Toronto Star

Wednesday, June 9, 1999

Youth crime dropping, StatsCan says

But others (even youths themselves) disagree with the analysts

By Michelle Shephard
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Countering recent highly publicized episodes of teen violence, Statistics Canada analysts are emphasizing what they say is a downward trend in youth crime in the past decade.

``Contrary to popular belief, youth crime is neither widespread, nor is it rising,'' says an article by four analysts in the summer issue of Canadian Social Trends, a StatsCan publication released yesterday.

The report's conclusions are based on the rate of youths charged with crimes between 1987 and 1997.

The article comes in the wake of highly publicized high school shootings in Littleton, Colo., and Taber, Alta., as well as other sensational youth crimes reported in the media.

The report also serves to widen a growing gap between criminologists - who insist youth violence is decreasing - and youth workers and many youths themselves, who insist it's on the rise.

``The reality is that school and youth violence has increased dramatically in the last 15 years,'' said Stu Auty, president of Canadian Safe School Network. ``Any retiring teacher will tell you that.

``The truth does not lie in manipulation in statistics. You can interpret statistics any way you choose.''

Rosemary Gartner, director of the University of Toronto Centre of Criminology, agrees that statistics are only one part of the picture.

But she emphasizes that increased media coverage of violent events involving youths has distorted the public's perception of the issue.

``I agree that statistics don't tell stories. It's people who tell stories using statistics,'' Gartner said yesterday.

``But greater coverage of youth violence in the media, as well as a greater sensitivity and intolerance for violence, has heightened public attention.''

The Youth And Crime report released yesterday - authored by Kathryn Stevenson, Jennifer Tufts, Diane Hendricks and Melanie Kowalski - shows the rate of criminal charges against youths in 1997 was virtually the same as it was in 1987.

The report also states that the over-all violent crime rate during the same period has increased by 102 per cent.

The Statistics Canada study used youth crime data from 179 police agencies in six provinces, including Ontario.

It found that 121,122 youths aged 12 to 17 - less than 5 per cent of the youth population - were charged with crimes in 1997.

``I know the general trend of youth violence is down, but when I talk to officers in the schools and teachers, I'm seeing more and more instances of violence,'' said Sergeant Brian O'Connor of Toronto Police youth programs.

``We have road rage increasing on the streets for adults and I think we're getting some sort of hall rage for students in schools that carries out into the community.''

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