Not any more

Stockwell Day ‘concerned’ about rise in unreported crimes

In Canada on August 4, 2010 at 08:44

OTTAWA — A senior cabinet minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government came under fire Tuesday for suggesting that Canada needs to build more prisons in part because of a rise in unreported crimes.

“We’re very concerned . . . about the increase in the amount of unreported crimes that surveys clearly show are happening,” Mr. Day said at a news conference. “People simply aren’t reporting the same way they used to.”

The comments were immediately contradicted by the government’s main statistical agency — and inspired a rapidly spreading Internet video which mocked the minister for not being able to identify the source of his arguments.

Mr. Day made the remarks as Mr. Harper’s cabinet and caucus returned to Parliament Hill for a series of meetings to review the government’s agenda and economic policies. He said the government was committed to winding down stimulus spending programs to eliminate the deficit, but added that planned multi-billion dollar investments in new prisons would be needed to replace aging facilities, deter violent criminals and cope with what he claimed is a rise in unreported crimes.

“Those numbers are alarming and it shows that we can’t take a liberal view to crime [or] suggest that it’s barely happening at all,” Mr. Day said. “We still have situations, too many situations of criminal activity that are alarming to our citizens and we intend to continue to deal with that.”

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the comments were backed up by research from Statistics Canada that revealed a drop in the percentage of self-described victims who reported crimes that were committed against them. The agency’s data concluded that only 34% of self-described victims said they reported the incidents to police in 2004, down from 42% in 1993 and 37% in 1999.

But Statistics Canada quickly shot down Mr. Day’s assumption, saying that this data cannot be compared to police-reported crime statistics, since it only surveyed eight types of crimes as opposed to the hundreds of crimes investigated by police.

“So for example, you can’t ask somebody: Have you ever been a victim of a homicide?” said Warren Silver from the agency’s centre for justice statistics. “It’s just not possible to do. So what [the Statistics Canada research] does do is track some of the types of crimes that people might not report and might report and some of the reasons why.”

Mr. Nicholson’s spokeswoman Pamela Stephens said that critics have overlooked the costs of crime on society as well as the costs of keeping tabs on criminals who are released.

“We do not use statistics as an excuse not to get tough on criminals,” Ms. Stephens wrote in an e-mail. “Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime.”

She added that the statistics suggest a significant amount of crimes are not reported, including an estimated 88% of sexual assaults and 69% of household thefts.

But Mr. Silver noted that the responses in surveys about unreported crimes are also different from police reports of incidents that are investigated or substantiated as crimes.

“So it is a good complimentary data source that we can put together with the police to get a better picture of crime,” Mr. Silver said. “I know that a lot of the people want to compare one data set to another — the police-reported [data] versus the victim-reported [data] . . . I think it’s important to say that they’re different kinds of things in themselves.”

During his news conference, Mr. Day added that the government also needs to introduce tougher and mandatory sentencing for offenders who commit violent crimes such as arson or home invasion with aggravated assault.

“Previously, there were too many cases where those were addressed with what’s called conditional arrest or conditional sentencing,” he said. “That means the criminals in that case get sent home. They don’t have to go to jail. That is not a deterrent.”

Canada also has many aging prison facilities that are decades old and no longer suitable, he added.

“You can have more efficiencies by putting people in more efficient and newer institutions more capable of handling the type of severe criminals that we have,” Mr. Day said. “All of that adds up to safer streets and safer communities. What the final [investment] figure will be on that has yet to be determined but we have to address these particular areas.”

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland said Mr. Day’s comments were “ridiculous.”

“I think they [Conservatives] are so desperate to turn the channel with crime issues that they are willing to just make up facts and hope that people believe that in fact there is some basis in reality for this fantasy that they are writing,” Mr. Holland said.

But he said the more fundamental issue was that the real numbers are compiled by Statistics Canada, an agency that has come under attack following the government’s decision to scrap the mandatory nature of the long-form census.

“We get our information and we trust facts that come from Statistics Canada,” Mr. Holland said. “Clearly this is a government that doesn’t have any respect for facts, let alone for Statistics Canada, and I think they’ve shown it in how they are addressing crime.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Day said the government would maintain the mandatory nature of Canada’s short-form census, despite expressing concerns that Canadians had been facing fines and jail time for not completing the longer version of the questionnaire.

He said the information from the short-form version of the census is necessary, while there are other sources available to get the details which emerge from the long-form census.

Mr. Day said he’s received some complaints from constituents over the summer about the government’s decision to scrap the mandatory nature of the long-form census.

Mr. Day said some were concerned about whether important statistics would still be available; overall, he added, most Canadians were concerned about other issues.

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