Last Updated on May 10, 2022 by Allard John Keeley
Are you safer in a large city in Canada or in a smaller town?
We’ve looked at the crime rate in small size cities to find out which places in Canada are the kind you might want to avoid. Now it’s time to look at the big, bad Metropolitan Census Areas (CMAs), which is what Statistics Canada calls the main urban areas, in Canada. The big bad cities.
The question we have to ask is: are you safer in a large city in Canada or in a smaller town?
The answer depends on where in Canada your small town is located. Some small towns are among the safest places to live in the country. Others, like the ones we investigated in part 1 of this article, are places where the crime is so bad you should think twice before moving there.
The answer also depends on what type of crime we’re talking about. If break & enter worries you, then small cities on the prairies are definitely no-go places for you. But if other types of crimes are your main concern (armed robbery perhaps), then Canada’s biggest cities might not be your ideal location to settle and live. Remember, we’re talking about crime rates that, relative to most countries in the world, are quite low. But the fact that armed robberies are much lower in Toronto than Detroit doesn’t do you much good if you get a handgun stuck in your face during a trip to your local Mac’s convenience store – assuming it hasn’t been rebranded as a Circle K store by then.
It’s time to look at 16 Cities you should be careful about moving to in Canada.
Census Metropolitan Areas with the Highest Crime Rates
16. Toronto, Ontario – population 2,876,095
With a homicide rate soaring to 2.57 per 100,000 bringing it well above Canada’s rate of 1.68 is it any wonder many people stay away from Canada’s largest city? Think about it, the homicide rate is slightly more than double London’s rate of 1.2 per 100,000 and getting uncomfortably close to New York’s terrifying rate of 3.4 per 100,000 population. If this keeps up, you’ll have all sorts of cop shows actually filmed in Toronto’s dangerous alleyways with the city masquerading as an American city. Oh wait. That’s already been happening for around 30 years. And Toronto’s crime rates – with a Crime Severity Index (CSI) of 59 – ranks it at 124th worst among Canadian cities and towns.
Is Toronto, in fact, dangerous? Historically the city is as safe as it’s been for the past several decades and while 1 homicide is one too many, 2.57 is a reasonable rate for a city that now has almost 3 million inhabitants. The Violent CSI, however, comes in at 104 which puts Toronto in the much less impressive 32nd spot among towns and cities in Canada. The assault rate and the sexual assault rates are about the same or slightly less than the nation’s average rates. But robbery and firearm offences are more than double the average. Impaired driving is at a much lower rate than the average. Drugs offences are average or less-than-average. And youth crime is almost non-existent. Which is a little hard to square with violent gang activity in the city. It seems that a very small percentage of youth are involved in violent gang activity, or that most gang members are adults. And that’s where much of the violent crime problem seems to come from, especially gangs with guns.
- CSI: 59 (124th)
- Violent CSI: 104 (32nd)
15. Halifax, Nova Scotia – population 426,083
Canada’s largest maritime city presents us with a bit of a puzzle. Almost every crime statistic is either less than or close to Canada’s average. And Canada’s average crime statistics are really quite low because the majority of towns and cities in the country have very little crime indeed. But there’s one statistic in Halifax that jumps out at you: homicides. The homicide rate comes in at 2.82 per 100,000, which is higher than Toronto’s and getting close to double the national average. Yet at the same time firearm offences are less than half Canada’s already low average. How do they kill each other in Halifax? Drunken Sailors bashing each other’s skulls in with half-empty kegs of beer? The CSI is 61 which is 121st while the Violent CSI is 77 which is 71st in Canada. This feels like a bit of a statistical anomaly that brings a very safe city into the top 16.
- CSI: 61 (121st)
- Violent CSI: 77 (71st)
14. Kingston, Ontario – population 131,746
This is the smallest CMA so far on our list with less than 150,000 residents and what seems to be a very healthy crime profile. Consider the following data: No homicides; an assault rate below the average; a firearms offences rate that’s a mere 15% of the Canadian average at 0.76 incidents per 100,000 population; a robbery rate just over a third of the national average; a break & enter rate slightly below the national average; impaired driving less than half the average; drugs offences of all kinds below or well below the averages; and a youth crime rate that’s about a quarter of the national average. Only sexual assault (65.28 vs. 56.56) and fraud (378 vs. 299) are above average. As well, Kingston’s Violent CSI is a very low 44, well below the 75 level for Canada. Kingston’s CSI comes in at 62, or 118th across the survey of 229 towns and cities in Canada.
