Violent crime, the numbers to watch
By Robert Sheppard, CBC.ca Reality Check Team | Dec. 20, 2005 | More Reality Check
"The continued increase in many crime indicators while the Liberals have been in power is a clear indication that the Liberal approach to combating crime has failed," Stephen Harper said earlier this year while announcing a Conservative party task force on safe streets. He reiterated that charge in a campaign release Tuesday, noting that violent crime is 35 per cent higher than it was 20 years ago.
The figure is correct. It comes directly from Statistics Canada's most recent justice stats for 2004. Still, it is a curious number to highlight.
Violent crime in this country rose steadily during the 1960s, '70s and '80s – the latter being the decade when the Brian Mulroney Conservatives were in power. It peaked in 1992, just before the Chretien Liberals were returned to office, and for the most part has been dropping steadily ever since. Campaigning Liberals might like to take credit for this achievement, but that, too, would be to play loose with the facts.
The underlying reality is that crime rates are largely a function of demographics. Simply put, violent crime is carried out for the most part by young men between their late teens and late 30s; and probably has been since time immemorial. The decades-long rise that culminated in 1992 coincided with the miscreant faction among the baby boomers and the so-called echo generation that followed close on their heels. When that contingent hit middle age, the rates for murder and violent crime fell – and, perhaps not coincidentally, counterfeiting shot up.
Stat sheet for a Liberal decade
|The crime ||% change 1994 to 2004
|Attempted murder ||-29.4|
|Serious sexual assaults ||-32.6|
|Total violent crime ||-9.7|
The same broad decline can be found for property crime, down 24 per cent in the past decade, car theft (-3.5 %) and break-and-enters (-36 %).
The broad national rates, of course, hide a few ugly regional variations. What should also be noted is that drug crimes, particularly for the possession and cultivation of marijuana, rose significantly (+52 %) over the past 10 years. And that was not just because a bunch of aging hippies were still lighting up.
The violent crime rate continued its fall in 2004. But the national murder rate jumped 12 per cent. The year before, it had been the lowest in 36 years. Police cite many factors, one an upsurge in teen drug gangs. Underlying it all is the mini-boom: the sons and daughters of the baby-boom generation are now entering their prime crime-committing years.
National attention was focused on all the gunplay and drive-by shootings in big centres like Toronto and Vancouver, which have been the subject of serious campaign promises by the major parties. Both the Liberals and Conservatives want an increase in minimum sentences for gun crimes and Paul Martin wants to ban, or at least have the provinces ban, all handguns. Harper is also now calling for "creative healthy outlets" for young people, "especially during the vulnerable after-school hours of 3 to 6 p.m." That is not, it should be pointed out, when most gun crimes take place.
Statistically, the highest homicide rates last year were in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the territories.
For those who like to keep track of these things, the U.S. homicide rate involving guns is eight times that of Canada's.
Canada's rate is 0.5 homicides involving guns per 100,000 population, versus 3.8 per 100,000 in the States. Gun-control advocates estimate anywhere from 500,000 to a million handguns are in Canada. There are probably close to 76 million in the United States.