9 reasons Canada's crime rate is falling

Crime in Canada has been falling for more than 20 years. From 1962 to 1991, the crime rate increased steadily but then started to go down. Way down. Criminologist Frank Cormier outlines some of the reasons that could explain the trend.

Cheaper TVs, immigration just a couple of the explanations, says criminologist Frank Cormier

Crime rates have been declining steadily in Canada for more than 20 years, says Statistics Canada. (Getty)

Crime in Canada has been falling for more than 20 years. From 1962 to 1991, the crime rate increased steadily but then started to go down. Way down.

In 2013, the police-reported crime rate was at its lowest point since 1969. There is still the odd blip — for example, eight of the 13 provinces and territories saw increased crime rates last year. But the trend is clear: Canadians are committing fewer crimes against each other and against property.

Frank Cormier, a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, laid out nine reasons he thinks might help explain the trend, from Canada's aging population to changes in Canadian policing to the cost of consumer electronics.

1. People are getting too old to commit crimes

Canada's population is getting older. Last year, more Canadians were 65 or older than under the age of 15. While this might vex pension plan directors, it bodes well for our streets.

"Crime is really the province of young people," says Cormier. The two biggest correlates for crime are age and sex. Young males between the ages of 15 and 25 are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of crime.

2. Prevalence of alarm systems and CCTV

Canada, and the West more generally, has moved closer and closer toward a surveillance state since the 1980s.

Home security systems, burglar alarms and CCTV cameras are deterring would-be criminals from taking the risk.

A security camera hangs from the roof of the Secretariat Building at United Nations headquarters in New York City. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
"If you can raise the person's belief that they will be caught if they do something, then they will tend not to do it," says Cormier.

For example, in Winnipeg, when immobilizers first started being installed routinely in cars, "auto theft rates dropped quite precipitously," he said.

3. Removing lead from gasoline

More research is pointing to a correlation between the removal of lead from gasoline and other substances, like paint, to a decline in crime, said Cormier.

"Lead hurts people's brains, impairs their ability to make rational decisions and choices and therefore more likely to be involved in crime," he said.

4. More screen time

If most crime is committed by young males, it stands to reason anything that might keep them indoors and out of trouble may impact crime rates, said Cormier.

"The more interactions we have outside of the home, particularly in places where alcohol is present, then our chances for victimization can go up," he said.

Video games and Netflix could be helping to keep young men from going outside and getting into real trouble.

Cormier cautions that while this theory may have some merit, it's important to remember a person is far more likely to end their own life by suicide than be killed by someone else.
Games like the Call of Duty series may be helping keep young men inside and therefore away from potential criminal elements. (Activision)

5. Immigration

As immigration continues to drive Canada's population growth, people should expect the crime rate to go down, said Cormier.

"[In] just about every country, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the people who were there before them," he said. "Immigration is an important one and it's often overlooked."

6. Access to abortion

Fewer adults are having unwanted children now that abortion is legal in Canada. Women simply have more choices, said Cormier.

"The fact that people can more easily obtain abortions means that fewer people are stuck into a box ... where they have a child and they aren't ready," he said.

7. Shift to community policing

Since the 1980s the term "community policing" has been the catchphrase for police departments across Canada, said Cormier.

"It was this 'new' approach to policing which was an attempt to get police back out of their cars and walking on the street, talking to people in the neighbourhood," he said.

The shift included symbolic changes, like name changes — from police force to police service, said Cormier.

Community policing tries to be "proactive" rather than "reactive," he said, and can contribute to healthier relationships between police and citizens. 
A greater emphasis on community policing might be one reason crime in Canada has gone down over the past 20 years, says criminologist Frank Cormier. (City of Vancouver)

8. Cheaper consumer electronics

Now that consumer electronics like televisions, computers and MP3 players have come down in price, they are much less desirable to thieves, said Cormier.

"What used to be luxury goods are far more easily obtainable for people of limited means," he said.

"I can't imagine anyone going through the trouble of breaking into a house to steal a TV now."

9. More women in charge

"Some have speculated that with more and more women in positions of power and in government, and having more influence, that we're seeing a moderation in our behaviour," said Cormier.

Women, as a rule, commit far fewer crimes than men, he said.

With more women in charge, society could be becoming a little kinder.