Ottawa is about an hour’s drive up Highway 416 (take the exit off the 401 a few minutes East of Brockville). Toronto is around 3 hours (or less depending on how fast you like to drive) down the 401. And Montreal is a little over 3 hours back East up the 401. That’s 3 NHL franchises within more or less 3 hours drive. It’s got prisons, universities, and the Royal Military College as well as a cute harbour looking out onto Lake Ontario, with the Thousand Islands tourist area just a short drive away. And a very safe environment. What more could you ask for?
- CSI: 62 (118th)
- Violent CSI: 44 (150th)
13. Hamilton, Ontario – population 561,022
Canada’s steel town presents a very similar crime profile to Halifax, which makes sense seeing their populations are similar. Homicides come in at 2.14 which is above Canada’s average of 1.68 but not by that much. Sexual assaults are above the national average, but assaults come in at 365 per 100,000 which is noticeably lower than the average of 431. Firearm offences are 4.28 compared to a national average of 6.79. Robberies are higher but break & enter is lower and impaired driving and drug offences are all less than the national average. Youth crime is minimal. The city’s CSI is 63 while the Violent CSI comes in at 81. Which given the individual crime stats for the city is a little puzzling. But – as we explained in our other article – it’s all about the weights assigned to each type of crime. And that is a closely guarded secret it seems. Hamilton is safe, if not quite as safe as its big brother just east long Lake Ontario’s shoreline.
- CSI: 63 (116th)
- Violent CSI: 81 (65th)
12. Montreal, Quebec – population 2,014,221
There was a time many years ago, when Montreal could be a truly violent city, leading Canada in armed robberies for example. Those days appear to be over, at least for now. In fact, as with many other cities, it’s a bit of a mystery why Montreal isn’t lower down the list in terms of its CSI which comes in at 72. Homicide rate? 1.19, way below Canada’s average. Assault rate? 338 per 100,000 as opposed to an average of 431. Sexual assault rate? Below Canada’s average. Firearms offences? Slightly below the national average. Fraud. Impaired driving. Cocaine trafficking. All below the national average. Youth crime? Well below Canada’s average. So why is Montreal rated worse for crime than cities like Halifax and Hamilton? Its Violent CSI is a rather surprising 96 which ranks 40th out of the 229 cities and towns surveyed. That’s far higher in terms of crime than the CSI index which ranks 97th. While break & enter is slightly higher than the average, robberies are twice as high as Canada’s average. Combine that with a firearms offence rate that’s close to the average and it seems that armed robbery is a problem in Montreal. Could this be why the city’s Violent CSI is so high? Maybe the city’s long history of armed robberies is, in fact, still alive and thriving.
- CSI: 72 (97)
- Violent CSI: 96 (40th)
11. Calgary, Alberta – population 1,318,817
This should be a safer city. It has good statistics on most indicators of crime. Assault and sexual assault are below average. Firearms incidents are well below average at 1.67 per 100,000 compared to 6.79 on average in Canada. Robberies and fraud are slightly above average, while break & enter has a rate of 590 per 100,000 compared to Canada’s average of 439. Impaired driving is less than half the national average while drugs offences of all kinds are well below the average for Canada. Youth crime is quite low at 6.14 per 100,00 compared to 16.74 on average in Canada. But homicides come in at 2.27 per 100,000 which is noticeably above Canada’s average of 1.68 and a little higher than Hamilton’s rate of homicide. That leaves the city of Calgary with a CSI of 74, slightly above Canada’s average of 70.06 and a Violent CSI of 62 which is below Canada’s average of about 75. A handful less homicides in this medium-to-large city and Calgary would be ranked much lower than 93rd out of 229 on the CSI index. For a city of its size, it’s a quite a safe place.
