Should we be surprised that Stephen Harper?s omnibus Tackling Violent Crime bill was introduced the same week that StatsCan reported a 10 per cent decrease in the national homicide rate? In fact, the national crime rate has reached its lowest point in 25 years.
I was doing a phone-in show last week to take the opportunity to condemn Harper's misguided and unprincipled proposals when a caller confronted me with a surprising statistic: that the rate of crime in Canada is now 50 per cent higher than in the United States.
This led the caller to conclude that Harper's American-crafted, get-tough crime policy will help Canada get control of its crime problem.
To prove his point the caller e-mailed me the articles he relied upon, and all roads led to neo-conservative commentator and former George Bush speechwriter David Frum.
In 2006 Frum decreed in the National Post that "you are now more likely to be mugged in Toronto than in New York. It seems incredible, but it's true."
Of course Frum offers no empirical support for his claim, but this does not stop him from then championing American crime policies because "prison works," as does "enforcing laws against vagrancy, prostitution and drug dealing."
I remember David Frum from when we were both Canadian students enrolled in a freedom of expression class at Harvard Law School back in 1985. He talked a lot. He was very dogmatic.
I was not really very surprised when I heard that he coined the famous phrase "axis of evil" for George W. Bush's state of the union address in 2002. But I never thought that Frum's love affair with the American dream would lead him to spread lies that crime in his homeland is spiralling out of control.
I searched in vain for any statistical source supporting Frum and found nothing. His statement is an irresponsible assertion of political ideology masked in the language of social science and statistics.
Crime comparisons between different nations is a difficult task. You cannot compare raw numbers. Definitions of crime vary from country to country, as do the methods of collecting and compiling statistical data.
However, in 2001 StatsCan did complete this arduous task and concluded that the "U.S. has much higher rates of violent crime, while Canada generally has higher rates of property crime."
We have a higher property crime rate not because we are a nation of thieves but because we score 30 per cent higher than the Americans for break and enter and motor vehicle theft and 40 per cent higher for arson.
But when it comes to violence, the Americans still hold the title - a murder rate three times higher than ours, a robbery rate 65 per cent higher and an aggravated assault rate a staggering 100 per cent higher. These results were replicated by Statistics Canada in 2005.
I checked U.S. Department of Justice reports to confirm my suspicion that the violent crime in the U.S. has risen in the past few years while property crime continues to decline.
Frum is just plain ignorant.
Actually the numbers tell us very little about the nature of our perceived crime problem.
It is clear that there was an explosion in crime rates in North America between 1960 and 1990, but since then the numbers continue to level off and slowly decline.
The declining numbers do not address the perception - fuelled by writers who sadly try to prop up their political ideology by playing with numbers - that crime today is more random, more brutal and more pervasive.
But misrepresenting and manipulating numbers is not only the practice of right-wing demagogues. Progressive liberals on the left are equally adept at distorting for political gain.
Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine made waves ridiculing American gun-loving criminal justice policies by painting a picture of a sleepy and crime-free Canada where people leave their doors unlocked.
In Moore's world, Canadians only expect their unlocked doors to be approached by neighbours bearing some baklava and not strangers wearing balaclavas. In Frum's world, it's unsafe to walk the streets of Toronto for fear of being mugged by a cracked-out panhandler.
With such divergent perceptions of the true nature of crime in Canada, it becomes increasingly difficult to construct a rational criminal justice policy.
In developing the Tackling Violent Crime Act bill, I don't think Harper has really made the effort to comprehensively study the "crime problem," but we can at least conclude that he likes Frum's books more than Moore's films.
Alan Young is a professor of law at Osgoode Hall.email@example.com