Are small towns collapsing across Canada and the USA? We do hear a lot nowadays about how when a plant shuts down in a smaller town it can destroy that community’s economy and before you know it, the local meth dealer is the wealthiest person in town. And paradoxically, big cities have in general become safer. There are exceptions in the U.S. like Chicago and Detroit, for example. But in Canada, big has generally meant safer than small over the last couple of decades when it comes to crime and cities. Or even urban vs. rural. It’s been a remarkable shift in social trends that academics, criminologists, police, and researchers have been trying to understand.

So, is it true? Are you safer in a big city in Canada then in many small towns and cities? Let’s dive in to the numbers and see what the data shows us.

In the first part of this series, we’ll look at smaller communities that suffer from high crime rates. By smaller we mean anything that is NOT its own Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), so anything from around 100,000 inhabitants down to around 10,000 inhabitants is included. In other words, from small-to-mid-sized cities (in Canada cities are usually considered 10,000 people or more); because increasingly in Canada, or at least in the Western part of Canada, you are least safe in a small city of around 10,000 residents.

Note: CSI stands for Crime Severity Index, the crime rate adjusted for the severity of the types of crimes that make up the overall crime rate.

 

10. Nanaimo, British Columbia

Nanaimo by Braveheart [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[Public Domain]

If you head across the water from Vancouver to Vancouver Island, you'll find Nanaimo, which has grown to around 90,000 residents and could really be thought of now as a bedroom community for Metro Vancouver. It’s strange that its CSI would be worse than Mission’s (112 compared to 110) because over the last year of data there were no murders in Nanaimo. Zilch. Nada. And the assault rate while higher than the national average is not substantially higher. Drugs are not that big a problem either. Sexual assault and firearms offences are below the average for Canada and robbery is just slightly higher. But Break & Enter at almost 877 per 100,000 of population is almost double the national average. And Fraud is a problem as well. 396 per 100,000 is certainly higher than Canada’s average of 299. Impaired driving comes in at 254 per 100,000 compared to the national average of 194. High, but not catastrophic. And youth crime is only slightly higher than the average. Maybe it’s time to move to Nanaimo and open a business selling reinforced front doors.  

 

2016 rankings nationally (1st is worst):

  • 37th in overall crime
  • 83rd in violent crime
  • 213th in homicides
  • 120th in sexual assaults
  • 70th in assaults
  • 72nd in firearms offences
  • 48th in robberies
  • 13th in breaking and entering
  • 76th in fraud
  • 76th in impaired driving
  • 111th in cannibis trafficking
  • 111th in cocaine trafficking
  • 49th in youth crime

 

9. Mission, British Columbia

Mission, BC by B-columbia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

by B-columbia / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

If you head East out of Vancouver and down the Fraser Valley, you’ll get to Mission BC in less than an hour depending on the traffic. To leave Mission, you can take the West Coast Express into Vancouver, highway 11 over the Fraser River and into Abbotsford which is now where most of the retail shopping is, or Translink to Coquitlam Central Station via route 701. Which you might want to do given that this scenic city of just under 40,000 residents has a bit of a crime problem. It has a CSI of 110 which is about 50% worse than Canada’s average CSI at just under 71. But at least it’s Violent CSI is only 78 which is slightly more than the Canadian average of 75.25. Break and Enter is a real problem in Mission, however, with 724 cases per 100,000 residents compared to the Canadian average of 438.51. The impaired driving rate is about 299 per 100,000 compared to Canada’s overall rate of 194. Not good. Finally, youth crime is almost triple the Canadian average with almost 43 offences per 100,000 compared to almost 17 per 100,000 in Canada on average.

