The Canadian Bar Association
Criminal

Stable economy may be linked to improving crime stats

It’s unlikely the Harper government’s “tough-on-crime” agenda has played a role in Canada’s falling crime rate, which Statistics Canada says dropped three per cent between 2011 and 2012, says Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen.

While government and police tend to take credit when crime statistics improve, long-term trends have more of an impact than specific policies, CBC reports. The overall crime rate has dropped 26 per cent since 2002, the report says, adding violent crime fell 17 per cent in that period.

“It’s clear that statistically, crime has been on the decrease for a number of years,” says Rosen. “It’s unfortunate that politicians continue to use scare tactics as a way to garner votes. In particular, the current Conservative government ignores the statistical realities and continues to pursue its plan to build more jails and spend more tax money on incarceration rather than to focus those resources on treatment and prevention. It’s just symptomatic of the cynicism of Conservative thinking.”

When asked whether the fact that the rates of most kinds of police-reported crime have been dropping steadily since about 1991, as CBC reports, is a function of government policy regarding crime, Rosen says, “I don’t think it has anything to do with what the government has done in that area. Rather I think the stability of the Canadian economy has contributed more to the trend. We don’t have runaway excess growth, people scrambling to be part of the accumulation of wealth and assets or giving up making an honest living. With the economy levelling off, people have accepted where they are and are generally content. Most people have jobs and are just living their lives and appreciating what they have.”

On the issue of how to ensure that the crime rate continues to drop, Rosen says, “A lot more can be done. We need to seriously consider the legalization of certain drugs, the decriminalization of others, and the application of more money on treatment and prevention, both in terms of drug abuse, spousal abuse, mental health and other identifiable social causes of recidivism.”

In these types of surveys, there’s a risk that a complete picture isn’t presented, says Rosen.

“There’s always a danger that the reported numbers are not picking up everything they should be picking up or that they do not reflect regional differences,” he says. “For example, the city of Toronto has a very low homicide rate, whereas the city of Winnipeg has a high homicide rate. I think there are significant regional differences. In Winnipeg, I think it’s a symptom of other issues like the decimation of the First Nations and the social issues they face. It depends on what part of the country you’re in, but again, you can’t read everything into numbers. You have to actually look at what’s happening on the ground.”

When evaluating statistics, says Rosen, it’s important to have a realistic view on crime.

“The Conservatives will argue, ‘What about victims of crime - they don’t deserve to be victimized, they need to have a voice and be part of the system,’ and my answer to that is, ‘You’re absolutely right, they should be and they are.’ It’s unfortunate that we can’t completely eradicate crime, all we can do is suppress it and deal with people who are alleged to have offended as individuals on a case-by-case basis. Even so, that doesn’t stop government from using these trends to re-think the allocation of resources, which this government is not doing. ”

The difference between crime prevention and detection and the administration of justice must be recognized, says Rosen.

“That line gets blurred unfairly. You cannot create and pass laws based on individual cases,” he says. “You have to look at the issue from a systematic perspective. On the criminal justice side, the issue is one of fairness to all involved. On the other hand, on the detection and prevention side, the question to be asked is whether or not those responsible have sufficient tools to do their job. What often happens in the debate is that the line between these perspectives is removed or blurred and people think in terms of heavy sentences in individual cases in order to have a systematic effect and that’s been proved wrong.”

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