The Guelph Mercury, 3/11/2009
So does this mean we can finally put away the pepper spray?
Because all this time I had been triple-locking the doors and sleeping with one eye open. I thought we were all at risk of imminent assault from the bands of criminals one of our city councillors assured us were out to get us.
In the run-up to the last federal election, Conservative candidate and city councillor Gloria Kovach made hay suggesting crime was on the increase in Guelph. The Canadian Press story she based her declaration on was misleading, but the candidate jumped all over it anyway.
Why let reality get in the way of good old-fashioned political alarm-bell ringing?
The message from Kovach way back then was that Guelph families were “at risk” and only the Conservatives could save them. She pointed out Guelph’s population had increased by eight per cent since 2000, but drug possession charges were up by 50 per cent since then.
Seems pretty bad, doesn’t it? Never mind that a 50 per cent increase in drug charges only meant a whopping 342 of them in 2007, or less than one a day. And never mind that our own police chief says that’s not because the incidents of drug trade are going up, but instead because his officers are just making efforts to lay more charges.
“Crime really is not going up,” Guelph Police Chief Rob Davis said at the time. “It has to do with the amount of resources you have to throw at a problem.”
The same report that sparked Kovach’s alarm also showed sexual assault charges hadn’t increased since 2000, and weapons charges had only marginally increased, despite a growing population. And, as for the increase in the violent crime charges, they’re largely the result of new legislation that removes a police officer’s discretion in laying charges when responding to domestic assault complaints.
Then along comes Maclean’s magazine last week, and as they are wont to do, they produced a ranking. And, what does it show? The same thing the police here have known for years, and what Davis was saying a few months ago — that while there is crime here, Guelph remains one of the safest places in the country to live.
In three of six categories produced by the magazine using Statistics Canada crime data, Guelph and Wellington County were among the top 10 Canadian communities with the lowest rates of crime, out of the 100 communities counted in the study. When it comes to being robbed, having your house broken into or getting your car stolen, it’s far less likely to happen here than a lot of other places.
Overall, Wellington County’s crime rate is 74 per cent lower than the national average.
Of course some sort of crime happens every day in our city and county. But stoking fear about it is irresponsible and dishonest. It plays on people’s anxieties and the belief the world is a dangerous place.
As a member of the city’s police services board, Kovach should have known Guelph’s crime rate was low compared with many of our neighbours. Like Waterloo Region, for example, where this week police were on the hunt for gunmen after the region’s fifth shooting this year.
Kovach should have known better. But she did it anyway.
“Liberals like Stéphane Dion and Frank Valeriote must realize that their soft on crime approach has consequences,” she wrote in a press release at the time. “Under the Liberal approach criminals are set free and crime goes up.”
Kovach lost the election by 1,792 votes.
Maybe she should blame all those drug dealers, thieves and cat burglars who must have made their way out to the ballot boxes.