Should crime be an election issue?

As the Federal Conservatives are pushing through new “tough-on-crime” legislation at the national level, many people are left wondering “why?” The crime rate in Canada, afterall, is the lowest it has ever been in almost 30 years – and that rate has been in general decline during that same time.

But here in Newfoundland and Labrador – on the northeast Avalon especially – crime is becoming more and more of a problem. While Stats Canada reports that nationally crime decreased by 4% in 2009, the total crime rate in St. John’s actually saw an increase of 4% – and our capital city now has the seventh-highest metropolitan crime index.

With money comes prosperity, but it also brings nastier elements of society – that quite frankly us Newfoundlanders aren’t used to. Disappearing are the days where we can leave our car idling in front of the convenience store, leave our front doors unlocked when we go out, or walk with confidence through any part of the city at any time.

Morgan Murray of The Scope published an interesting article in September’s issue that you can read here. In the article, Morgan addresses the anecdotal evidence of increased “holdups” throughout the metro region with a list of the reported robberies from January to August of 2011. I have taken Morgan’s list and filtered it through an interactive map; and presenting these incidents geographically paints an alarming picture.

View Holdups in St. John’s in a larger map

The intent here is not to spread fear – St. John’s is still a relatively safe place to live. There’s no need to call in the Canadian Forces. But the stats are undisputed in that crime is steadily rising, and our map tells us that it’s not concentrated in any one area. So who do we look to for solutions?

And that’s the kicker; the trouble with crime is that, as alluded to earlier, it is a responsibility of multiple levels of government. Under the Canadian constitution, the power to establish criminal law and rules of investigation and trying crimes is vested in the federal government, but it is up to each province to enforce those laws. The federal government doesn’t have all of the power to address the all-encompassing issue, and neither does the province – yet the city, where the crimes happen, has little power.

So in the middle of a provincial election, when a debate is ongoing on a national scale concerning crime in our country, isn’t the timing perfect to start asking some questions about here at home? For example, if the Federal government is enacting new measures that will likely increase the rate of incarceration, and the rate of crime is increasing in our province – what does the future hold for our prison system? With a jointly funded penitentiary on Forest Road that is on its last legs, should there be a jointly funded solution?

Is crime an issue our provincial parties should address during this election? I think so. Do you?

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