The worst and best of Canada
The most dangerous cities in Canada
KEN MACQUEEN | March 12, 2008 |
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» How Halifax just made it into the 10 most dangerous cities
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» How safe is your community?
See the full statistics on murder, aggravated assault, sexual assault, robbery, auto theft and B and Es
The call from Victoria police dispatch comes about 11 p.m.: woman with a weapon threatening staff at Gorge Road Hospital. Acting Sgt. Peter Lane responds along with a second police vehicle, roof lights ablaze. Dispatch provides further details; Lane heaves a sigh and eases off the accelerator. "I almost hate to have you see this one," he tells a Maclean's reporter and photographer riding in his patrol supervisor's SUV. The woman is 78, in a dementia ward. She has been disarmed of her weapon: a pair of scissors. Sleepy old Victoria, he says, "it's such a stereotype." And so untrue, as the night would reveal.
Surprises emerged when Maclean's went searching for Canada's safest, and most dangerous communities. Toronto and Montreal, obvious crime-ridden candidates with their well-publicized racial tensions and gun and gang violence, rank well down a danger list of the 100 largest cities or regions in the country — those of 50,000 people or more. Montreal ranks 19th on Maclean's crime list and Toronto the Good (some stereotypes are true) is a sleepy 26th, gruesome headlines notwithstanding. The most notable result is the geographic distribution of Canadian crime. Halifax is the only eastern city in the top 10. The top nine — the Wild West — stretch from Winnipeg to Victoria.
The rankings are based on 2006 per capita crime rates, the most recent available from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Maclean's created a ranking based on aggregate results of six personal and property crimes: murder, sexual assault, aggravated assault (the most serious kind), robbery, breaking and entering, and auto theft. These are similar to the crimes measured and the criteria used by Congressional Quarterly Press for its annual "Crime In Metropolitan America" report. Detroit, followed by St. Louis, Mo., has the highest overall crime of major U.S. cities. Detroit's 2006 murder rate — 47.3 per 100,000 — is 10 times higher than Edmonton, which had the highest rate that year among major Canadian cities.
Canadians, though, can't be smug. We fare no better than the U.S. in other areas. The break and enter rates in Chilliwack, B.C., Victoria and Regina, for instance, rank within the top 10 per cent of all American cities. The per capita robbery rates in Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Regina would put them among the top 10 robbery-plagued metropolitan areas of the U.S. And you are far more likely to have your automobile stolen in Winnipeg or Joliette, Que., than anywhere in the U.S., including metropolitan Detroit and Las Vegas, the auto theft capitals of America. Even at that, a crime analysis this January by the Vancouver Board of Trade concludes official rates are misleadingly low: "only about one-third of actual crimes in Canada are reported to police." The board helped pressure Statistics Canada to consider an annual crime victimization survey. The last such measure estimated in 2004 there were more than eight million criminal offences — 2.7 million of them violent — three times the number reported to police.
The top 10 high-crime cities in the Maclean's list are led by Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg in a near tie at between 146.3 and 144.6 per cent above the national average. Those are followed by Prince George, Edmonton, New Westminster, Chilliwack, Victoria, Vancouver and Halifax. The reasons a city makes the top 10 list vary. Winnipeg leads in auto theft at more than 334 per cent above the national average. Robberies plagued Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Regina, all at more than 200 per cent above average. Residents of Chilliwack, Victoria and Regina endured break-ins at rates more than 100 per cent above average. Regina and Saskatoon led in aggravated assault; Saskatoon in sexual assault. (Arthabaska, Que., which sits halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, was Canada's murder city, 2006, but ranked 21st in the overall rankings.)