In a report of Canada’s 20 most dangerous cities released this week by Maclean’s magazine, Quesnel is named the most dangerous city in B.C. and the third most dangerous city in Canada, based on its overall Crime Severity Index.
But Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson says these numbers don’t tell the whole story, as incident rates based on population and the actual incident numbers are quite different.
The Maclean’s report ranks communities according to the Crime Severity Index (CSI), a Statistics Canada measure of all police-reported crime, which takes into consideration both the volume and seriousness of offences, according to the magazine. The 2018 data, the most current available, was released July 23, 2019.
The CSI of a community is determined based on the amount and severity of crimes reported to the police within a given jurisdiction. Each offence is assigned a weight, which is derived from the sentences (including the rate by which people are incarcerated for a particular offence and then the average length of the prison sentence) handed down by the courts in all provinces and territories for each particular offence. This means a more serious crime, like homicide, would likely have a higher weight than a less serious offence like breaking and entering, for example.
Using this information, Maclean’s identified the rates of violent crimes, such as homicide, sexual assault, and assault, and non-violent crimes such as breaking and entering, fraud, and impaired driving, among others, in 237 communities across the country that have a population of 10,000 or more.
These rates reflect the average rate of each crime per 100,000 people.
In a city with a smaller population like Quesnel – where 10,283 people live – one homicide in a year equals a rate of 9.72 per 100,000 people. Prince George had one homicide as well, but with a population of 79,450, the city has a substantially lower rate of 1.26 homicides per 100,000 people.
The national crime rate has crept up, and some communities have a much bigger problem than others https://t.co/HY4AXeTN9j
— Maclean's Magazine (@macleans) November 20, 2019
Quesnel’s CSI of 292 places the city third out of 237 urban centres with a population of 10,000 or more. That is a jump from eighth place in the report released last year. Quesnel’s 2013 CSI was 179.92, and the city has seen an increase of 111.91 in five years.
Quesnel is ranked fifth in Violent Crime Severity Index (VCSI), with a VCSI of 265.
The statistics used in the report show that in 2018, Quesnel had one homicide, 127 assaults, 15 sexual assaults and two firearms offences. The rates, which measure incidents per 100,000 population, increased for homicide, assault and sexual assault, and decreased for firearms offences.
Twenty incidents of robbery were reported, while there were 183 breaking and entering incidents and 123 fraud incidents. The rates per 100,000 population for these incident types all increased.
Statistics show 57 impaired driving incidents, two cannabis trafficking or production incidents, three cocaine trafficking or production incidents and 14 “other controlled drugs” trafficking or production incidents. The rates were down for impaired driving and cannabis trafficking or production but up for cocaine and other controlled drugs.
Zero Youth Criminal Justice Act offences were reported.
Mayor Bob Simpson says city council is focused on getting away from that upward trend in crime rates.
“At one level, the stats tell us we’re still on the upswing, regardless of how you parse the numbers out,” he said. “The year-over-year change is still on an upward trend, and the five-year change shows it’s not something that we want to see continue. As a council, this year, we added two more RCMP officers, and our complement has been tracking above 20 for the last little while, so we’re getting closer to the 21 [full-time employees]; whereas, in the past, we were running 16.5, 17. So we’re hoping next year that we’ll get up to the 23 that we now fund.
“Part of that strategy is to get some dedicated resources to prolific offenders because your crime statistics get distorted when you have three, four, five people when you create a rash of crimes in a very short period of time. Often, the RCMP do catch those individuals, but the crime stats don’t show the rate that you’re actually closing cases or the rate that you’re actually catching perpetrators — they just show the aggregated crime statistics.”
Simpson says the City has also been asking business owners and residents to make sure they report crimes.
“That will also have inflated the crime numbers, but the reason for that is that helps us to identify problematic areas and the type of crimes also helps us to identify potential perpetrators using the RCMP’s statistical analysis system out of Prince George,” he said.
“With the combination of getting people to report and adding more RCMP and particularly having consistent resourcing of prolific offenders, we’re hoping we’ll actually then begin to see a downward slide on the stats because we’ll be on top of the individuals who are causing most of the crimes that are being reported.”
The City of Quesnel has also added more bylaw enforcement officers to address crime.
Simpson says part of the problem with the statistical analysis is that when there is one single violent activity against a population of just over 10,000, the way the statistics are created amplifies that one incident. In a city like Surrey or Toronto, where the population is much larger, their population is so large that the amplifying effect is muted, he explained.
“It’s just a factor of how they do their calculations that make that appear to be a much larger issue for us, but if you actually look at our incident rate, our incident rate is very small, and the vast majority of aggressive violent person-to-person [incidents] are persons who are known to each other, as the police put it, and known to the police,” he said.
“So this isn’t involving the general public — it isn’t like Toronto where somebody takes a truck and runs down a whole bunch of citizens, or some of the shootings that are occurring in some of the larger centres like Toronto and like Surrey, where individuals are getting caught in those situations. We don’t have that, so I would say we are not a violent community. People don’t have to be worried when they step out into our sidewalks or go out into our downtown core, not withstanding the perception that is growing because of some of the individuals in our community. We do have seniors who are perceiving the circumstance changing and feel unsafe, and I don’t want to diminish that.”
Simpson emphasizes the City is working hard to address crime, regardless of how the statistics are measured.
“We’re alive to the fact our year-over-year crime stats are going up, we’re alive to the fact we have some public safety issues, particularly in the area of petty property crime — property crime under $5,000 — and we’re working actively by adding police and bylaw resources, by working with the courts to get prolific offenders addressed in a timely fashion, and by starting to work on what’s called a CPTED, a Crime Reduction Through Environmental Design, to try to create better lighting, working with our downtown businesses to make sure they’re doing what we call target-hardening, making sure they are less susceptible to break-ins, and the same in residential areas,” he said.
Use this interactive tool to see the full ranking of Canada's most dangerous places. Rank cities by type of crime or see all the statistics for one city. https://t.co/BfdVHhwFgY
— Maclean's Magazine (@macleans) November 19, 2019
Simpson says the real problematic issue for the city is that the statistics are distorted.
“Our crime statistics are generated from a population of almost 26,000, but they’re booked against a population of 10,000, and that’s what the issue is,” he said. The Quesnel RCMP also police the surrounding area, whose population isn’t included in the city’s numbers.
Other smaller communities are raising the same issues about how the stats are reported, noted Simpson.
“Williams Lake advanced a resolution to UBCM (the Union of British Columbia Municipalities) demanding a change in how the RCMP and Stats Canada generate those statistics,” he said. “That was passed unanimously at UBCM, and we have a commitment with our Cariboo Regional District partners and the member municipalities of 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Wells and ourselves that in the new year, we’re going to be sitting down with our RCMP detachment, and we’re going to use our collective political leverage to go over the distortion that these statistics create.”
— with a file from Heather Norman