OTTAWA - Crime might make for good television, but reality TV it isn't, according to figures released Tuesday by Statistics Canada.
The overall numbers, rates and severity of crimes reported to police dropped again last year, continuing a 10-year trend.
So the push by the Conservative government to convince Canadians that crime requires serious legislative attention is a prime-time drama with a script full of holes, say sociologists.
"Perceptions of crime have nothing to do with actual crime," said Ronald Melchers, a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa.
"People don't get their information on whether crime is going up or going down from Statistics Canada, they get it from a whole series of very subjective measures including watching too much TV and listening to too many politicians."
One of the areas that did see an increase last year was firearm offences, an issue that the Conservative government has in the sights of its tough-on-crime agenda.
Since 2006, the government has passed a wide variety of crime-related legislation, ranging from cuts to the amount of credit a judge can give an offender for time served to stricter testing for drug-impaired driving.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews includes on his website a statement that communities are "increasingly under threat of gun, gang and drug violence.''
In his home province of Manitoba, that's true. Figures released Tuesday showed it reported the highest homicide rate among the provinces for the third straight year, although it was lower than the rates in Yukon and Nunavut. Manitoba was the only province that saw its rate of severe crime increase.
Among census metropolitan areas, Abbotsford–Mission in British Columbia reported the highest homicide rate for the second year in a row.
While it had only nine homicides, that meant 5.2 murders for every 100,000 people in the area. In contrast, Vancouver had 61 murders, but a homicide rate of 2.6 per 100,000 population.
The entire region was locked in a bloody gang war early in 2009, and police credit stiffer sentences for firearms offences as one of the reasons they've managed to crack down on that gang war this year.
"While we continue to achieve results in the fight against crime, our government feels these figures are still unacceptably high," Toews said in a statement Tuesday.
"We are committed to giving law enforcement the tools they have been telling us they need to make our communities safe."
Overall, Statistics Canada said nearly 2.2 million crimes were reported to police in 2009, about 43,000 fewer than in 2008.
Car thefts, break-ins and mischief cases accounted for most of the decline.
The crime rate, the measure of the volume of crime reported to police, fell 3 per cent last year and was 17 per cent lower than a decade ago.
The crime severity index, which measures the seriousness of incidents reported, declined 4 per cent last year and was down 22 per cent from 1999.
Violent crimes, from harassing phone calls to homicide, accounted for about 1 in 5 crimes in 2009.
Police identified about 165,000 youth aged 12 to 17 accused of a criminal offence in 2009, a slight drop from 2008. Both the numbers and the seriousness of youth crimes have generally been declining since 2001.
Some sociologists say one of the reasons for the overall decrease in crime is that there are fewer people under the age of 24 in society. Others say a decline in break-ins could be linked to goods just getting cheaper and less attractive to steal.
"There are all kinds of things that can produce differences but at the same time there is a large component there we don't know about," said Vincent Sacco, a professor of sociology at Queen's University.
Statistics Canada said its data are drawn from a census survey of all crimes known to, and substantiated by, police services, which uses a national standard of common categories and definitions.
The crime severity index weighs the seriousness of offences in accordance with court sentences; the higher the average sentence, the higher the weight for that offence.
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