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Toronto police officers make arrest in April, 2007. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto police officers make arrest in April, 2007. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Can Statscan crime numbers <br/>be trusted? Add to ...

Statistics Canada don't get no respect, these days.

Mere months after enduring the turmoil surrounding the Conservative government's decision to end the mandatory long-form census, an Ottawa think tank has published a report accusing the agency of torquing data that purports to show a steady decline in the crime rate over the past 10 years.

"On the central question of the state's duty to protect citizens from crime and public disorder, Canadians are not as well served as they should be" by Statscan, concludes the analysis from the Macdonald Laurier Institute. The report, by former Alberta Crown prosecutor Scott Newark, calls for "sweeping" reforms to how Statistics Canada publishes crime data.

"Instead of being 'tough' on crime, it's better to be honest about crime so as to be smart about crime," Mr. Newark writes.

The 28-page report strongly criticizes Statscan's approach to analyzing crime statistics on several fronts:

» The annual report on crime statistics, know as Juristat, routinely revises crime statistics from previous years upward in any given year's report, making annual crime decreases appear more significant than they are.

» Crime categories are revised from year to year, with specific crimes added or dropped, making it difficult to compare apples with apples.

» Juristat does not attempt to factor in unreported crime, even though a separate Statscan survey shows more people are not bothering to report crimes such as break-ins and auto theft because they don't have any confidence the crime will be solved.

» The report fails to identify whether the crime was committed while the offender was out on bail or parole, although the data is available.

When all of the omissions are factored in, Mr. Newark concludes, the evidence suggests that, "serious violent crime is increasing, contrary to the report's highlight claims."

Mr. Newark's study is bound to be flaunted by the Conservatives, who have made law-and-order a fundamental priority of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government. The Macdonald Laurier Institute, which claims to be non-partisan, has nonetheless published several reports in its first year that generally support the policies of the Harper government.

As this article was posted, Statistics Canada had not yet responded to the report's conclusions.

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