Prime Time Crime  

(Prime Time Crime exclusive June 28, 2006)

The 2005 Crime Stats—Drilling Down for the Truth

By Scott Newark

It’s become a ritual of summer. Every year, the Government of Canada releases crime statistics that are inevitably followed by spin from the self appointed experts that crime is decreasing and Canadians are wrong in their perceptions to the contrary. This year was no different although the torque was more creative than usual given the nasty little fact that there was more crime, especially the most serious violent crime this year than last.

The reporting Agency, Juristat, used to be more forthcoming in revealing how it gathered and reported crime statistics but over the last few years it has regrettably adopted the ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ (We Know Best) approach of the federal Justice Department. The truth is still there in the voluminous justice statistics but you have to know what to look for and how truth can be concealed by describing it differently.

Underreporting of crime

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. 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 One of the reasons cited previously was “…fear of reprisals from aggressors” but this has been replaced by “feeling that the incident was personal.” That’s one way of putting it I suppose. As someone with twenty 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’.

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. This year’s stats portray the same underreporting but not on the basis of more crime having occurred, just less reporting of it as though that somehow minimizes its significance to society. Spinning the facts doesn’t change the reality.

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.

With these interpretative guides in mind, let’s turn to this year’s crime stats but be forewarned; criminologist spin to the contrary, it ‘aint pretty.

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 (82,718 to 75,613) although leaving the scene of the accident and the most serious driving offences are up (37.4K to 42K). 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 2001 to 2005 (89,395 to 92,255) although cannabis possession incidents are way down (67,821 to 59, 973). Cynicism would suggest that this is more a result of the courts and the Liberal government dithering on criminalization of marihuana than less kids deciding not to light up a joint.

One drug crime is not down. Illegal cocaine use/trafficking crimes nationally are up a staggering 50% (12,145 to 18,951). Even using the deliberately deflating crime ‘rate’ analysis, Ontario has shown a 24% increase in cocaine crime. Anyone who thinks this is not relevant to the prevalence of crime in Canada should not be involved in shaping policies to reduce crime.

Most violent adult crime

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 is included because of a particularly high intent requirement imposed on attempt murder charges thanks to a Supreme Court of Canada (Ancio v. The Queen).

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 2001 and 2005 show an increase in all categories and a total increase from 47, 579 such crimes in 2001 to 54, 677 in 2005. This is a 16% increase in the actual AMOUNT of most violent crime.

Wouldn’t it also be informative to know if there is a recurring profile for these 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?  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 mote than 80% of all federal offenders (serving a sentence of two years or more) have previously been incarcerated.  Success this isn’t.

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.

Obeying Court Orders

Ignoring the orders and rules of the system is never a good sign and the fact that such crimes increased by 10% (90.5K to 100.3K) from ’01 to ’05 is a continuing concern. Conversely, the small (<1%) increase for young people charged with violating bail is likely linked to the steadily decreasing numbers actually required to come to court (see below). It’s one way to keep the numbers down I suppose.

Offensive Weapons and Fencing Stolen Property Offences

Possessing such weapons portends anti-social conduct and violence and thus a 3%increase (15,876 to 19,337) is noteworthy. In a similar vein, thieves need people who’ve chosen the ‘career’ of possessing stolen property. Once again, the numbers are up this time by 2.5% (26, 960 to 33, 848).

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.

As the extract from the Crime Stats demonstrates, we now don't charge for crimes committed more than we do charge.....and even that is low because once cops realize nothing happens they don't do anything and don't keep records of ….doing nothing.

“When youths aged 12 to 17 come into contact with police, they can be formally charged or processed through other means. In 2005, police charged over 73,000 youths with Criminal Code offences. A greater number of youths (96,000) were cleared by means other than laying a formal charge (Table 7). In fact, the number of youths dealt with in this way is likely even higher, given that not all police services maintain complete records for cases where extrajudicial (non-court) measures are applied.

These would only include less serious forms of youth crime, since extrajudicial measures (e.g., taking no further action, informal police warnings, referrals to community programs, formal police cautions, Crown cautions and extrajudicial sanctions programs) are only encouraged by the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) for non-violent and minor offences. The rate of youths charged dropped 6%, while the rate of youths cleared otherwise fell 7% in 2005. Taken together, youth crime decreased 6%, representing the second consecutive decrease (Figure 15). The youth crime rate decreased throughout the 1990s, reaching a low in 1999, and generally increased from 1999 to 2003. The 2005 youth crime rate was the lowest since 1999.

Since the introduction of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) in 2003, the proportion of apprehended youths who are formally charged by police has dropped from 56% in 2002 (pre-YCJA) to 43% in 2005 (post-YCJA).”

Most violent crime

  • Youths charged with homicide has increased nearly 50% since 2001 (44 to 65).

  • Youths charged/diverted with most violent offences (see above criteria) has increased approximately 8% (7,375 to 7,992).

  • Youths charged/diverted with robbery up nearly 10% (3703 to 4070) and roughly 30 % increase for robbery with firearms (247 to 311)

Note: See Extracts from Brief to the Senate Committee a regrettably accurate prediction of what the YCJA would create taken from a Brief to the Senate Committee considering the Bill to enact the YCJA)


Notwithstanding the above noted academic claims to the contrary, the Juristat reporting system details a Canada that is clearly a more violent place. In 2005, violent offences made up 12% of the total crimes reported (again for some reason excluding driving and drug offences). 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.

Using Juristat’s own analysis, the rate of different kinds of crime in Canada since the inception of this Reporting in 1962 is stark. The rate of total crimes per 100,000 Canadians has nearly tripled from 2,771 to 7,761 . The rate of property crime has nearly doubled from 1,891 to 3,738. The rate of ‘other’ crime against public order or the administration of justice has increased over fourfold from 659 to 3,081. Most disturbing of all, however, and most indicative that the ‘experts’ are anything but, is the cold hard fact that the rate of violent crime has increased four and a half times from 221 per hundred thousand to 943 per hundred thousand.

Canada is experiencing a continuing growth in the amount of crimes being committed. 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; and
  • number and type of crimes committed by persons ordered, or subject to, deportation for previous criminal conduct.

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.



Extracts from Brief to the Senate Committee

Prime Time Crime

Contributing Writers