Despite high crime rates, the government, media, and law enforcement agencies focus on trivial motor vehicle infractions
Fiddling while Rome burns: Saskatchewan’s pre-occupation with distracted driving
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Saskatchewan has a massive crime problem, and it’s been this way for many years. And yet, you wouldn’t realize it from looking at government policies, apparent law enforcement priorities, and stories in the mainstream media.
Following the release of the most recent crime statistics, the editors of the Regina Leader-Post wrote an editorial entitled “Crime statistics don’t tell whole story” on July 26, 2012. In this article, the Leader-Post editors claim the following:
“It’s the kind of violent crime spree that would make any citizen nervous: Two people shot dead and 23 wounded in a gunfight at a community barbecue ... two killed and five wounded at a crowded shopping mall ... a man shot dead and another injured at a busy cafe in mid-afternoon. Just an average summer in Canada’s worst city for crime? No, the above incidents all happened in Toronto, which was third-lowest on Statistics Canada’s 2011 crime severity index (CSI) of 33 Canadian cities. Meanwhile, Regina—which has led the notorious index every year since 1998—feels like a peaceful backwater in comparison. There have been no major violent incidents in public places and just three homicides so far this year.”
The intellectual follies of pointing out a single crime event in a major city as some type of useful data should be self-evident. It is pure junk science.
Statistics Canada tracks crime rates in 34 major cities (CANSIM Tables 252-0051 and 252-0052). Here are the relative rankings of Regina (YQR) and Toronto (YTZ) for a range of crime statistics in 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available). Note that a ranking of 1st is the worst (highest crime rate), whereas 34th is the best (lowest crime rate):
- Total, all crimes (excluding traffic): YQR, 1st; YTZ, 34th
- Total violent crimes: YQR, 7th; YTZ, 25th
- Homicide: YQR, 5th; YTZ, 14th
- First degree murder: YQR, 21st; YTZ, 14th
- Second degree murder: YQR, 4th; YTZ, 16th
- Manslaughter: YQR, 3rd; YTZ, 14th
- Attempted murder: YQR, 9th; YTZ, 8th
- Sexual assault, level 3, aggravated: YQR, 1st; YTZ, 14th
- Sexual assault, level 2, weapon or bodily harm: YQR, 1st; YTZ, 12th
- Sexual assault, level 1: YQR, 16th; YTZ, 29th
- Sexual violations against children: YQR, 17th; YTZ, 33rd
- Assault, level 3, aggravated: YQR, 3rd; YTZ, 24th
- Assault, level 2, weapon or bodily harm: YQR, 1st; YTZ, 24th
- Assault, level 1: YQR, 7th; YTZ, 28th
- Total robbery: YQR, 3rd; YTZ, 7th
- Total property crime violations: YQR, 1st; YTZ, 34th
- Total breaking and entering: YQR, 3rd; YTZ, 34th
- Total theft of motor vehicle: YQR, 3rd; YTZ, 20th
- Total theft over $5,000 (non-motor vehicle): YQR, 7th; YTZ, 16th
- Total theft under $5,000 (non-motor vehicle): YQR, 2nd; YTZ, 29th
- Fraud: YQR, 7th; YTZ, 21st
- Arson: YQR, 16th; YTZ, 34th
- Total weapons violations: YQR, 5th; YTZ, 19th
- Child pornography: YQR, 15th; YTZ, 28th
- Total prostitution: YQR, 2nd; YTZ, 28th
- Total cocaine, trafficking, production or distribution: YQR, 1st; YTZ, 20th
Summary indicators have also been developed by Statistics Canada. Here’s how Regina and Toronto compare:
- Crime severity index: YQR, 1st; YTZ, 32nd
- Violent crime severity index: YQR, 4th; YTZ, 11th
- Non-violent crime severity index: YQR, 1st; YTZ, 34th
Based on this real data, does Regina look “like a peaceful backwater in comparison” to Toronto? No chance. Regina suffers from a much higher rate of crime, especially violent crime involving bodily injury or death, than does Toronto.
The Leader-Post editorial also makes the nonsensical claims that “[t]here have been no major violent incidents in public places and just three homicides so far this year.” Are public violent incidences any less problematic than private violent incidences? No. Whether you are the victim of a violent crime in your home, your car, or walking down the street is irrelevant—you are a victim of a tragedy. And does stating that there have been “just three homicides so far this year” have any meaning? None whatsoever. Regina has a metropolitan population of about 211,000. Toronto has a metropolitan population of about 5.6 million. Those three homicides in Regina this year would require about 80 homicides in metropolitan Toronto over the same period just to have equivalent rates (and rates—not absolute numbers—are what is relevant). Regina’s 2011 homicide rate? 3.15 per 100,000 population. Toronto’s 2011 homicide rate? 1.49 per 100,000 population.
