Youth crime frequency and severity drops across the North, especially in N.W.T.

Fewer young people are being charged with crimes across the North, according to recent 2016 Statistics Canada data.

Number of youth charged in N.W.T. drops more than 66% since 2006

Youth crime has decreased steadily across the North since 2006, according to Statistics Canada data, especially in the N.W.T. (Chantal Dubuc/Yellowknife)

There are fewer youth being charged with crimes in the Northwest Territories, according to recent Statistics Canada data.

Over the period of a decade, the N.W.T. saw a 66 per cent drop in the number of youth (aged 12-17) being charged with crimes — from nearly 600 youth in 2006, to just under 200 in 2016, according to the most recent data.

Charges can include anything from traffic violations to attempted murder.

Yukon and Nunavut have also seen a decline in the number of youth being charged by police over the same period.

According to the data released Monday, the youth crime severity index — which tracks changes in frequency and seriousness of crimes — also decreased across the North.

The N.W.T. saw the highest decrease, with a drop of close to 50 per cent since 2006.

But nationally, the severity and frequency of violent crimes has increased for two years in a row since 2014.

While the N.W.T. saw the biggest drop in the severity of violent crimes in Canada since 2015, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Yukon drove up the national average.

More youth from these regions were accused of more weightier crimes like attempted murder, robbery and sexual violations against children, according to the report.

Despite the declines in the crime severity numbers in the North, the highest overall crime rates per capita still remain in the territories — far above the national average.

More youth support or just a cycle?

The downward trend since 2006 may be thanks to more services and programs for young people, says a youth worker in Yellowknife.

"Youth are very resilient," said Iris Hamlyn, executive director of the SideDoor, a youth centre that offers programs to divert youth from crime. Many youth programs in Yellowknife have developed over the past few years, she said.
Hamlyn says there are more youth programs and services in Yellowknife, which may have helped many youth stay away from crime. (CBC)

"I can name a few youth who we're working with who see a hope, see a future, and see that there's opportunities in Yellowknife especially where they can partake in positive activities … to get away from [crime]," said Hamlyn.

"When there are support and services available to them, they will avail of it."

But young people in the communities may not be as fortunate.

"Unfortunately those kinds of resources are available to a limited extent in some of the outlying communities," said Peter Harte, a defence lawyer who works with youth in N.W.T. communities.

Harte has worked in the N.W.T. since 2012, having moved from Nunavut. He said he hasn't noticed a shift in his workload.

Yellowknife defence lawyer Peter Harte said youth crime in the N.W.T. is a complex problem. (www.lawdawg.ca)

He said the drop in numbers may be related to aging youth who are entering the adult criminal justice system, and is affected by the "cycle" of generational trauma.

"I can't speak statistically," Harte said, but "anecdotally, what I see is that families tend to be involved in the criminal justice system."

He said he's worked with several generations of family members affected by the impact of residential schools and other trauma. 

In effect, youth may be carrying their troubles into adult life and adult court, and in turn may pass those problems onto their own children who later enter the system as youth offenders. It could be just a matter of time before the numbers rise again.

"It's an enormously complex problem," he said. "The same issues are arising in criminal court. The same problems that bring people into conflict with the law are still there."

Another possible explanation for the lower numbers may be related to police charging fewer people, Harte said.

The RCMP was not able to comment in time for this story.

About the Author

Priscilla Hwang

Reporter/Editor

Priscilla Hwang is a reporter with CBC News based in Yellowknife. She's worked with the investigative unit, CBC Toronto, Ottawa, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. Before joining the CBC in 2016, she travelled across the Middle East and North Africa to share people's stories. She has a Master of Journalism from Carleton University and speaks Korean, Tunisian Arabic, and dabbles at classical Arabic and French. Want to contact her? Email priscilla.hwang@cbc.ca or @prisksh on Twitter.