- CSI: 74 (93rd)
- Violent CSI: 62 (102nd)
10. London, Ontario – population 397,493
London has had a history of being an orderly and peaceful smaller city with lots of insurance company workers living in nice brick homes on tree-lined streets. You would think it would be one of the safest CMAs in terms of its Crime Severity Index. So, having it in the top 10 for CMAs is surprising. And it’s hard to tell exactly why it received a CSI of 77 overall which is somewhat above the Canadian average of 70.96. Looking into the details we get a homicide rate of 1.76 which is just above Canada’s average and low for a top-10 CSI city. Assault, sexual assault and firearms offences are all below Canada’s averages. Robberies are slightly above average while break & enter incidents are slightly below average. Impaired driving is slightly more than a quarter of Canada’s average while drugs offences are below or well below the averages. Youth crime is less than a quarter of the average. So why the high CSI ranking? The only indicator that jumps out at you is the rate of fraud incidents at 443 per 100,000 people compared to a national average of 299. That’s almost 50% higher than Canada’s average. So maybe London, Ontario is the kind of city you have to watch out for being ripped off by some smooth-talking fraudster. Who would have thought?
- CSI: 77 (83rd)
- Violent CSI: 67 (89th)
9. St. John’s, Newfoundland – population 207,695
While St. John’s might be one of the more dramatically located cities in Canada, with its cliffs and ocean and colorful homes and history, the crime scene is stable. But it’s also higher than Canada’s averages in general. The homicide rate is 1.93, somewhat above the average of 1.68. Assaults and sexual assaults are somewhat higher than average while firearms incidents are surprisingly high at 17.33 per 100,000 compared to 6.79 for Canada as a whole. Who knew fishermen and oil workers used guns so much? Robberies? 87 vs. 60. Somewhat high. Break & enter? 602 vs. 438. Somewhat high. Fraud? 379 vs. 299. Somewhat high. Impaired driving? 394 vs. 194 per 100,000. More than somewhat high. So, even if drugs related incidents are below average, and youth crime is about half Canada’s average, most crime indicators in St. John’s are somewhat high. High enough to place the city into Canada’s top 10 CSI index cities.
- CSI: 79 (77th)
- Violent CSI: 89 (52nd)
8. Windsor, Ontario – population 221,862
Windsor seems to have a property problem. That is, property crimes are what have driven the CSI to 85 in this city across the river from Detroit. Robberies, break & enter, and fraud are all around 50% higher than the national average. Homicides are below the national average. So are assaults and firearms offences, but sexual assaults are higher than average. Impaired driving is about half Canada’s average, but some drug offenses are quite high and well above the country’s average rate. Youth crime is higher than most CMAs at around 10 incidents per 100,000 but that’s still below the national average of 16.74. Getting robbed or having your home or property broken into are not something Canadians appreciate. And who enjoys being the victim of fraud? So, Windsor’s crime story is one of theft and fraud. That’s not an insurmountable problem, and hopefully the city can work out some solutions to their crime problems in the years ahead.
- CSI: 85 (65th)
- Violent CSI: 85 (70th)
7. Thunder Bay, Ontario – population 124, 164
This is Canada’s smallest Census Metropolitan Area and it likely owes its status as a CMA to its location between Southern Ontario and Manitoba and the Prairies. West of Sarnia, there’s no other city of comparable size until you hit Winnipeg. A city of 124,000 residents is more vulnerable to statistical anomalies so one has to be cautious comparing what is a small city to its larger CMA peers. But Thunder Bay has had its history of crime problems in the past, so its position at number 7 is not surprising. It has a homicide rate of 6.91 which is about 4 times the national average. Not good. It has an assault rate almost 50% higher than average and a sexual assault rate over 50% higher than the national average. Not good. At the same time it has zero firearms incidents which seems a little odd given the high rate of homicide. Robberies are twice the average for Canada while break & enter is somewhat above average. Impaired driving is close to average while drugs offences are quite low and well below average, except for cocaine trafficking which is just slightly below average in terms of incidents per 100,000 population. Youth crime, however, is 50% higher than Canada’s average. Overall, the city seems to display more of a prairies profile when it comes to its crime statistics, even if it is not nearly as dangerous a place as Saskatoon or Regina, for example. Its CSI is 89, clearly above the average of just under 71 while its Violent CSI is a troubling 130, which is getting close to double Canada’s average rate of 75 per 100,000.
