In my youth I took courses in Criminology alongside working policemen and at one time I seriously considered taking up the profession. While at university I also did my service in the Militia - in a military police platoon. Since graduation I've conducted research into how crime is perceived and reported, and I recently completed a book on the life of a very clever Canadian criminal. In addition I've filmed a documentary on a prison and am working on a project which will feature some of its most notorious inmates.
With these experiences in my background I feel entitled to comment on the recent news that Statistics Canada have declared Canada's crime rate to be at a 25 year low. You can read a summary of the finding in "Canada's Crime rate lowest in 25 years: StatsCan report" on this CBC webpage. The figures, much hyped by politicians and their parrots in the news media, are a snapshot of where we were in 2006, or five years ago. Those who pay attention, know where we are at today. Gang suppression in B.C. has temporarily reduced the incidence of drug related ambush killings, and engine immobilizers are finally put a dent in epidemic levels of car theft. As to property crime at the retail and residential levels, few are reporting it and as a society we no longer even have an interest in policing it. Being "ripped off" from time to time is simply a condition of living, and how many of us want to compound the loss by lining a lawyers pocket with our remaining cash?
A SAFER SOCIETY?
We are told that as a percentage, violent crime is down in Canada. I have met many young men grown to maturity without having participated in a single fist fight. That's incredible to someone of my generation for whom schoolyard knuckle bruising was the norm, and 'fighting your own battles' was the expected neighborhood etiquette. Of course these days so many anxious parents are delivering and picking up their kids at school that there is no risk they will ever encounter a bully on the field behind the building . And of course adults who have never risked their skin in boyhood, will be afraid to stand up to aggression when they encounter it, or even fail to see it coming. We delegate the safety of our neighborhoods and our nation to a very tiny cadre of trained professionals.
Charles W. Moore is a Nova Scotia based columnist who dismisses the "proof" that falling crime numbers mean we are living in a safer country. In a recent opinion piece he pointed out that because home alarm systems are now the norm in this country, and fewer people venture out on foot after dark, crime stats are dampened. Social engineers jump to take credit for it, yet "Children don't have the same freedom and security outside the home their grandparents enjoyed 40 or 50 years ago."
There are many who claim that the news media over emphasizes crime, playing up the violence and the blood. That's not true. Crime in Canada is in fact under-reported. It is too often sanitized and explained away. Here in B.C. there are many cold blooded murders take place for which we never even see a photograph of the victim or the killer. What the media is guilty of is reporting crime with personal bias. Cherry picking is the norm. Reporters and news editors choose which few criminals they are going to hold up for public examination, and those of the majority whom they will let off the hook. The media's power to decide what goes on the public record and what stories get buried, does more to skew public perception of crime than any StatsCanada report ever could.
"AXE MURDERERS" are not just creatures of urban myth. They are an "inconvenient truth" of Canadian crime. (I had to abuse this Gore-ism.) We have our share of haters and our share of Lizzie Borden's. We had two axe murders in July, on opposite sides of the country. The media doesn't like to report grizzly killings and it pours water on the coals of murders stoked by too much hatred, unless of course it's "right wing" political hatred. (That commodity does sell.)
Consider the case of Richard (Dick) Oland, scion of the brewery clan in Saint John , N.B. Had Mr. Oland simply been shot, every local official from the Mayor and Police Chief to the coroner and Fire Chief would have turned up for the press conference. "Ground Zero- type" media scrums are an annoying reality of a society obsessed with celebrity, but the Pros know when it's best to avoid the podium.
Richard (Dick) Oland was murdered on July 7th, in his office, located in the business district of Saint John, N.B. Friday's edition of MACLEANS magazine offers a few lurid details, while the S.J.P.D. has been very tight lipped: "This week, a professional cleaner specializing in mopping up after suicides, homicides and unattended deaths spent days vigorously scouring the premises..." The suspect? Some point to the son, others to a loan shark, and most hope it was a transient.
All of the news outlets reported that Ravinder Kaur Bhangu had been "stabbed" to death, but THE PROVINCE (temporarily) reported the horrifying truth. The husband went to her office armed with an axe and a meat cleaver and committed a public atrocity.
A MORE HONEST SOCIETY?
If crime statistics sank further off the chart, would that prove anything? What if statisticians are failing to monitor entire swaths of felonious behavior? The federal government employs thousands of trained investigators to detect and prosecute tax cheaters and is exceptionally vigorous in making a public example of many of them each year. But far more Canadians engage in pension fraud - faking and feigning their way to unearned settlements or incremental increases. There is no attempt whatever to take the measure of it, and yet it robs working taxpayers of $$billions that would help sustain their own families. Query a reporter on the subject of pension fraud and you will learn that they don't know enough to engage in a five minute conversation about it.
An even more macabre problem to ponder is the vulnerability of those elderly citizens who happen to own real property. How many accidental deaths of our seniors are not so accidental? And is anyone in law enforcement paying attention? With the average price of a detached home in Vancouver getting closer and closer to a million dollars, how great is the temptation for some impatient heir to arrange a little misfortune in the home or in the park... a fall, an accidental over dosage, an electrocution, an exposure to inclement weather? StatsCanada says that fatal accidents are more common in the north than in urban Canada. I have no reason to dispute their numbers (see chart below) but the agency admits that it is held hostage by the quality of information reported to it by the provinces, and by systemic anomalies. For example, all of our military personnel blown up in Afghanistan are not included in national reporting, because their deaths occurred overseas. Odd, eh?