Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Nov.  1, 2010)


Time to get priorities straight


  By John Martin


I woke up the other day feeling like I was in a low budget remake of the film Groundhog Day. As is the case most mornings, I made some coffee, turned on the computer and started clicking through half a dozen online news sites in which I kept coming across a story noting that once again, Abbotsford-Mission has the dubious distinction of being Canada's murder capital.

Hyperbole aside, I generally put little stock in such rankings. They make good headlines but there are usually too many other things going on to put much faith in such sensational claims. Still, they resonate with the public and get people talking, which is preferable to an uninformed populace.

The problem is, just three months ago I went through the exact same routine. On July 20, news sites across the country were having a field day noting that for the second year in a row Abbotsford-Mission (where exactly is "Abbotsford-Mission" by the way?) had the highest murder rate in the country. One hundred days later, it's the murder capital again. How often is this annual distinction given out?

So what exactly is going on? In a nutshell; not much. Statistics Canada released its major crime data report last summer. Now they've released a follow-up comparative report that distinguishes between different categories of murder such as whether or not it was gang-related or what type of weapon was used.

In other words, there's more data available for those interested in further analyses but for the media it's more an opportunity to recycle the same attention getting headline for the second time since Canada Day. Either ignored altogether or buried midway through most news accounts that focused on the "#1 ranking" aspect of the story, was something much more disturbing.

The report noted, "There were 78 youth aged 12 to 17 accused of committing homicide in 2009, 23 more than the previous year. This represents the second highest rate per 100,000 population reported in over 30 years."

This is the real shocker to come out of the report. It flies in the face of the reassurances by the chattering classes, academics and talking heads that everything is fine and crime is no longer an issue. True, overall crime may have decreased in recent times but if youth are killing each other at a record pace, the fact that auto theft and forgery is down is hardly cause for celebration.

The notoriety of Abbotsford-Mission's number one ranking is simply a function of a spike in local gang-related conflicts over the past couple years. All indications are that these numbers will not be repeated and Thunder Bay or Halifax can reclaim the honour next year.

Who's number one or runner-up isn't important at the end of the day. Not when we have almost 80 youth accused of homicide.

It's time we got our priorities straight.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


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