 

2016 rankings nationally:

  • 39th in overall crime
  • 67th in violent crime
  • 46th in homicides
  • 180th in sexual assaults
  • 67th in assaults
  • 32nd in firearms offences
  • 72nd in robberies
  • 29th in breaking and entering
  • 84th in fraud
  • 59th in impaired driving
  • 37th in cannibs trafficking
  • 25th in cocaine trafficking
  • 30th in youth crime

 

8. Prince Rupert, British Columbia

Prince Rupert by Sam Beebe [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

by Sam Beebe / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Some things seem fairly healthy about this small port city on the North coast of BC, whose harbor handles much of the region’s trade. No murders. A robbery rate slightly below Canada’s average and a Break & Enter rate slightly more than half Canada’s average. So why the CSI of 121 and why the Violent CSI of 130, both of which are getting uncomfortably close to double the national average? In a word, assault. Prince Rupert is the kind of place you get the crap kicked out of you all too often it seems. The assault rate comes in at a sickening 1,926 compared to Canada’s average of 431. That is: Five. Times. The. National. Average. Not. Good. But it gets worse. Sexual assault comes in at almost 169 per 100,000 population compared to the Canadian average of just under 57. That’s almost 3 times the national average. And that’s terrifying if you’re concerned about living in a safe community. Oh yes, impaired driving occurs at a rate of 642 per 100,000 compared to the national average of 194. Over three times as bad. Sounds like a case of young, drunk men brawling with each other. Or assaulting women. Or driving drunk. All this in a city of 12,000 residents. With crime rates like this, Prince Rupert is going to stay  small for some time to come.

 

2016 rankings nationally

  • 28th in overall crime
  • 21st in violent crime
  • 216th in homicides
  • 8th in sexual assaults
  • 4th in assaults
  • 225th in firearms offences
  • 55th in robberies
  • 162nd in breaking and entering
  • 133rd in fraud
  • 11th in impaired driving
  • 17th in cannibis trafficking
  • 29th in cocaine trafficking
  • 35th in youth crime

 

7. Lethbridge Alberta

Lethbridge by Kmsiever at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[Public Domains]

 

2016 rankings nationally

  • 26th in overall crime
  • 56th in violent crime
  • 24th in homicides
  • 151st in sexual assaults
  • 45th in assaults
  • 43rd in firearms offences
  • 62nd in robberies
  • 36th in breaking and entering
  • 14th in fraud
  • 89th in impaired driving
  • 174th in cannibis trafficking
  • 56th in cocaine trafficking
  • 26th in youth crime

 

6. Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan

Lloyminster by Jason Whiting [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

by Jason Whiting / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

This city of just over 30,000 is all about meridians and medians. The main street is called Meridian Avenue because it runs along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border which divides the city in two, but not into 2 municipalities! It’s one municipality incorporated in both provinces. Take that Texarkana! Lloydminster also apparently has the youngest median age in Canada. Which means lots of young men which means an assault rate over 50% higher than the national average, a break & enter rate over double the average, and an impaired driving rate that’s nothing but scary: 919 per 100,000 compared to an average of 194 for the country as a whole. That would be 4 times as bad as the Canadian average. And not just drinking. In a city with a good share of energy jobs, younger workers often might get tempted to indulge in harder drugs like cocaine. The city has a cocaine trafficking rate of 99 incidents per 100,000 which is almost 5 times the national average. That’s a problem. It all adds up to a CSI of 148, more than double Canada’s average of 71.     

 

2016 rankings nationally

  • 14th in overall crime
  • 51st in violent crime
  • 223rd in homicides
  • 101st in sexual assaults
  • 35th in assaults
  • 12th in firearms offences
  • 31st in robberies
  • 9th in breaking and entering
  • 24th in fraud
  • 5th in impaired driving
  • 134th in cannibis trafficking
  • 14th in cocaine trafficking
  • 88th in youth crime

 

