Violent crime ranks ninth in Canada

Only a day after Statistics Canada ranked Fort St. John the 9th most crime-ridden city in Canada last year, the community woke up to news that two people had been stabbed early Saturday morning outside of Looney Tunes Night Club.

The coincidence reinforced the report's message: Fort St. John has a crime problem that needs to be addressed.

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According to the release, Fort St. John's overall rank remained unchanged between 2009 and 2010, however, the city's ranking for violent crimes increased from 8th to 5th place, matched by a decrease in rank of non-violent crimes from 11th to 13th. The report is based on 208 police service areas across the country.

Mayor Bruce Lantz's reaction to the statistics was that the city likely would have ranked even higher up the list without recent efforts by RCMP to address the city's crime problem head on.

He pointed to the creation of the serious crimes unit and the crack down on the street-level illicit drug trade as two mechanisms by which RCMP have increased their ability to deal with the growing levels of violent crime. Lantz explained that Fort St. John's high rates of violent crime likely stem from the perfect storm of an affluent young population driving the market for drugs and prostitution, both of which often lead to violence.

Invoking a realistic perspective, Lantz conceded the city won't be able to solve its crime problem with the snap of a finger, but will need to slowly build a culture where residents won't tolerate it.

"The only way we can have success in dealing with problems like these is for every citizen to take ownership of it and not turn a blind eye when they see things going on in their neighbourhoods," Lantz said, "We need to become the eyes and ears of the RCMP and make Fort St. John an uncomfortable place for criminals."

Despite the city's rising rate of violent crime, North Peace Restorative Justice Society Executive Director Michelle Laboucane, said local attitudes towards crime are changing in the community and predicts they might help drive down criminality in the future.

"More people are discussing crime in the community and they're taking a more proactive approach to preventing them," Laboucane said.

In regard to her work with the revived Restorative Justice Society, Laboucane explained the results provide reason for optimism.

In the North Peace, 'restorative justice' is used to deal primarily with non-violent crimes committed by first-time offenders who admit their guilt.

The fact that the rate of non-violent crimes is dropping in Fort St. John demonstrates results, said Laboucane.

"Non-violent crimes are things not of a personal nature and are usually committed by good kids doing silly things," said Laboucane. She noted restorative justice does a much better job of keeping first-time offenders outside of the traditional criminal justice system and has greater success and reducing recidivism.

"Violent crimes tend to be committed by criminals who have been doing it for many years and who have been in and out of the system and not getting the kind of rehabilitation they need," she explained.

By keeping more first-time offenders out of the system, Laboucane said she hopes the region will produce fewer hardened criminals who might one day turn to crimes of an increasingly violent nature.

Besides keeping youth out of the courts and consequently jails, Laboucane argued that Fort St. John's increasing public rejection of crime might help turn the tides.

She identified better community engagement by RCMP and a heightened focus by media as indicators that residents are more willing to at least discuss crime.

"People are sharing information through media coverage and social media sites like never before," said Laboucane.

"We didn't used to be so informed, Police and media were understaffed and weren't able to supply us with all the information. There are conversations going on in this community and what we're hearing is that people aren't impressed about the criminal activity going on in town," said Laboucane.

Police reported just over 437,000 violent incidents Canada-wide in 2010, about 7,200 fewer than in the previous year. Violent crimes accounted for just over 1 in 5 offences.

Overall, the violent Crime Severity Index declined 6 per cent in 2010, the fourth consecutive annual decrease. Decreases were reported in every province except Newfoundland and Labrador, where police reported a 13 per cent increase.

There were 554 homicides, 56 fewer than in 2009. The national rate of 1.62 homicides per 100,000 population in 2010 was the lowest since 1966. The 10 per cent decline in the homicide rate from 2009 to 2010 followed a decade of relative stability.

The national decline in the homicide rate was driven primarily by a large decrease in British Columbia, where the rate (1.83) was at an all-time low. However, the rate in this province was still slightly higher than the national average.

The number of attempted murders also declined, from 801 in 2009 to 693 in 2010. This resulted in the lowest rate for this offence in over 30 years. Police reported more than 22,000 sexual assaults in 2010. This represented an increase of 5 per cent in the rate since 2009, the first increase in sexual assault since 2005.

Similar to previous years, most crimes 79 per cent reported by police in 2010 were non-violent. Theft under $5,000, mischief and break-ins accounted for close to two-thirds of the almost 1.7 million non-violent offences.

The non-violent Crime Severity Index fell 6 per cent in 2010, the seventh consecutive decline.

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