Let’s look at this equally problematic statement:
“No, the statistics aren’t wrong. Regina really does have a serious issue with overall crime. But it’s not the kind of shocking violence Torontonians have experienced in the past few weeks, leading to what the CBC calls ‘worry, fear and anger’. The last time there was comparable public concern about crime in this city was during the auto-theft epidemic a decade ago.”
Since I consider any type of violent crime resulting in bodily injury or death to be “shocking violence,” the statistics unequivocally show that Regina has a much larger “shocking violence” problem than Toronto. If you are the type that needs to see murders, rapes, and assaults in full public view at a “community barbecue” or a “crowded shopping mall” or a “busy cafe in mid-afternoon” in order to be shocked, then I recommend a psychiatrist. It doesn’t matter where these crimes occur, they are equally unacceptable, equally shocking, equally violent, and Regina’s rate of these crimes is much higher than Toronto’s.
The Leader-Post’s editorial board went on to claim that “what we have here is a continued yawning gap between perception and reality. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel insulted at yet again being labeled Canada’s worst city for crime given the fact Regina’s CSI has fallen by 40 per cent in the past decade—faster than the 25-per-cent decline observed in the rest of Canada.” The only “continued yawning gap between perception and reality” appears to be at the editorial board of the Regina Leader-Post. So Regina residents should feel insulted at being told the truth about crime in their city? And the rate of decline of crime plays no role in determining “Canada’s worst city for crime,” does it? No, just the absolute rate is considered. The newspaper’s argument is like saying ‘I’m stealing less than last year, so everything is fine.’ No, it isn’t. You’re still stealing. Similarly, while—yes—Regina’s crime rates are declining, the rates are still ridiculously high relative to other major Canadian cities, making Regina—without question—“Canada’s worst city for crime.”
But crime in Saskatchewan most certainly isn’t localized in Regina. It’s as bad in Saskatoon, and throughout the province. Crime rates outside Saskatchewan’s two major cities are generally even worse than the major city crime epidemic the province is experiencing.
To drive the point home, we need to look at some more data. The following are crime severity indices and rates (per 100,000 population) for all of Canada (CAN), Saskatchewan (SK), Regina (YQR), and Saskatoon (YXE):
- Crime severity index: CAN, 77.6; SK, 144.8; YQR, 124.5; YXE, 118.7
- Violent crime severity index: CAN, 85.2; SK, 141.4; YQR, 123.5; YXE, 134.5
- Non-violent crime severity index: CAN, 74.7; SK, 146.0; YQR, 124.9; YXE, 112.7
- Youth crime severity index: CAN, 82.6; SK, 220.9
- Youth violent crime severity index: CAN, 88.6; SK, 152.7
- Youth non-violent crime severity index: CAN, 78.1; SK, 272.8
- Total crimes (non-traffic): CAN, 5756; SK, 12272; YQR, 9706; YXE, 9464
- Total violent crimes: CAN, 1231; SK, 2366; YQR, 1497; YXE, 1655
- homicide: CAN, 1.73; SK, 3.59; YQR, 3.15; YXE, 2.16
- Attempted murder: CAN, 1.90; SK, 2.65; YQR, 2.25; YXE, 2.88
- Total robbery: CAN, 86.3; SK, 102.6; YQR, 149.0; YXE, 169.4
- Total property crime violations: CAN, 3520; SK, 6785; YQR, 5672; YXE, 5453
- Total breaking and entering: CAN, 526; SK, 858; YQR, 763; YXE, 669
- Total theft of motor vehicle: CAN, 239; SK, 470; YQR, 489; YXE, 579
- Fraud: CAN, 226; SK, 337; YQR, 308; YXE, 350
- Arson: CAN, 30.1; SK, 59.5; YQR, 29.7; YXE, 38.2
Saskatchewan is a serious crime rate freak show outlier in Canada. The province’s rate for total Criminal Code violations (excluding traffic) is 36% higher than the nearest ‘competitor’ (Manitoba).
