Pierre Poilievre is exploiting public safety fears to troll for law-and-order votes

His claim that a crime wave is caused by 'woke' politicians is utter nonsense

Pierre Poilievre is exploiting public safety fears to troll for law-and-order votes
Michael Spratt

At a press conference in Edmonton last week, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre claimed that “after eight years of Justin Trudeau and the costly Coalition with the NDP, Trudeau and the NDP have caused [a] crime wave with policies that allow the same repeat violent offenders loose on our streets.”

Poilievre continued, saying that the worst disorder, drug abuse, crime, and chaos are in places “run by woke NDP, Liberal mayors and premiers [whose] policies have unleashed a wicked crime spree across this country.”

Poilievre even brought some statistics to back up his claim, saying that in Vancouver, the same 40 people were arrested 6,000 times last year.

“Classic catch-and-release bail,” said Poilievre.

Of course, this is all nonsense.

Let’s start with a warning about crime data; it is notoriously complex. Arbitrary endpoints, cherry-picked data, and small sample sizes can all be exploited by political grifters looking to stoke fear.

What is clear is that historically speaking, we live in one of the safest periods in history. Canada's Crime Severity Index, a measure of the seriousness of police-reported crime, has decreased by 6 percent in the last decade and a staggering 31 percent since 2000.

This reality can be lost when we focus too narrowly on monthly or yearly numbers. For example, there was an increase in national violent crime from 2018 to 2019, but the crime severity index also increased by more than 5 percent the last year the Harper Conservatives were in power.

But nuisance and honesty don’t make for easy political talking points.

What about these woke NDP mayors and premiers who seem to love crime?

Poilievre dropped the word “woke” not because it has anything to do with crime but as a dog whistle to his supporters. It is a word devoid of meaning except as a cover for his lack of understanding of justice policy.

Because the reality is that outside of the Territories, the Conservative heartland of Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan have the highest crime and violent crime rates in Canada. British Columbia, singled out by Poilievre as a woke dystopia, saw the second-biggest drop in violent crime in Canada from 2020 to 2021.

Violent crime also decreased in Vancouver in 2021 under “NDP mayor” Kennedy Stewart, but that wouldn’t fit Poilievre’s narrative. Crime rates in Toronto and Ottawa increased in 2021 – I suppose we can blame the notoriously woke John Tory and Jim Watson for that.

In 2021, the rate of violent offences, including assault, murder, attempted murder, and other violent interactions (excluding sexual assault), was lower last year than in some years under the Harper Conservative government.

But looking at the numbers gives Poilievre and his surrogates too much credit. None of this is about data or a genuine concern for the safety of our communities. Instead, it is part of a political confidence trick using public safety concerns to sow fear and troll for votes.

Poilievre’s claim, made in the context of a press conference about violent crime, that 40 people were arrested 6,000 times last year in Vancouver, and I am choosing my words carefully here, is bullshit.

If true, this would mean that, on average, these people were arrested 150 times in one year, almost once every other day. I have never seen anything like this in criminal court over two decades. No one has.

Even 150 charges per year, assuming multiple charges per arrest, is unheard of.

At this rate, anyone who is committing violent or any criminal offences is not getting bail.

But perhaps Poilievre was misrepresenting the data and meant 6,000 interactions with police, which is very different from arrests and does nothing to support Poilievre’s contention that there is a “catch-and-release” problem driving violent crime (which decreased in Vancouver anyway).

If the numbers are accurate, I suspect “negative” interactions mean minor property offences, police harassment, by-law tickets, and other non-violent and non-criminal offences.

The New York Times published an article based on NYPD self-reporting that 327 people were arrested 6,000 times for shoplifting offences. This rate is an order of magnitude lower than the numbers Poilievre was throwing around.

Poilievre was not in Edmonton to make a shoplifting announcement. He was there to misrepresent the data and the criminal justice system to score political points.

It is calculated.

It is disingenuous.

And it does an injustice to the critical conversations we should have about criminal justice policy.

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