, many police agencies do not report ‘diverted’ offences as once cops realize nothing happens they frequently don't engage the charade and don't keep records of ….doing nothing. Juristat used to report this but neglects to do so this year.

Perhaps the most significant youth crime issue inadvertently raised by Juristat however are the volumes of youths who have committed serious crimes but who are diverted (‘cleared otherwise’ is the term used) which can mean no record of their criminal misconduct is kept by authorities and that shields their past criminal misconduct from being considered in future proceedings. This alarming but inevitable consequence of the YCJA is detailed in each crime group section.

With these interpretative guides in mind, let’s turn to this year’s crime stats but be forewarned; criminologist spin to the contrary, it ain’t pretty.

(i) Most violent crime - Adult

The Homicide, Attempt Murder, Aggravated Assault, Assault with a Weapon grouping is a reflection of the accepted reality that modern medicine and treatment help more thugs avoid being convicted of a homicide than any well paid defence lawyer. The simple fact, according to researchers (University of Cincinnati), is that more people currently survive what would have been previously fatal attacks. Hence the increase in the ‘one step down’ kind of offences. Aggravated assault and assault with a weapon are included because of a particularly high intent requirement imposed on attempt murder charges thanks to a Supreme Court of Canada decision (R.v Ancio (1984)10 CCC(3d) 385) .

A comparison of the numbers (not rates) of the most violent crimes (homicide, attempt murder, aggravated assault, assault with weapon, aggravated sex assault and sex assault with weapon) committed between 2005 and 2006 show an increase in all categories except homicide and sex assault with a weapon from 54,677 such crimes in 2005 to 58,219 in 2006. This is an approximate 6% increase in the actual AMOUNT of most violent crime in one year.

The number of most violent crimes in 2002 was 48,311, which means there has been an increase of nearly 10,000 such crimes in just five years, or a 20% increase. As noted above, it would be very helpful to know how many of the persons responsible for such crimes were on bail, parole or subject to criminal deportation or ‘graduates’ of the Canadian correctional system but Juristat does not gather or report this highly relevant information.

Adult homicides decreased from 663 in 2005 to 605 in 206 or an approximate ten per cent drop. It would be interesting to know how many more hoods got locked up as a result of more focused law enforcement efforts targeting the explosion of gun crimes in 2005. Acknowledging a correlation between getting criminals off the street and a reduction of crime is, of course, heresy in the criminologist world so no analysis of this kind is provided by Juristat. The 605 homicides from 2006 are 23 more than the 582 reported five years earlier.

Most violent crime - Youth

As noted, comparative data is only provided for 2005 crimes but this too shows disturbing increases including:

*increased homicides from 72 to 85 (19%+)
*increased overall from 7725 to 7957 (3%+)

Of the 7957 most serious violent youth offenders, 2597 (approximately one third) were ‘cleared otherwise’ or in non evasive language, not charged and prosecuted for the crimes they committed. ‘Not cleared’ includes persons who were themselves killed but it should be noted that this no charge/no record kept group includes 2 homicides, 5 attempted murders, 44 assault with a weapon, 271 aggravated assaults, 13 sexual assaults with a weapon and 6 aggravated sexual assaults. It is hard to reconcile these actions with public safety. Juristat does not track, nor to my knowledge do the police report, how many young persons ‘cleared otherwise’ re-offend in the future.

(ii) Weapons Offences - Adults and Youths

This category of crimes includes every offence wherein a weapon is indicated as being part of the crime committed. The change in number of crimes involving weapons is as follows:

*Adult 2005-2006 82,726 to 85,071 or a 2.5% increase
*Youth 2005-2006 10,988 to 11,307 or a 3% increase
*Number of youth ‘cleared otherwise- 4552 or @40%
*Adult 2002 to 2006 74,043 to 85,071 or a 15% increase

(iii) Robberies - Adults and Youths

This includes all robberies and robberies with firearms

*All Robberies- Adults- 2005-2006 28,798 to 30,707 or 7.5% increase
*All Robberies-Youths-2005-2006 4151 to 4521 or 1% increase
*All Robberies –Adults 2002-2006 26,662 to 30,707 or 15% increase
*Robberies with Firearms –Adults- 2005-2006 3508 to 3671 or +4.5%
*Robberies with Firearms- Youths 2005/6 333 to 360 or +9%
*Robberies with Firearms Adults 2002/6 26,662 to 30, 707 or +15%
*Youths cleared otherwise Robbery-817 Robbery with firearm 47

(iv) Kidnapping/home invasion

These crimes are increasingly undertaken by gangs and all too often directed against immigrants. By their brazen nature they strike at the sense of security Canadians assume as a right.

*Adults 2005-2006 3918 to 4449 or a 14% increase
*Youths 2005-2006 279 to 315 or a 12% increase
*Youths cleared otherwise 37 (10%+)
*Adults 2002-2006 3095 to 4449 or a 45% increase

(v) Most serious drug offences

For some unexplained reason, Juristat does not include youth drug offences in this Report. The offences included in this section are everything but simple cannabis possession which continues to decline. It does include possession, production, trafficking and importation of cocaine, heroin and crystal meth. Also reported, strangely, is a decline in cannabis trafficking and production which seems to merit further investigation.

