Issues raised about methodology. Key findings & trends omitted. Questions raised about measuring crime.
OTTAWA, February 21, 2013 – Statistics Canada is creating an incomplete portrayal of crime in this country because of the way it collects and collates data, a Macdonald-Laurier Institute study says.
"The Statistics Canada data is a gold mine of information on crime in Canada but the methodology chosen is providing Canadians with a less than complete and relevant picture of crime and crime trends,'' noted Scott Newark, a 30-year veteran of the criminal justice system and author of the study.
The former Alberta prosecutor and former executive officer of the Canadian Police Association takes issue with the annual report, Police-reported Crime Statistics in Canada, by Juristat, a Statistics Canada publication, on several fronts:
- The report only reflects the number of incidents reported to police or to which they have been alerted, not the actual number of criminal incidents in the country. The two are vastly different.
Canadians are estimated by Juristat to be reporting only 31% of crimes, including because they believe that nothing will be done by the justice system or even out of fear of retribution.
- StatsCan only reports one crime – the most serious – in an incident. For example, in an case involving drug dealing, weapons, assault and flight from police by an offender on bail and probation, only what was deemed to be the 'most serious' offence would be reported by Juristat.
On a positive note, police services across the country are moving towards counting and reporting all offences and facilitating public reporting of crime.
- No information is offered on criminal records and other characteristics of offenders, despite availability and relevance of such data to the performance of the criminal justice system. Constant reoffenders account for a disproportionate amount of crime in Canada. In Ottawa, for example, 80% of the city's break-ins are committed by 5% of the charged offenders and Juristat itself recently confirmed that 59% of persons charged with homicide in 2011 had a previous criminal record, most for violent offences.
Juristat's Crime Severity Index brings an inappropriate element of subjectivity to the assessment of overall crime. The index, designed to help differentiate importance of violent from minor crime, attributes a weight to a crime based on the subjective sentence handed down by a judge, not on objective severity of the crime itself.
- Juristat does not always report crime data for both the number and the rate per 100,000 population. Sometimes, crime is increasing in absolute numbers but not as quickly as the population. That can lead to contradictory conclusions about whether crime is rising or falling.
Also at issue is what Juristat doesn't report.
On February 4, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said that as part of a plan to reduce rising costs of policing, Ottawa is looking to make the bail and extradition regimes more efficient and streamline the justice system. The Minister also noted that 15% of offenders are responsible for 58% of all crime so clearly the relevant information is available somewhere.
Unfortunately, Juristat no longer specifically reports on bail violations, Mr. Newark notes, even though earlier reports showed these offences rose almost 50% from 1998 to 2007. "Nor does Juristat report shootings and stabbings separately, although police services and media track these data in various levels of detail."
Mr. Newark also says that Juristat omits key findings and trends in its Highlights section that would provide a more balanced and accurate view of crime in Canada than the general conclusion that `crime is down' that some commentators suggest.
"That Canadians are not reporting crime is itself a legitimate and important issue. Ignoring that fact, which Juristat does when analyzing trends in crime, is not appropriate," he says.
In 2011, MLI pointed out the same errors in methodology and offered recommendations on how to address them. However, the latest Juristat report shows that only one recommendation has been implemented so far. It has included relevant offender profile not previously provided in its 2012 Homicides in Canada Report.
This time, Newark is proposing 13 reforms he believes Juristat should introduce in next year's report, including the creation of a Most Serious Violent Crime category that includes first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter, attempted murder and aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.
In addition, the study urges reporting of crimes committed by persons on bail, probation, conditional sentence, parole or subject to deportation for past crimes as well as more historical reporting that includes tables for crimes and category crimes which include volume and rates and provide data for the reporting year, and the preceding five- and ten-year comparative data.
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
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