Canada is inching closer and closer to ending violence and homicides. For 50 years Canada’s homicide rate has been on a downward trend. The country as a whole is getting safer and the likelihood of dying by murder is increasingly low.
Statistics Canada provides interesting information for violence in Canada. Thunder Bay has Canada’s highest murder rate – by a substantial amount. In fact, Thunder Bay’s murder rate of 9.04 per 100,000 people is three times higher than the second place city’s rate, Winnipeg. Provincially the lowest homicide rate in Canada is in Newfoundland and Labrador, while the highest is in Manitoba.
For the Indigenous there has also been a decrease in homicides. Unfortunately even with the downward trend the homicide rate is still 6 times higher for the indigenous compared to non-indigenous. Interestingly, firearm homicides have increased in 2014, but gang-related gun violence continues to decline. Most homicides are committed by stabbing.
It is comforting to know that Canada’s homicide rate continues to fall. However, it is worth noting that while the evidence supports a steady decline, many in the public feel that the opposite is true.
The public is easily captivated by a murder story. When injustice occurs it fills the public with anger, with fear, and often with a curious interest to see and learn more about the case. In Hamilton, Ontario the murder of Tim Bosma sparked similar disgust and interest. Since his 2013 death, there have been regular updates on court proceedings, new evidence, and on escalations in the trial. The consistent talk of murder on the news can easily lead the audience to believe that murders are more likely than they are, or that they are even on the rise.
This is especially true in America. The Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma reported that in the United States violent crime is disproportionately reported. With the rise of the internet, more effective communication tools, and more news reporting, the public’s perception that homicide was the most important problem has gone up, while the actual homicide rates have gone down.
The Dart Centre attributes people’s fears and perceptions directly due to the news coverage. They found that:
- Homicide stories in particular, show the strongest relationship to public fear in the local news (Liska & Baccaglini, 1990).
- Homicide stories located in the first sections of the newspaper appear to contribute to higher fear levels (Liska & Baccaglini, 1990).
- In a national sample collected in 1997, perceived risk of crime was related to local television news exposure (Romer, Jamieson, & Aday, 2003).
- For a sample of approximately 2,300 Philadelphia residents, exposure to television news was strongly correlated with the belief that crime is an important local problem (Romer et al., 2003).
In an interesting CBC article by Nicole Ireland she notes that another contribution to people’s perception of crime, and all news more broadly, is that it is ‘more intense’ when viewed through a smartphone. In the article, she interviews Fuyuki Kurasawa, an associate professor specializing in global digital citizenship at York University in Toronto. He claims there is a significant difference between traditional news reporting and the increasingly more common medium of news through smartphones.
“What happens is that we have a very different relationship to news and to personal events when they emerge out of the use of these devices,” Kurasawa said. “Instantly we get information that we may or may not want, that we may or may not be prepared [for], and that’s coming at us with such speed and such quantity that it can become quite overwhelming…There’s a kind of concentrated moment where … we’re seeking out information that may be of a serious nature, that may be, in some instances, you know, quite upsetting,” he said. “Socially and psychologically, we’re not necessarily bracing for that” when we’re scrolling through social media feeds on our smartphones.
To alleviate our anxiety, we need to read and understand the data. News reporting of violent crime might increase and create a perception that violence is more prevalent, and the way in which we read news might make the experience more intense, but ultimately, the data is clear – and encouraging.
Our homicide rates keep declining, and Canada keeps becoming safer.
By Daniel Govedar (Posted Oct 2016) (Last Updated Feb 2017)
Statistics Canada Facts and Graphs: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2015001/article/14244-eng.htm
The Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma Article: http://dartcenter.org/content/violence-comparing-reporting-and-reality
CBC Article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/social-media-violent-news-coverage-1.3682819