- CSI: 89 (58th)
- Violent CSI: 130 (22nd)
6. Winnipeg, Manitoba – population 735,552
We’re now in the 100+ club zone. Our remaining Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs), all have CSI index rankings of over 100 which places them clearly in another class compared to the cities we’ve seen so far. Interestingly, Winnipeg is our first prairies city, which shows us that despite some very safe towns and smaller cities west of Ontario, the West has a crime problem with its larger cities as well. And all our final 6 cities are in either Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, or B.C.
So, how does Winnipeg earn its 108 CSI reading? Homicides are about double the national average at 3.26. Assaults are slightly above average, but sexual assaults are double Canada’s average, which is a troubling statistic for anyone. Firearms offences are almost exactly the national average at 6.8 compared to 6.79 but that’s far higher than most CMAs on our list. Robberies are 4 times Canada’s average and break & enter incidents are about 50% higher than average. Fraud is lower than average by a bit and impaired driving and most drug offences are surprisingly low. Then there’s youth crime. At 34.67 it’s just over double the national average. This is starting to sound familiar. Like many prairie smaller cities, Winnipeg has a real problem with its youth crime rate. While the city has made improvements from previous years that have been far worse, it still has a way to go to show Canada what a wonderful place it can and should be. A Violent CMI of 159 is not acceptable for a cultured, prosperous city in Canada, or anywhere for that matter.
- CSI: 108 (40th)
- Violent CSI: 159 (8th)
5. Vancouver, British Columbia – population 670,718
A mild climate. Astonishingly beautiful surroundings. A truly diverse, multicultural population. A vibrant economy with ties to East Asia and the rest of the world. An Olympics host city. A harbour that puts the rest of the country’s ports to shame. Come on guys. What are you doing in the top 5? This is a controversial matter because Vancouver claims to be, and by most measures is, a world class Alpha city. And it gets strange when you dig into the individual crime statistics.
Yes, the homicide rate is slightly higher than average but it’s still fairly low for a big city at 1.94 per 100,000. Assault comes in at a rate of 396 per 100,000 which is below the average of 431. Sexual assault is fairly high at 70.82 compared to the average for Canada of 56.56. But firearms offences are about half the average. Both robberies and break & enter are almost double the national rate, while fraud is about 25% higher than average. Impaired driving is below average while drugs offences are average or slightly higher than average. Youth crime is only a quarter of Canada’s average. So how did Vancouver earn a CSI of 114 placing it 5th on our list? It must mean that property crimes (robbery, break & enter, and fraud) are given fairly high weights when calculating the Crime Severity Index.
- CSI: 114 (35th)
- Violent CSI: 98 (37th)
4. Edmonton, Alberta – population 969,068
Edmonton has a CSI of 118, which is very high for a CMA. Yet, once again, none of its individual crime statistics stand out as being incredibly bad. It’s just that the accumulation of fairly bad statistics in most categories means your CSI will inevitably be bad. Homicides at 3.92 per 100,000 are slightly more than double the national average. Fairly bad. While assaults are a little lower than average, sexual assaults come in at a rate that’s about 50% higher than average. Fairly bad if not worse. Firearms offences have an incidence rate of 7.95 per 100,000 which is above the 6.79 average for Canada. Fairly bad for a larger city in Canada. Robberies are more than double the average. Bad to fairly bad. Break & enter is almost 50% higher than average. Fairly bad. Fraud is close to double the average. Bad to fairly bad. Impaired driving and cannabis trafficking are less than average but other drugs offences are almost double the averages. Fairly bad. Youth crime at 13 incidents per 100,000 population is lower than average but much higher than most CMAs. Fairly bad. Edmonton has a widespread crime problem across all types of crime. This will not be easy to solve.