5. Selkirk, Manitoba

Selkirk by Jd.101 at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

by Jd.101 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Selkirk is a small city a little over 20 km northeast of Winnipeg. The main industries are tourism, steel, and a psychiatric hospital. Yes, things can get a little crazy in Selkirk. While it is at least something that in a city of 10,630 residents there were no homicides over the latest year under review, the rest of the crime scene in Selkirk is pretty depressing. An assault rate of 1,298 per 100,000 people is 3 times Canada’s average. A sexual assault rate of 179 incidents per 100,000 is 3 times Canada’s average of 57. A break & enter rate of 818 per 100,000 is double the national average of 439. Impaired driving? In Selkirk it comes in at 809 per 100,000 which is 4 times Canada’s average rate of 194. Cocaine trafficking/production had a rate of 113 per 100,000 which is almost 6 times the Canadian average of 20. Other drug trafficking was even worse at 132 compared to the national average of 23. And youth crime? It racked up a rate of incidents per 100,000 people of 141, which is more than 8 times the average of just under 17 incidents per 100,000. That made for a CSI of 155 and a Violent CSI of 159. Ok, there were 0 firearms offences in Selkirk over the period in question. Does that make you feel any safer?

 

2016 rankings nationally

  • 10th in overall crime
  • 9th in violent crime
  • 224th in homicides
  • 5th in sexual assaults
  • 10th in assaults
  • 228th in firearms offences
  • 23rd in robberies
  • 20th in breaking and entering
  • 106th in fraud
  • 9th in impaired driving
  • 4th in cannibs trafficking
  • 10th in cocaine trafficking
  • 8th in youth crime

 

4. Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

Portage la Prairie by Amqui [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

by Amqui / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Ah, the voyageur with their canoes full of furs heading ever further west. Ok, it would have been a touch tricky to get from say the Great Lakes to Portage la Prairie in a canoe without doing any … portaging. That is carrying your bark on your back. As its name suggests, this town located 75 km west of Winnipeg on the Assiniboine River was founded by Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, a fur trader. But did you also know that in the 1920s most of the acreage devoted to hemp production in Canada was in the Portage la Prairie area? Ok, so starting with the good news, there were 0 homicides in this Prairies city of 13,300 souls. Now the not-so-good news: An assault rate of 1,753 per 100,000 population which is over 4 times the average in Canada.

  • A sexual assault rate of 127 which is more than double the national average of just under 57.
  • A firearms offence rate of 52 which is almost 8 times the national average of 6.79 per 100,000.
  • Robberies are about double Canada’s average while break & enter comes in at 1,059 which is well over twice the Canadian average of 439.
  • Impaired driving is almost 3 times the national average while various drug trafficking incidents are 3 to nearly 5 times Canada’s average.
  • Youth crime is almost 13 times Canada’s average.
  • The CSI is 186 which is getting kind of close to 3 times the average for Canadian towns and cities.
  • The Violent CSI is 206 which is even closer to 3 times the average of 75.

Pierre Gaultier would have strapped his canoe to his shoulders and headed West. Or back East.

 

2016 rankings nationally

  • 7th in overall crime
  • 5th in violent crime
  • 227th in homicides
  • 15th in sexual assaults
  • 5th in assaults
  • 3rd in firearms offences
  • 10th in robberies
  • 7th in breaking and entering
  • 90th in fraud
  • 17th in impaired driving
  • 2nd in cannibis trafficking
  • 11th in cocaine trafficking
  • 5th in youth crime

 

3. Red Deer, Alberta

by Waynercook [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

[Public Domain]

As you may have noticed, as we reach higher levels on the Crime Severity Index and the Violent Crime Severity Index, the average size of the cities involved have tended to get smaller. But every trend has an exception or two, and Red Deer is the exception to the rule of smaller cities being statistically more dangerous than large cities. With a population of 103,000 and an economy based on oil, grain, and cattle, cowboys and roughnecks seem to have created a really lousy crime scene in Red Deer. It beats the hell out of Saskatoon and Regina, when it comes to overall levels of crime. And that’s nothing for any city to be proud of. It had a homicide rate of almost 3 per 100,000 while its assault rate comes in at almost double Canada’s average. Its sexual assault rate is only slightly higher than Canada’s average, but its firearms offences incident rate is almost 4 times the average for Canadian cities and towns. Robberies are double the average while break & enter is 4 times Canada’s average. The fraud rate is two and a half times the national average. Impaired driving is almost double the average while drug trafficking crimes are about 3 times the average. But youth crime is only a quarter of the national average. Overall, the homicides in Red Deer have turned what is a fairly rough city into one of Canada’s most dangerous places according to the Crime Severity Index. This is one to watch. It could very well taper off over the next few years, and Red Deer may soon have a much lower CSI. But right now, its CSI is at 207 compared to the average of 71, while its Violent CSI is at 149, or just about double the national average in Canada. Let’s hope for the sake of a hard-working city that changes over the next few years, though it won’t be easy given that crime levels are spread across a number of indicators in Red Deer.

