Where does the most crime happen in Ontario? Not where you think

Nov 25, 2019

Are ranking lists a good or bad thing? This week, Maclean’s magazine - which is much like TIME or Newsweek in the United States - released a list of the most dangerous places for crime in the country. To American readers, Canadian crime might seem like an oxymoron, but the truth is, we have it, it’s often violent and it happens in places that seem least likely.

The list was compiled using the Crime Severity Index, which in a coincidence with TV cop shows is known as the CSI. Statistics Canada, a federal agency, develops the CSI. Number one on the list is not a big city like Montreal or Toronto, it’s the northern Manitoba nickel mining town of Thompson. Montreal ranks 63rd and Toronto is 39th.

Several eastern Ontario towns and cities are also in the top 100: Kingston is 94th, Hawkesbury is 68th, Cornwall is at 31 and Brockville is at 21. 

Ottawa, the largest city in eastern Ontario escaped being in the top 100 and charted at 107.  However, Ottawa covers a huge amount of territory. The By Ward Market bears little resemblance to the suburbs.

An Ontario Provincial Police car in Hawkesbury, ON.
Credit James Morgan / NCPR News

In Brockville, crime has gone up in the past five years and the small, scenic, and historic city has a CSI level of 136. Thefts and property crimes went down, so did youth crimes, impaired driving and most drug-related crimes. What appears to have hurt Brockville’s ranking was one homicide, which gave it a higher average for its population. The Canadian average CSI for homicides is 1.76 per 100,000 people and Brockville’s population is 21,639, which led to a homicide average of 4.62.

Cornwall’s CSI is 103, although there were no recent homicides in the city of 48,012. Assaults are down, robberies are down and so are some drug offenses. However, firearms offenses, breaking and entering, fraud, impaired driving and trafficking of illegal cannabis have all increased.

To the north in Hawkesbury, with a CSI of 68th place and a population of 10,328, the news was met with spirited responses on social media. Many commenters referred to high unemployment and generational poverty as the main reasons.

It is true, Hawkesbury was once a major manufacturing town. First, the paper mills and sawmills shut.  Then the big manufacturers like Amoco, whose plant made synthetic rubber underlay for carpet, closed, followed by PPG glass, where automobile windshields were once produced. There are still several manufacturing plants in Hawkesbury, but the big ones are gone and it sometimes seems like things never really recovered.

At a closer look, crime in Hawkesbury has decreased. Its total CSI is 90, but assaults and sexual assaults have increased, and fraud has surged, all at levels far above national averages. Impaired driving has dropped and so has illegal cannabis trafficking and production. However, production and trafficking of cocaine and other illegal hard drugs has increased. There were zero firearms offenses or youth crimes for Hawkesbury.

Kingston, the second-largest eastern Ontario city, with a population of 132,943, has a CSI of 76. Overall crime has increased in Kingston. The homicide rate went down, but there was still one case. Assaults have declined, but sexual assaults and firearms offences have increased. Robberies and frauds have declined, but break-and-enter offenses have gone up. All drug-related offenses in Kingston have gone down.

Is ranking the crime statistics for every town and city in a country a good idea? What does it do for the morale and efforts by citizens to improve their communities? It could either encourage municipal governments, business leaders and civic organizations to do more to reduce crime and improve living conditions, or it could cause a sense of resignation among residents that the place is beyond hope and will always have problems with crime.

Are such lists useful to social services agencies as they attempt to reduce the problems that are often associated with high crime rates? Or do such rankings cause a sense of bewilderment to set in and lead to less aggressive efforts to reduce the problems? The same questions apply to business. Would a business locate in a city because it had high unemployment and social problems that more jobs could help reduce? Or would it skip over the city because it looked like a bad place with an unreliable workforce and a poor quality of life for the law-abiding employees?

Those are all important things to consider when communities are so publicly ranked based on their crime rate.