A criminologist is slamming a recent National Post article that suggested Canada is in the middle of an unprecedented crime wave fuelled by the Trudeau government's policies.

The heavily editorialized news article, published on August 8, warned of a “crime wave that is unlike anything in … recent history,” adding that Canada “has never quite encountered violence … so anarchic, so ubiquitous, and so easily preventable.” The article pointed to a Leger poll that showed 79 per cent of respondents agreed "there are too many repeat violent offenders being offered bail."

The article cited recently released 2022 crime data from Statistics Canada (StatCan), in particular the Violent Crime Severity Index (VCSI), which has risen significantly in the past two years. The story also quoted Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee.

But one criminologist is warning that the Post’s use of the StatCan data is misleading. Toronto Metropolitan University professor Anne-Marie Singh was blunt in her assessment, calling the Post piece “an inane article which defies logic and any common sense.”

Data In Context

Historical data puts the current situation in context. Canada recorded 8,132 crimes per 100,000 people in 2003, compared to 5,668 crimes per 100,000 people in 2022. The current number of recorded crimes is closer to a low of 5,046 in 2014, the year before the numbers began to steadily climb in the last 12 months of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s government.

The Post article also highlighted what it calls “the terrifying new phenomena” of “stranger attacks.” The article stated that “unprovoked killings are still statistically rare, but they're no longer anomalous.” However, Singh described this fear as “absolutely ridiculous,” pointing out that there are currently no reliable statistics that track such crimes.

Singh said the StatCan report indicates that “motor vehicle theft, robbery, breaking and enter, minor theft and shoplifting are … driving the overall increase.”

What has also increased since 2020 is the Violent Crime Severity Index (VCSI), a metric implemented using the relatively high crime rate in 2006 as a baseline. StatCan states that in 2022, the VCSI reached the highest point since 2007, and is weighted by increases in crimes such as extortion, robbery, homicide and level one sexual assaults.

In 2022, 23 per cent of Canada’s homicides were gang-related, a similar figure to 2021 that saw the highest figure since the government started tracking it in 2007. Forty per cent of homicides in 2021 were committed with a firearm, with two thirds of those offences involving handguns.

Firearm offences in 2022 increased by four per cent over the year prior, when 85 per cent of handguns used in crimes in Ontario were traced back to illegal smuggling from the United States.

Singh said these metrics — not random stranger attacks — are the main drivers of violent crime trends.

The Post article also omits important socio-political context, said Singh.

According to the StatCan report, 26 per cent of Canada’s homicide victims are Indigenous, with racialized people accounting for a further 30 per cent. Singh said Black and Indigenous populations are disproportionately represented in gang violence for economic reasons.

Firearm offences and homicides are also over-represented in police-recorded crime statistics because it is much harder to hide a firearm-related homicide than other offences, especially among groups over-surveilled by police.

Other types of crime sometimes go unreported to police. For instance, the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization suggested that sexual assaults are reported just six per cent of the time, while only 22 per cent of hate crimes are reported. Singh said this context suggests that a large number of the victims of increasing violent crime are the same vulnerable and oppressed populations that have always been over-represented in systemic and state violence.

Singh also stressed that because these crime rates only measure the number of initial reports to police, they do not track important outcomes like whether the cases ended in convictions, or how many of the property-related claims were fraudulent, for example. They should not, therefore, be taken as a primary representation of crime’s impact on society at the population level.

Impact Of The Pandemic

StatCan also tracked a four per cent increase in non-violent CSI in 2022. Singh noted that many of these offences have gone up over the past two years in large part because they dropped significantly during pandemic lockdowns.

Breaking and entering dropped 16 per cent in 2020 and remained stable in 2021, before gradually increasing as lockdowns ended.

Singh also pointed out that police-reported crime rates are the end result of many social factors besides bail policies.

For instance, she noted how the market prices of cars are on the rise, which in turn increased the black market price and demand for stolen cars, likely contributing to a 24 per cent increase in reported auto thefts. Meanwhile, fraud has increased 78 per cent in the last 10 years, likely in large part because wider use of the internet has made identity theft and other forms of cyber crime more prevalent.

Then there are what Singh calls “crimes of survival.” Shoplifting, for example, increased 31 per cent in 2022, in tandem with skyrocketing inflation for essential consumer goods.

While property-related crimes did significantly increase in 2022, they are all still lower than they were just before the pandemic.

Trudeau’s Bail Reform

The Liberal government’s introduction of bail reform in 2019 loosened some restrictions on accused offenders, lowering the number of people in police custody who hadn't been convicted of a crime. This came after a 2018 report called the previous rules “overly punitive.”

But earlier this year, Canadian premiers issued a joint declaration blasting these reforms for supposedly letting violent offenders back on the streets to commit more crimes. In March, the Liberals responded by proposing Bill C-48, which capitulated to this pressure, though it will likely not be passed until Parliament resumes in September.

Then-justice minister David Lametti admitted earlier this year that there is no empirical evidence showing that harsher bail restrictions reduce violent crime.

“The bail Act is pretty severe as it is,” said Singh. As Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society, told The Maple back in May, 38.7 per cent of the incarcerated population in Canada are in pretrial detention, meaning they haven’t been convicted of any crime, compared to just 11.7 per cent in England and Wales, and 22 per cent in the U.S.

Singh emphasized that people on bail have not been convicted, so any argument for stricter bail is also one for likely jailing innocent people.

As a criminologist, Singh said there is already empirical evidence for what causes crime, and it's not a lack of incarceration. Instead, she noted that even being out on bail is stigmatized and can keep accused individuals from holding employment, which contributes to a “revolving door” of increasingly severe bail conditions, in turn leading to more criminal activity.

“We know what the so-called root causes (of crime) are,” said Singh. “Poverty, lack of access to education, lack of access to a living wage and lack of access to justice.” 

Cass Kislenko is a non-binary settler journalist working and writing on Treaty 13 territory in Tkaronto.

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