*Total most serious Adult drug crime 2005-2006 50,546 to 52,630 or a 4% increase
*Total most serious Adult drug crime 2002-2006 43,134 to 52,630 or a 21%increase
*Total cocaine crime 2005-2006 19,270 to 22,074 or a 11% increase
*Total cocaine crime 2002-2006 12,737 to 22,074 or a 80% increase
*Cannabis production/trafficking etc..2005-2006 17,284 to 15,244 or a 10% decrease
*Cannabis production/trafficking/etc..2002-2006 20,040 to 15,244 or a 24% decrease

(vi) Disobeying Court Orders - Adult and Youth

Ignoring the orders and rules of the system is never a good sign. This section combines breach of bail and driving while disqualified (DWD). The smaller increase in youth is likely linked to the steadily decreasing numbers actually required to come to court which is one way to keep the numbers down. Note that youth stats only reflect breaches of bail as driving while disqualified is not reported.

*Total Adult breach/DWD 2005-2006 134,655 to 142,134 or a 5% increase
*Total Adult breach/DWD 2002-2006 124,538 to 142,134 or a 14%increase
*Total Youth Breach 2005-2006 12000 to 12652 or a 5% increase
*Total youths cleared otherwise 1325 or @10%

(vii) Other Offences - Adult and Youth

According to the Juristat Report many of the likely non reporting property offences are decreasing as well including break and enter, theft and fraud. An exception to this given the insurance requirements, is auto theft which is reported to be down slightly from both 2005 and 2002. Offences reported as increasing in this category include possession of stolen property and mischief. These trends are consistent for both youth and adults.

(viii) Long Term Violent Crime and Property Crime Rates

Crime statistics were first reported by the Government of Canada in 1962. Although this year’s Juristat does not give comparative number of crimes analysis, it does provide rate of crime analysis which tells a rather disturbing story that is in stark contrast to the ‘crime is down’ message.

Property crime rate (per 100K) change from 1962-2006 - 1891 to 3588 or a 90% increase
Violent crime rate change from 1962-2006- 221 to 951 or a 300%+ increase

Notwithstanding the above noted claims to the contrary, the Juristat reporting system details a Canada that is clearly a more violent place. In 2006, violent offences made up approximately 12% of the total crimes reported. Twenty five years earlier, violent crime made up only 8% of the total crimes reflecting a 50% increase in violent crime as part of the overall crime picture in Canada. In one generation.

3. Conclusions and Recommendations

Canada is experiencing a continuing growth in the amount of crimes being committed, especially violent and drug and weapons related crime. Crimes are rarely ‘victimless’ and thus there are real and tragic consequences for this escalating anti-social behaviour. Only by examining who is committing crimes will we finally be equipped to determine how best to prevent crime from occurring. In this sense, as an honest probing of this statistics will reveal, crime prevention is as much about denying repeat offenders an opportunity to commit crime as it is about the legitimate matter of redressing underlying social contributors to crime.

Statistics are valuable to offer an insight into systemic performance. They should stimulate questions, not provoke misleading ‘explanations’ and worse, deliberate avoidance of seeking answers to those admittedly awkward questions. Our focus should be on improving future public safety by learning from past and present experiences. It should be about promoting public safety, not protecting illegitimate and unjustified reputations of perfection to which the supposed stewards of the justice system seem addicted. The millions of Canadians victimized by crime and the tens of millions of us who don’t want to be deserve better.

Perhaps the next Crime Stat report might actually delve a little deeper and tell us something about who is committing what kinds of crimes so we might better determine how to prevent that from occurring. Better yet, why not create both a national and provincial Justice System Accountability Act that requires the public reporting of things like:

*number and type of crimes committed by persons on bail;
*number and type of crimes committed by persons on probation;
*number and type of crimes committed by persons on conditional sentence;
*number and type of crimes committed by persons on conditional release of any kind (including temporary absences, day parole, full parole, statutory release and or any early release from a provincial sentence);
*number and type of crime committed by persons with past criminal record;
*number and type of crimes committed by persons unlawfully at large;
*number and type of crimes committed by persons ordered, or subject to, deportation for previous criminal conduct.
*number and type of crimes committed by persons by country of origin who are in the first year of their arrival to Canada
*numbers of persons deported for criminality
*number of unsolved crimes of violence
*number of offences committed (by type) by young persons who were previously ‘cleared otherwise’ of a crime

It is also surely long past time that the responsibility for gathering, analysing and reporting these statistics is transferred to people whose responsibility includes law enforcement and public safety. At the same time, it would seem to make sense to ask the people involved in enforcing our laws what statistical information they are or should be gathering and reporting so that a more accurate indication of systemic performance and crime patterns can be obtained.

The crime stats are a valuable public safety tool if they serve as a guide to get at the truth rather than a cloak to conceal it for systemic self interest. What we’ll find is that we don’t necessarily need to get ‘tough’ on crime; we just need to be honest about it.

Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has served as Executive Officer of The Canadian Police Association, Special Counsel to the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime and policy advisor to various governments in his 25 year+ criminal justice career. He is also an occasional policy advisor to various law enforcement groups including the Quebec Mounted Police Members' Association.