Friday, August 1, 2008

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Punk & Thug Edition

The latest Conservative promotion of their 'law and order' agenda seems to be meeting with a rather lukewarm response. Except, of course, from the likes of Sun columnist and global warming curmudgeon Lorrie Goldstein:

Today let's take a break from the BS we're being fed about global warming to examine the BS we're being fed about crime statistics.

Specifically, about how "low" they are today compared to the past, how anyone who believes otherwise is paranoid and how the best way to make the crime rate even lower is to go even softer on criminals than we already are.

First, let's examine what the crime rate actually is compared to years ago, as opposed to what we've been told it is.

Here are some figures you probably didn't see widely quoted in the media earlier this month when Statistics Canada released its 2007 data on falling Canadian crime rates.

- First, violent crime is up 320% since 1962, when modern records first started being kept.

- Second, property crime, which many victims don't even bother to report anymore, is nonetheless up 75%.

- Third, the overall crime rate is up 152%.

Shock! Horror! And of course the fact that crime rates have been going up around the world for one hell of a lot longer than that is quite easy to dismiss when you've got a point to make - and when you pick a rather convenient year to measure against.

Happily, the Fraser Institute has a handy chart of some of those 'pre-historic' crime statistics:

Damn those Depression and Eisenhower era hoodlums!

But ok, sure, let's look at those post-1962 numbers in a little more detail, shall we?

Apparently things are a little more complicated than Goldstein's simplistic analysis. Violent crime had been on a slow but steady increase until 1991, when the trend reversed itself and began an equally steady decline. Property crime, on the other hand, has gone through some pretty wide swings over the past 45 years, with huge spikes in '81 and '91 and lesser jumps in '71 and '75. Gee. What could it possibly mean?

Yes, Lorrie, those grey bars there are economic recessions. Which would seem to indicate that there just might be a link between socio-economic conditions - like poverty - and crime.

Ya think?

Then there's also this bit of information that Goldstein has conveniently left out:

The rate of violent crime increased at essentially the same pace as rates of property crime between 1962 and 1983. Thereafter, following a comprehensive expansion of the laws against assault and sexual assault, the rate of violent crimes known to the police continued a sharp growth that peaked in 1992 but have since declined.

And yet, Goldstein professes bewilderment at these trends. Which doesn't stop him from blaming (you guessed it) weak-minded, 'soft-on-crime' policies.

Whatever happened, the hug-a-thug crowd today uses the relatively small post-1991 drop in the crime rate to argue that since crime is going down, we don't need to toughen laws or impose stiffer sentences. In fact, they say, we should do the reverse.

Nonsense. One could just as easily argue the skyrocketing crime rate we experienced throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to levels which essentially still exist today for violent crime, was the result of the soft-on-crime attitude of both federal Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments.

Yes, one could argue that, were it not for the overwhelming evidence, from both sides of the border and even on the Government's own Justice website, that "getting tough" on youth crime by increasing sentences and funnelling them into the adult system, actually increases recidivism rates. But I'll let Rational Reasons tell you all about that.

None of this makes even the slightest impression on Lorrie Goldstein of course, nor on his political idols. Because it's not about facts or a rational understanding of cause and effect - it's about ideology. It's not about the truth - it's about how we perceive the truth. It's about our rosy, dimly remembered view of the past when compared to the oh so dreary present. And first and foremost, it's about making people afraid so you can do... well, pretty much anything you want to them.

Perhaps Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said it best.

"We don't govern by statistics in our government. We're governing by what we told and promised Canadians."

Good for you, Rob. We wouldn't want to let a few facts get in the way of the Relentless Implementation of the Conservative Agenda, now would we?

In the grand scheme of things, it might actually be a good thing if Harper were to put his "tough on crime" laws into practise as soon as possible. Because if that chart of economic trends when compared to crime rates is any indication, we are probably in for a rather sharp uptick in crime - particularly property crime - sometime very soon. And if that happens on Harper's watch, especially if it's after he's purged the justice system of all those namby-pamby Liberal policies, then that just might bring his whole ideological house of cards tumbling down.


  1. It's so ridiculous. Check out this recent debunking of a crappy Sun article on crime.

  2. Thanks!

    I was wondering what the %320 rise in crime stat meant. I wasn't curious enough to do the research though....

    Thanks again!