- CSI: 118 (31st)
- Violent CSI: 123 (25th)
3. Victoria, British Columbia – population 367,770 (Greater Victoria)
The fact that what was once a quaint city of hilly streets, incredible views, and weather that did not seem Canadian, is now in the top 3 CMAs for high Crime Severity Indexes shows how crime can be a problem anywhere and everywhere. How does Victoria end up with a CSI of 119? Let’s find out.
Homicide rates for Victoria are low, 0.95 which is slightly more than half Canada’s rate. Firearms offences are low as well at 2.86 per 100,000 population, less than half Canada’s average. But the assault rate is two and a half times the average and the sexual assault rate is over twice the average. Robberies and break & enter are about 50% higher while fraud is around 25% higher. Impaired driving and drug offences are noticeably higher than average while the youth crime rate is just under Canada’s average, which once again, is high for a CMA. There’s a problem with these numbers, however. The data gives Victoria’s population as 104,777. But greater Victoria has a population of 367,770, which is over 3 times greater. Is it possible that the statisticians at Maclean’s used crime figures for greater Victoria but used the city of Victoria’s population as the base? If so, then all these numbers are 3 times too large, which would take Victoria out of the top 3 and put it way down on our list, where it belongs.
- CSI: 119 (30th)
- Violent CSI: 116th (27th)
2. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – population 266,064
Saskatoon must be tired of being at or near the top of these type lists, but facts are facts and their crime statistics suck, to put it bluntly. Everything is double or at least 50% higher than average. Homicides are double the average. Assault is 50% higher. Sexual assault is double the average. Robbery is double. Break & enter is about double. Fraud is almost 50% higher. The good news? Impaired driving is less than average while firearm offences are only about 25% higher than average. Drug offences are average or slightly higher. The bad news? The youth crime rate is atrocious at almost 147 incidents per 100,000 population. That’s almost 9 times the average for Canada. That’s a problem that Saskatoon and more than a few smaller cities and towns out West are still struggling with. We’ll all have to be patient as far as a solution is concerned. And meantime we should all look elsewhere for a place to live and work when faced with a CSI of 128 and a Violent CSI of 129.
- CSI: 128 (22nd)
- Violent CSI: 129 (24th)
1.Regina, Saskatchewan – population 223,637
Regina has similar but slightly higher CSI and Violent CSI numbers compared to Saskatoon, at 132 and 133 respectively. But its individual crime statistics don’t seem to support this. The homicide rate is 3.58 per 100,000 compared to Saskatoon’s higher rate, while it’s assault and sexual assault rates are slightly over average levels compared to Saskatoon’s being much higher. Firearms offences are noticeably higher at 25.93, which is over 3 times the average for Canada. Robbery, break & enter, and fraud are double, 50%, and about 30% higher than the averages which is less than Saskatoon. Impaired driving is noticeably higher, but drug offences are about the same or lower compared to Saskatoon. And youth crime while very high is 6 times the average compared to 9 times in Saskatoon. Could the difference be due to the higher firearms violations? Is armed robbery a much bigger problem in Regina? Either way, both cities have and have had crime problems for quite a while now and will have to show some innovative ways to make their cities safer for their residents.
- CSI: 132 (20th)
- Violent CSI: 133 (17th)
We admit it. When we said we were about to list 16 major Canadian cities to avoid we knew perfectly well that you can’t avoid 16 major cities in Canada if you’re looking for a place to work and live. We don’t have the same choice that people in the U.S. do, for example. No one who has a good job offer in Toronto will think twice about its CSI of 59 which is astonishingly safe for a large metropolitan city. But it’s always a good idea to examine your assumptions about crime and safety in Canada and see where some of the dangers lie. Vancouver and especially Victoria have surprisingly high crime rates. We wonder if perhaps some of the statistics behind these are perhaps a little flawed in their methodology, but without the base data, it’s hard to tell. What we do know is that Canadians value their peace and order (and good government) and any city that wishes to attract hard-working and skilled migrants or native-born workers needs to solve its crime problems. Getting the information out there is the first step.
Riley Haas has been a leading expert since 2011 on immigration matters, with hundreds of publications online. Published author of three books about political philosophy, the Beatles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. BA from Bishop’s University, MA from McMaster University. You follow Riley on Substack https://rileyhaas.substack.com.