 

2016 rankings nationally

  • 5th in overall crime
  • 10th in violent crime
  • 37th in homicides
  • 77th in sexual assaults
  • 24th in assaults
  • 8th in firearms offences
  • 6th in robberies
  • 4th in breaking and entering
  • 8th in fraud
  • 41st in impaired driving
  • 112th in cannibis trafficking
  • 21st in cocaine trafficking
  • 139th in youth crime

 

2. Thompson, Manitoba

Thompson Bobak Ha'Eri [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

by Bobak Ha'Eri / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Sound familiar? It should. This city has a problem, aside from its horrifyingly cold winters and its isolated geography hundreds of kilometres north of Winnipeg which is already way too cold for any intelligent person to live there. What started as a mining town in the 1950s is now a services hub for the surrounding area. But crime is out of control – at least by Canadian standards – in this community of just over 14,000 residents. The homicide rate at about 21 per 100,000 people is almost 13 times the national average. The assault rate is astronomical at 5,370 per 100,000 which is … 13 times the national average. The sexual assault rate is almost 5 times the national average. Robberies are almost double the average while break & enter is about 50% higher. Fraud not quite double. Impaired driving not quite triple. Drugs are also a real problem. The cocaine trafficking incident rate is 18 times the national average. And youth crime is almost 30 times the national average. CSI of 284. Violent CSI a horrifying 415 or almost 6 times the average in Canada. This will take generations to solve. Stay away from Thompson. It’s that simple.

 

2016 rankings nationally

  • 2nd in overall crime
  • 1st in violent crime
  • 1st in homicides
  • 2nd in sexual assaults
  • 1st in assaults
  • 229th in firearms offences
  • 14th in robberies
  • 55th in breaking and entering
  • 44th in fraud
  • 13th in impaired driving
  • 1st in cannibis trafficking
  • 1st in cocaine trafficking
  • 2nd in youth crime

 

1. North Battleford, Saskatchewan

North Battleford by Tungilik [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

[Public Domain]

A city of 14,000 or so inhabitants. A really bad youth crime problem. No homicides in the period under review. But:

  • An assault rate 7 times Canada’s average.
  • A sexual assault rate about 4 times the average.
  • Firearms offences 25 times the average.
  • Robberies over 3 times the average.
  • Break & enter over 4 times the average.
  • Fraud over 3 times the average. Impaired driving over 8 times the average.
  • Drug trafficking 3 to 5 times the average.
  • Youth crime about 30 times the average.

The good news? North Battleford’s Violent CSI is lower than Thompson’s at 337, almost 5 times the national average. But its CSI is a staggering 353, which is 5 times Canada’s average. How do you solve these types of problems? Stay away from North Battleford as well and hope that places like Red Deer get their act together a little more.

 

2016 rankings nationally:

  • 1st in overall crime
  • 2nd in violent crime
  • 229th in homicides
  • 4th in sexual assaults
  • 2nd in assaults
  • 1st in firearms offences
  • 4th in robberies
  • 1st in breaking and entering
  • 5th in fraud
  • 1st in impaired driving
  • 11th in cannibis trafficking
  • 12th in cocaine trafficking
  • 1st in youth crime

 

Canada’s smaller cities out West have a problem. At least some of them do. Let’s hope that solutions can be found in the places we’ve listed because the figures are alarming and if they continue these cities will lose their honest hard-working citizens who’ll move to larger and safer cities where the jobs are as well.

Next time, we’ll look at some of the more dangerous larger cities, the so-called Census Metropolitan Areas. And if you feel your town is a safe and wonderful place and we’ve unfairly characterized small towns and cities as being dangerous we just might add an article about Canada’s safest small towns.


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