Taking a bite out of crime

The Guelph Mercury, 3/11/2009CatBurglar

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.

One Response to Taking a bite out of crime

  1. John White on October 28, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Dear Editor – Re: “Kovach taking a bite out of crime” (Guelph Mercury, March 12).

    As the campaign manager for the 2008 Kovach federal election campaign, I don’t think that anyone would accuse either myself or Gloria Kovach of being thin skinned when it comes to articles in the Mercury. However, I feel compelled to respond to Greg Mercer’s drive-by smear that attempts to masquerade as a column. It is wrong, misguided, and represents what I feel to be a personal attack.

    To begin, let me address the content of the article.

    Mercer attempts to use a March 16 Maclean’s article to invalidate a statement made by Kovach made seven months ago (on Aug. 20). That statement was responding to a report by the Canadian Press indicating that drug crime in Guelph has risen at a rate 2.5 times higher than its growth.

    The Maclean’s article is a ranking, essentially ranking Guelph with respect to other cities in Canada, and does not indicate whether crime has risen or fallen, only how we are doing with respect to other cities. Surely Mercer can understand the difference in the two reports.

    Of course, if Mercer would care to turn over the left page of the Maclean’s report, he would see the lead article, which clearly states (in large, bold, easy to read type) that “Gang-related crime is rising, overwhelming the authorities.”

    Hardly a reason to send the police home.

    I originally moved to Guelph from Toronto, in part because I know that Guelph has a lower crime rate than Toronto. But when my car windows were smashed in last summer so that thieves could grab a cheap piece of electronics, I didn’t feel all that great that we were better than Vancouver, I simply wished that we could be better.

    The election was more than five months ago. This is a newspaper, not a historical or political journal. If this had appeared under the guise of an editorial, I might be able to understand it, but there it is, on page 2.

    Is there really so little going on in Guelph? If not, and if you really want to talk about Kovach, why not talk about her work on council?

    She and Christine Billings they are providing the only voices of restraint on a council that seems hell-bent on spending current and future taxpayer money like drunken sailors.

    I’m not sure what motivated this attack that came, from my perspective, out of the blue. Was it the fact that Kovach has had little time for reporters since the election? Is it the fact that her stands on council have drawn the ire of the Guelph Civic League and their cronies? I’m concerned as to what this newspaper will be able to report on once Guelph has run out of dead horses to flog.

    This is not the first time this newspaper has allowed a personal attack on Kovach from one of its columnists to go to print, but I sincerely hope that it will be the last.

    — John White, Guelph

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