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Victimization and Offending in Canada’s Territories
By Sylvain de Léséleuc and Jodi-Anne Brzozowski, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
In Canada, there are two primary sources of statistical information on the nature and extent of crime: police-reported surveys and victimization surveys. Until recently, self-reported victimization data were unavailable for Canada’s northern territories, leaving legislators, program and policy makers having to rely solely on police-reported crime data to inform policy decisions related to justice issues. Police data are limited, in that they only include incidents that come to their attention. According to the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS), only about one-third of incidents are reported to the police.
For the first time, self-reported victimization data are available for the three northern territories from the 2004 General Social Survey on victimization. This survey instrument not only captures information about personal victimization experiences, it collects information on crimes that are both reported and not reported to the police.1 Furthermore, the survey collects information on fear of crime, perceptions of the criminal justice system as well as measures taken by respondents to ensure their safety from crime. The survey also includes detailed measures on the impacts of criminal victimization on victims.
Using recent police-reported and self-reported data,2 this report provides a comprehensive profile of the nature and extent of crime in Canada’s northern territories.
The report finds that northern residents experience higher rates of violent victimization and are more likely to be victims of spousal violence than residents in the rest of Canada. Furthermore, police-reported crime rates in the North are much higher than those in the provinces.
Surveying in the North3: Challenges and limitations
Compared to other areas in Canada, data collection in the territories poses additional challenges due to higher rates of incomplete telephone service and language difficulties. As a pilot test, the 2004 GSS on victimization was conducted by telephone in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In order to improve coverage and to attempt to produce reliable estimates of criminal victimization in the territories, the territorial sample was selected from the respondents to the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey. This approach differs from the GSS sample in the ten provinces, which was selected using the random digit dialing method.4
In an evaluation report assessing the success of this pilot test collection, it was estimated that the data collected by the GSS in the North represented 60% of the population residing in the territories. This compares with a 96% representation of the population in the ten provinces. Specifically, the report identified that Aboriginal people and those living in rural areas were underrepresented in the sample for the territories. Adjustments to the weights were made to help correct for under-representation across these dimensions; however, the report further cautioned that there could also be unknown biases in the data. For these reasons, the victimization data in this report should be used with caution.
Researchers have pointed to a number of demographic, social and economic factors which can elevate the risk of victimization and/or offending. Some of these factors are: being young (Lochner, 2004); living in lone-parent families (Stevenson et al., 1998); living common-law (Mihorean, 2005); having high levels of unemployment (Raphael and Winter-Ebmer, 2001); being an Aboriginal person (Brzozowski et al., 2006), and the consumption of alcohol (Vanderburg et al, 1995). The following profile demonstrates that these factors are all more prevalent in the North.
Northern residents, particularly those in Northwest Territories and Nunavut, tend to be younger in general than residents in the rest of Canada. For example, according to the 2001 Census, while the median age ranged between 35 and 40 years in the provinces, the median age in Nunavut was 22.1, compared to that in Northwest Territories (29.0) and Yukon Territory (36.9) (Statistics Canada, 2002a).
The territories have the highest proportions of lone-parent families in Canada. According to the 2001 Census, lone-parent families represented 26% of all families in Nunavut, 21% in Northwest Territories and 20% in Yukon. This compares to proportions of lone-parent families in the provinces ranging from between 15% and 17% of all families (Statistics Canada, 2002b).
Common-law families in the North are also represented in higher proportions than in the provinces, comprising 31% of all families in Nunavut, 26% in Northwest Territories and 23% in Yukon. With the exception of Quebec, which also had a relatively high proportion of common-law families (25%), each of the other provinces had significantly lower proportions of common-law families, ranging between 9% and 13% of all families (Statistics Canada, 2002b).
Unemployment rates are higher in the North, compared to rates in most of the provinces. Among the territories, in 2001 Nunavut held the highest unemployment rate (17.4%), followed by Yukon (11.6%) and Northwest Territories (9.5%). By comparison, the overall Canadian unemployment rate was 7.4% (Statistics Canada, 2003a).
In the territories, Aboriginal people represent a significant proportion of the population. According to the 2001 Census, Aboriginal people in Nunavut represented 85% of the territory’s total population, which was by far the highest concentration in the country. Aboriginal people represented more than half (51%) of the population in the Northwest Territories, and 23% of the population in the Yukon. By comparison, the provinces with the highest proportion of Aboriginal residents are: Saskatchewan (14%), Manitoba (14%) and Alberta (5%) (Statistics Canada, 2003b).
Residents of the territories are also more likely to report heavy drinking than provincial residents. The 2004 GSS asked respondents about the frequency in which five or more drinks were consumed at one sitting in a one-month period (used as a measure of heavy drinking). Territorial respondents were more likely to report having consumed five or more drinks on one or more occasion in the previous month compared to provincial respondents (53% compared to 37%).