Shooting the messenger

StatsCan’s recent crime numbers appear to be inconvenient for Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu

Canada is a safer country now than in 1999. According to a Statistics Canada report released this week, it is exactly 17 percent safer now than in those comparatively barbaric pre-millennial days of Brian Tobin and Blink 182. And what crime does occur is, on average, less serious now than two years ago–four percent less serious, to be exact, according to the Crime Severity Index (CSI), which analyses police-reported crime. Not to suggest its all peaches and cream, but we should pat ourselves on our collective back. We live in a place that is safer and less violent than it used to be. Bravo.

Or not. “Someone, somewhere, is manipulating the numbers.” This pithy bit of paranoia didn’t come from a crank or some the-truth-is-out-there freak in his pajamas and tinfoil hat. It’s courtesy of recently appointed Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, who by all accounts is a fine and upstanding fellow. The trouble is that these numbers don’t quite square with Sen. Boisvenu’s agenda, or that of the Conservatives in general, and he’s mad as hell about it.

In 2002, Mr. Boisvenu’s daughter was raped and murdered. It was a tragic, heinous crime, the stuff of nightmares and worse, and I can’t begin to fathom the extent of  Sen. Boisvenu’s pain. He became remarkably pro-active following her murder, founding the Murdered or Missing Persons’ Families’ Association, and campaigning for victims’ rights throughout the country, and last year was appointed to the Senate to give some backbone to the Conservatives law-and-order agenda.

It’s not Sen. Boisvenu’s bona fides that are troubling; it’s his belief that we as a society can’t possibly have progressed because, well, there are still rapes, murders, abductions and misery in our streets–a belief so strong that he’s willing to flout empirical evidence to the contrary. A belief so strong, in fact, that Sen. Boisvenu informed La Presse’s Paul Journet that he’s going to “talk to those [StatsCan] guys” to chat about their methodology. There you have it: if the numbers are inconvenient, Sen. Boisvenu seems to be saying, then the numbers must be wrong.

Aside from reflecting the Conservatives apparent (and bizarre) dislike of Statistics Canada, which is recognized as one of the world’s foremost statistical agencies, Sen. Boisvenu’s sortie brings to mind another Conservative obsession: “getting tough on crime.” This is the mother of all catchphrases against which it is impossible to argue–who doesn’t want to see criminals punished?–yet means next to nothing. (an aside: we are tough on crime, so much so that it’s diminished by nearly 20 percent in 10 years.)

The Conservatives use it to justify things like mandatory minimum sentences and the building of new jails, and to suggest that by “getting tough on crime” their opponents are somehow “soft on crime.” It’s about as cynical as you can get: introduce these policies as “crackdowns”, wait for the statisticians and academics to kvetch, and then sell the whole thing as a populist rejection of the ivory tower types who can’t possibly know what they are talking about. Don’t believe me? Read this excellent piece by colleague John Geddes, and check this choice quote John harvested from the likes of Ian Brodie, Harper’s former chief-of-staff:

“Every time we proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, sociologists, criminologists, defence lawyers and Liberals attacked us for proposing measures that the evidence apparently showed did not work,” Brodie said. “That was a good thing for us politically, in that sociologists, criminologists and defence lawyers were and are all held in lower repute than Conservative politicians by the voting public. Politically it helped us tremendously to be attacked by this coalition of university types.”

A little sickening, isn’t it?

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.