Mean streets: Canadians see Winnipeg as most unsafe city

Winnipeg maintains its reputation as the most unsafe city in Canada in a new poll released by Mainstreet Research that asked Canadians about their perception of safety in cities across the country.

But despite poll, Winnipeg police say probability of becoming a victim of crime is relatively low

A new Mainstreet poll suggests Winnipeg has the reputation of being the least safe city in Canada. (Caroline Barghout/CBC)

Winnipeg maintains its reputation as the most unsafe city in Canada.

That's the conclusion of a poll released by Mainstreet Research that asked Canadians about their perception of safety in cities across the country.

For the second year in a row, Winnipeg ranked at the bottom of 15 urban centres in Canada, with a majority of respondents (55 per cent) saying they viewed the city as unsafe. Just 37 per cent of Canadians say they consider the city safe.

That leaves Winnipeg with a net negative score of -18, slightly higher (+3) compared with 2016.

Winnipeg was one of only two cities to have a net negative score, with more people viewing the city as unsafe rather than safe. The other city with a net negative score was Toronto.
A majority of respondents in a Mainstreet poll said they viewed Winnipeg as unsafe. Just 37 per cent of Canadians say they consider the city safe. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

​Manitobans' perception of Winnipeg is even worse, with 59 per cent viewing the city as unsafe and 40 per cent saying it is safe.

The poll points out that Winnipeg's crime rate rose by 13 per cent compared with 2015-2016, placing Winnipeg's crime rate fifth out of 15 Canadian cities. The crime severity index rose by 16 per cent.

Ottawa came out on top in the Mainstreet poll: 74 per cent think it is safe.

The poll, which surveyed a random stratified sample of 2,050 Canadians, has a margin of error of +/- 2.16 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Statistics Canada defines the crime rate as the number of Criminal Code offences reported to police out of 100,000 people in that area. The crime severity index is "a measure of police-reported crime that measures both the volume and seriousness of police-reported crime in Canada."

Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver acknowledged officers are seeing higher amounts of violent crimes reported, but he called the poll results "skewed."

"A very high percentage of the crime that we see that's violent in nature is amongst people who are already involved in some sort of crime," he said.

Unless someone is involved directly in crime or is associated directly with people who are involved in crime, "the probability of being a victim of crime is actually pretty low," Carver said.

Media fuels percetptions: Mainstreet

Media stories shape public perception of safety of a city, said Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Research.

"Our theory has been the scores are mainly driven by news coverage, and it looks like the stories that are breaking through on national TV and social media has not helped Winnipeg improve its standing with Canadians," Maggi said.

It can take time for public perception of a city to shift, Mainstreet executive vice-president David Valentin added. He pointed to Toronto's so-called "Summer of the Gun" in 2005, when the city saw a string of gun crimes that damaged the city's reputation. 

It took a few years for people to forget and move on to other things, Valentin said.

"When we think about the type of news that travels, it always seems to be, you know, they have this expression in news: 'If it bleeds, it leads.'"

Violent crime on the rise

Christine Brouzes, a Winnipeg social worker and director of Ikwe Safe Rides — a Winnipeg ride-sharing group — said she feels safe in the city most of the time but she takes precautions before she walks alone.

Christine Brouzes, a Winnipeg social worker, says she avoids carrying a purse or displaying valuable items when she walks alone in the city. (CBC)

"I plan ahead … I don't carry a purse, I don't walk around showing valuable goods," she said.

The perception of Winnipeg as a violent city is at least partly backed up by statistics. In July, Winnipeg police reported that more people were victims of violent crimes last year than the year before.

The Winnipeg Police Service reported an eight per cent increase in violent crimes in 2016 over the previous year, which is consistent with the provincial trend.

Attempted murder, aggravated sexual assaults, sexual assaults with a weapon and other sexual offences, including those against children, all saw dramatic increases compared with 2015.

This marks the second consecutive year that both the crime rate and crime severity index have risen.

"So there are some factors here that do show us Winnipeg might not exactly be headed in the right direction," Valentin said. "And until that changes, I think it's going to be tough to change public perception,"

With files from Jill Coubrough


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