There is an apparent disconnect between concern over gang violence in Toronto and a new Statistics Canada study showing that Canada’s largest city is also one of the country’s safest.
The report should put to rest the notion that Canada has a serious crime problem. In fact, the police-reported crime rate decreased 6 per cent in 2011 from the previous year, the lowest figure since 1972. The severity of crime index, which tracks the extent of serious crime, is also down, continuing a decade-long trend.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of concern, notably in western cities such as Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, and in certain neighbourhoods in Toronto. Governments at all levels should focus their efforts on devising tailor-made programs for communities at risk, instead of investing in one-size-fits-all solutions such as tougher laws, more police to enforce them and stiffer prison sentences.
Initiatives that target crime, such as the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy unit, deserve support, and the Ontario government wisely increased funding for the unit following Premier Dalton McGuinty’s meeting this week with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Mr. Ford also met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the issue – though neither released details of their conversation.
It is not only policing that requires additional support. Programs directed at unemployment and addiction issues should not be dismissed as “hug-a-thug” programs, as Mr. Ford has called them. (He even voted against accepting $350,000 in federal funding for a gang intervention project.)
Dale McFee, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, has long been an advocate of this balanced approach, arguing that better co-ordination of all social services and early intervention with at-risk youth can make a significant difference.
Mr. McGuinty has also promised $7.5-million for an anti-violence intervention strategy. This measure is welcome, but the Premier should also consider extending the Youth Challenge Fund, which targets 13 priority neighbourhoods in Toronto.
Curbing gun violence won’t be accomplished simply by putting more boots on the street or by punitive crime legislation such as the Harper government’s omnibus crime bill. Even U.S. conservatives are moving away from this tough-on-crime approach.
Since Canada is not facing a crime epidemic, the government’s money, energy and political capital would be better spent on targeted police efforts and on programs that address the specific causes of high crime in certain communities, whether in Scarborough, Regina or Iqaluit.