Toronto posts lowest crime rate

JONATHAN JENKINS, QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU

, Last Updated: 4:06 PM ET

TORONTO -- Toronto the Good hasn't gone away.

Statistics Canada -- using a new crime severity index developed with help from police, justice officials and academics -- reports Toronto had the lowest ranking out of the 27 metropolitan areas in the country in 2007.

That year, Toronto also had the lowest rate of police-reported crimes for cities across the land, with 4,278 offences called in to cops per 100,000 of population.

Hogtown's grades are worse when it comes to violent crime but still below the national average and far less than the highest crime cities in the country, which include Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

Toronto ranks 11th, although its level is less than half of Saskatoon's and lower than Halifax, Edmonton, Montreal and Vancouver.

When just violent crimes reported to police are looked at, Toronto fared better than 17 other cities, with 1,036 crimes reported per 100,000 of population.

St. John, N.B., was the highest at 2,258, followed by Saskatoon (2,115) and Thunder Bay (1,966).

The new stats are designed to give more weight to serious crimes, and lessen the statistical impact of widespread but relatively minor thefts and vandalism.

Overall, StatsCan says, the results show the seriousness of crime has fallen in nine of the past 10 years, although violent crime has remained steady.

Mark Pugash, spokesman for the Toronto Police Service, said that while StatsCan includes all the surrounding suburbs as part of Toronto, the force's own numbers reflect the report's results.

The incidence of the seven most serious offences, including murder, sex assault, assault, and breaking and entering are down 14% from a year ago, Pugash said. And those numbers followed declines of 7% in 2007 and 8% in '08.

"My guess is, if you did a random survey of 100 people on the street and asked them about crime, they would say it's getting worse or it's as bad as it ever was," Pugash said. "The fact is, that is not the case."

The reasons behind the drop are complex and even though the Toronto force is proud of some of its recent success, particularly in large-scale gang roundups, Pugash said enforcement isn't the only answer.

"Police realized a long time ago that enforcement in and of itself was not enough," he said. "What we've seen over the past five years is a significant development in relations with people throughout the city. People are feeling safer and more comfortable and as a result are picking up the phone and speaking to police."

Attorney General Chris Bentley, the province's top law enforcement official, said statistics only tell part of the story.

"Behind the statistics are people, real people whose lives have been affected," he said. "In some cases they're people whose lives have been changed forever.

"There is much to be hopeful for in the statistics, but whatever the statistics say we are going to continue our resolve to pursue violent crime to the fullest extent of the law."

StatsCan's numbers mean little to people who are worried about crime, Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Hillier said.

"People have a view that violent crime is a huge and significant concern to them and that's not just in Toronto or in Ottawa. People in Strathroy and people all around in rural Ontario are also significantly concerned about the level of crime in their communities.


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