NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Severity of crime on the rise: Stats Canada
Yellowknife is fourth of 297 communities for most severe crime

Daniel Campbell
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's a typical Tuesday in Yellowknife's Territorial Courtroom.

Forty people are listed on the day's docket, facing a total of 145 charges - most of them criminal.

NNSL photo/graphic

RCMP pick up an intoxicated man on 50th Street in 2011. - NNSL file photo

NNSL photo/graphic

Crime Severity Index of Canada's Capitals
(Ranking out of 297 Canadian communities with a population of 10,000 or more)

  • Yellowknife: 217.2 (4)
  • Whitehorse: 129.2 (24)
  • Regina: 120.17 (31)
  • Victoria: 118.65 (32)
  • Winnipeg: 102.3 (60)
  • Charlottetown: 95.1 (71)
  • Edmonton: 91.8 (79)
  • St. John's: 86.3 (91)
  • Fredericton: 75.23 (114)
  • Halifax: 74.28 (117)
  • Toronto: 64.32 (154)
  • Ottawa: 57.64 (181)
  • Quebec: 50.82 (211)

Source: Statistics Canada

They're from across the Northwest Territories, but many call Yellowknife home. Though all are innocent until proven guilty, the docket is a good gauge of the worrying crime numbers in Yellowknife coming from Statistics Canada.

Yellowknife ranks fourth out of 297 communities in Canada with a population more than 10,000 for its Crime Severity Index (CSI), meaning Yellowknife has some of the most serious crime in the country.

While Yellowknife's CSI rose 2.4 per cent from 2011 to 2012, the crime rate - the actual volume of crimes - decreased by 0.1 per cent.

Specifically, incidences of violent crime and drug violations dropped.

Sandra Aitken, chief federal prosecutor for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in Yellowknife, said looking at crime numbers up North can be misleading because there are more police per population, meaning more crimes are reported.

"I grew up in a big city, people didn't report minor things," Aitken said. "In the Northwest Territories we have a larger police presence. What it could lead to is more reporting."

"If something happens to you, no matter how minor, you're more likely to be seeing a police officer and reporting the crime," Aitken said.

The Crime Severity Index is designed to negate the effects of volume-of-crime reporting. It takes into consideration the seriousness of crimes and assigns more weight to severe crimes.

For example, gaming and betting crimes are weighted at six, while murder weighs in at 7,000 on the index.

Communities with heavily-weighted crimes will rank higher on the index.

Canada's base CSI sits at 75 in 2013. Yellowknife's crime is statistically 189.6 per cent more serious than the rest of Canada.

On average, Canada's crime rates and crime severity are decreasing, with both falling by three per cent from 2011 to 2012. The Northwest Territories is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada bucking this trend.

The territory has the highest CSI compared to the other provinces and territories, clocking in at 340.98.

The major contributors to Yellowknife's high CSI are incidents of mischief, breaking and entering, disturbing the peace and theft.

A Kam Lake resident, who wished to remain anonymous, had a garage broken into three weeks ago.

At least five rifles and other firearms were stolen from the property, and will likely be sold somewhere outside of Yellowknife, the resident said.

Still, they'd like to get the word out for people to watch for stolen items being sold.

The resident said they're hearing about more crimes, especially thefts, occurring in different Yellowknife neighbourhoods.

"I've lived in Yellowknife 20 years. I'm locking everything up now," the resident said. "I know people should anyway, but it's becoming more common. It doesn't look like it's going to get better anytime soon."

Lydia Bardak, executive director of the John Howard Society in Yellowknife, sees the effects of the city's crime first-hand. She says she hasn't noticed any increase lately, but points out a few of the issues facing Northerners when it comes to crime.

"There's mental health issues, disabilities, instabilities," she said.

Bardak says trauma is a major factor leading to criminal behaviour in the North.

She sees many children who don't get to grow up with their biological families, children who are taken into child welfare custody, away from parents who may have been victims of residential schools and have turned to alcohol, drugs or other criminal behaviours.

"There's the trauma of not being with your biological family," Bardak said.

Many of these children turn to substance abuse at a young age to deal with their trauma.

"Intoxication takes out filters, and they are acting like they wouldn't normally act," she said.

Insp. Frank Gallagher, Yellowknife RCMP detachment commander, said the biggest challenge to policing in Yellowknife is alcohol abuse.

"Yellowknife is basically a southern city in the North, it presents the usual problems of a larger city," Gallagher said. "But it's unique and different from the south because a lot of people come in from the communities that have substance abuse problems and gather in the downtown area. "

Gallagher said the majority of assaults RCMP respond to are related to alcohol. The police also deal with intoxicated people who are trespassing or loitering, passed out on sidewalks or beside buildings.

"They do take up a lot of policing time," he said.

Gallagher, who's done police work throughout the North, said the solution to crime in the city will come from prevention and education, not police enforcement.

"We don't want to be a reactive police force. We need to be proactive," he said. "Police won't make a difference themselves."

The Yellowknife office of the John Howard Society delivers a community justice program for the city.

The program allows new offenders the opportunity to work with volunteers in the community instead of going through the justice system. Offenders who use the program avoid jail time and, if they succeed at the program, they avoid having a criminal record.

Bardak has been with the society for 10 years and she's seen the positive effects of the program.

"We operate on the principle everyone makes mistakes. If we can help them learn and go on it's better for society," she said.

Much of Yellowknife's crime is committed by repeat offenders and the John

Howard Society in Yellowknife doesn't have a program to deal with them.

Bardak says she'd love to have the funding to deal with repeat offenders, but as a non-profit they're at the whim of government spending.

"Correctional facilities deal with them now, but they can only stop crime while a person is in the facility," Bardak said. "Police sign up for crime-fighting and jail guards sign up for security work."

The real task, Bardak says, is preventing crime and healing those affected by it.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.