A new analysis of crime in Canada’s provincial north and in the territories has found that the crime rates for the territories was seven times higher comparatively than southern Canada in 2013.
Statistics Canada also found that crime rates were twice as high in the northern regions of the provinces than in the southern parts.
The agency says that while there has been little information available on police-reported crime in the northern regions of the provinces, the higher level in the territories has been consistent.
“It has always been this way since we began reporting it in 1962,” says Ron Melchers, a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa.
Statisticians reported that criminal incidents averaged 10,425 per 100,000 people in Canada’s northern provincial sections and 34,594 per 100,000 in the territories. Comparatively, crime rates were 4,749 per 100,000 in the South.
The report notes that the northern regions have higher levels of isolation, unemployment, and lower education rates, as well as higher levels of substance and alcohol abuse.
“It’s the community breakdown, family breakdown, substance abuse issues, primarily alcohol,” said Melchers.
The researchers attributed the crime rates partly to higher reports of mischief and disturbing the peace, which accounted for close to 60 percent of crime in the territories and one-third of the crimes in the provincial north. Nearly all the mischief cases in the territories were non-violent.
Kim Pate, executive director with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, says offences that in the south would be dealt with as mental health issues in the north are often treated as being criminal due to fewer resources and services.
“What looks like higher crime rates is actually often greater decrees of marginalization and fewer resources in a community so they are resorting to the criminal justice system,” she says.
“Often they are people that are homeless or have mental health issues. Police may be well-intentioned on their own volition or at the request of others—particularly when it’s cold and you run the risk of freezing. Basically the police find a charge to put them in a local lockup,” explains Pate, who also serves as Sallows Chair of Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan.
This is true especially for women with mental health issues, she notes.
“We know in particular in respect to women that a number of women have been held in custody when the authorities make clear that an individual must be in the mental health system, [but] they end up being “housed” in prison cells because they don’t have another place for them.”
Kaven Baker-Voakes is a freelance reporter based in Ottawa.