Saskatchewan’s provincial ranks for 2011 crime rates are as follows:
- homicide: 2nd worst
- Attempted murder: 2nd worst
- Sexual assault, level 3, aggravated: worst
- Total sexual violations against children: worst
- Assault, level 3, aggravated: worst
- Total robbery: 2nd worst
- Total property crime violations: worst
- Total breaking and entering: worst
- Total theft of motor vehicle: worst
- Fraud: worst
- Arson: 2nd worst
- Counterfeiting: 3rd worse
- Total prostitution: worst
- Total cannabis, trafficking, production or distribution: worst
- Total cocaine, trafficking, production or distribution: worst
And the corresponding data for crime indices:
- Crime severity index: worst
- Violent crime severity index: 2nd worst
- Non-violent crime severity index: worst
- Youth crime severity index: worst
- Youth violent crime severity index: 2nd worst
- Youth non-violent crime severity index: worst
Some of these statistics are particularly shocking. Saskatchewan’s rate of level 3 aggravated assault is 13.3 times higher than that in Quebec. Total prostitution rates in the province during 2011 were at 23.0 per 100,000 population. Nearest ‘competitor’? British Columbia at only 12.8 per 100,000 population. The 2011 youth non-violent crime severity index? Saskatchewan=273. Nearest ‘competitor’? Manitoba at only 127.
In light of these disastrous crime statistics, what are the government, law enforcement, and the media focused on? Distracted driving, of course, cranking up the nanny state to new levels of absurdity.
The province has a bizarre pre-occupation with banning cell phone use while driving. The penalties are ridiculous: the penalty for using an electronic device while driving is $280, which includes a victim surcharge of $60 and four demerit points on a driver’s record. To show how excessive this law is, consider some of the following other driving infractions in Saskatchewan that get you four demerit points: 24-hour roadside suspension (experienced driver); disobey red light; drive while licence suspended or cancelled, or refused issue; 30-day roadside suspension (new driver); fail to report collision; exceed speed limit by more than 50 km/h; drive while on 24-hour suspension; false statement; fail to yield to emergency vehicle; racing; etc. So driving without a valid license, driving more than 50 km/h above the speed limit, making false statements to the authorities, and racing are all as bad as just simply using a cell phone while driving? Nonsense, particularly when you consider that laws against cell phone use while driving are analogous to pre-crime. Hard to believe no political party is in serious support of restoring sanity to Saskatchewan’s driving laws.
For perspective, you get six demerit points for actually being at fault in an accident. And you receive only three demerit points for the following representative traffic offenses: exceed speed limit in school zone; exceed 60 km/h when passing emergency vehicle; fail to stop for peace officer; motor vehicle collisions where the driver is deemed to be 50% at fault; etc. So using a cell phone while driving is worse than speeding in a school zone around children, speeding around emergency vehicles, failing to stop for a peace officer (!!!), and being in an accident at 50% fault? Have we suspended all reasoning in this province?
And as if this lunacy wasn’t enough, now the province is considering impounding vehicles for drivers with multiple cell phone use while driving infractions. Perhaps too much trade with China is also turning our nation into a police state? These public statements by David Wilton, chair of the Highway Traffic Board, are deeply problematic: “Cellphone use (while driving) doesn’t seem to be dropping. It is still very prevalent. What is the answer? Is it increased penalties? Is it to seize the cellphone or seize the car? Maybe seizing the car will have the impact that’s needed.” OK, that’s enough totalitarian wannabe-ism. Time for serious policy making analyses rather than knee-jerk traffic law insanity.
Police in Saskatchewan do have the authority to impound any vehicle being driven against the law. Want to see a disturbing trend? “In 2009, there were 604 vehicles seized and impounded, climbing to 983 in 2010 and 1,555 in 2011.” According to Statistics Canada, there are about 800,000 road motor vehicle registrations in Saskatchewan. So we’re now seizing and impounding about 0.2% of all of Saskatchewan’s road motor vehicles each year? Yikes.
The government’s concerns regarding cell phone use while driving are so great that “Saskatoon uses plainclothes officers to act as spotters to catch people using a cellphone. This year, police officers across Canada have been dressing as panhandlers and clutching cardboard signs to get close enough to see drivers using phones while driving.”
And police officers in Saskatchewan have nothing better to do? Like tackle real crime, not phone use while driving?
Since we live in a world of finite resources, my recommendation is that the government shift almost all law enforcement priorities away from trivial driving infractions towards the reduction of real crime. Once Saskatchewan’s violent crime, drug crime, and property crime statistics are down well below the Canadian average, perhaps only then should we consider devoting substantial portions of very expensive public sector resources to undercover operations against average everyday citizens using a cell phone while driving. The worst rates in the country of aggravated sexual assault, sexual violations against children, aggravated assault, etc., and we’re expending precious law enforcement resources on cell phone use while driving? Many of us strongly support our law enforcement systems, but it is time for us to restore our societal priorities.