THUNDER BAY – Editorial – The issue of crime in Thunder Bay is making the national news more frequently. Macleans Magazine has ranked Thunder Bay as Ontario’s most dangerous city. We are seventeenth most dangerous in Canada. CTV News is now reporting how Thunder Bay is the murder capital of Canada, having grabbed the dubious title away from Abbotsford, British Columbia. Ending the year, Canada AM has made this the top news story of the day.
In the CTV news piece, Chief JP Lesveque is quoted, “These are not random acts of violence and not stranger-to-victim as we call them in policing. They are fueled by alcohol and drugs in most cases… We’re not seeing the random violence numbers other Canadians are seeing in their cities”.
In October, Statistics Canada reported, “Thunder Bay recorded the highest homicide rate for the second year in a row. The next highest rates were in Saskatoon and Regina”.
Holding the title of “murder capital” might not be what our city wants.
But for two years in a row, it has been ours. This year, in terms of homicides, the rate might be one lower than last year, that may depend on what charges could be laid over the death of Barney Beaver, or perhaps when those charges are laid. Barney Beaver passed away Christmas Eve after being disconnected from life support.
It is one thing to attempt to downplay the rate of murders, or to suggest that the issue is drugs or alcohol, but does that honestly change anything? Answer: No.
For the Chief of Police, downplaying the violence does not match with the request, approved by the Police Services Board, for a 4% increase in the annual police budget. It also doesn’t match what the Chief told the Police Services Board on December 20th. Chief Lesveque stated, “Crime and Disorder issues within our community, especially, incidents of violent crime, remain an area of concern to our citizens and our police service. Although the root causes of violent crime can be traced to a myriad of social issues out of the control of the Service, enforcement initiatives are a component of the overall strategy to address this very complicated issue”.
When you look at the numbers of murders, Thunder Bay with a population of 123,000 having five murders would likely rank, in the United States as one of the safest cities. There have been four fatal shootings in Vancouver in the past few days, and those have resulted in more deaths in the past week than Thunder Bay has had in the entire year. The Vancouver Police are saying there is no link between the four murders.
When there are three, four, or five murders in our city, the rate per 100,000 of population means our rate is the highest, even though there are cities in Canada with far higher numbers of murders.
All that however is a combination of denial and justification. The reality however is that those homicides have put Thunder Bay atop the list in Canada.
It is not a title that anyone wants, and it is not something we should be in denial over. However it often looks like we are spending a lot of time studying the problem, and not enough time acting to solve the problem.
The problem here is one of finding solutions, and the rate of speed that those solutions are implemented. Thunder Bay has held this title for two years. During that time, we should be asking what action has been taken to change the underlying root causes.
The work is ongoing at Crime Prevention Commission, and at the Drug Strategy Committee, but there has yet to be solid indications of action from either group which are impacting the situation. That is not to slam the work they are doing, or planning, but rather to suggest that the situation requires action and planning not just planning and discussion. It is also to suggest that one of the things that must improve are communications to the public.
Across City Council, far too often it seems as well, the time the residents hear from their representatives is during an election, with modern communications, it is key that Councillors invest more time in sharing with the public.
Thunder Bay has the title that no city wants. If you doubt that try emailing Councillors and see which ones answer you.
Being listed as the “murder capital of Canada” is a title that impacts tourism, economic development, and community pride. It is up to everyone from the Mayor and Council, Chief of Police, Police Services Board, Committees, Community groups, and each resident to start moving faster toward change.
It is going to take a positive team attitude. Based on the actions of the past year, it looks like this will be the leadership challenge of Mayor Hobbs’ term as Mayor of Thunder Bay to bring that positive attitude together.
Chief Content Officer