Nanaimo dangerous? For whom?

Nanaimo is a tough town according to MacLean's Magazine.

Nanaimo is a tough town according to Maclean’s Magazine.

For the second year running, Nanaimo ranks 12th on the national news magazine’s Most Dangerous Cities list.

The magazine published its rankings Dec. 15, based on Statistics Canada’s Crime Severity Index scores for 2010.

Maclean’s looks at six crime categories – homicide, sexual assault, aggravated assault, robbery, breaking and entering and auto theft – and ranks each community based on each crime’s annual rate of occurrence per 100,000 people and compares those figures to the national average.

Nanaimo sits at 50.1 per cent above the national average for the six crime categories combined, but compares favourably to Prince George, B.C., ranked as Canada’s most dangerous city with a crime rate of 113 per cent above the national average.

The Maclean’s rankings never fail to generate plenty of discussion and disagreement.

John Anderson, Vancouver Island University’s Criminology Department chairman, wonders if Nanaimo really is dangerous, and for whom?

“The problem is with the word ‘dangerous’, because a high crime rate does not in and of itself, imply danger,” Anderson said. “We have to ask the question, ‘Dangerous for who?'”

Anderson said a young man, especially a minority male, living in an inner city or on an urban reserve in Canada, faces a higher risk of being affected by crime than a middle-aged, middle-income Caucasian man living in the suburbs.

“Because we don’t expose ourselves to the same risks,” he said. “It really does depend on who you are and where you spend your time.”

Anderson said crime rates across the country continues to drop and Statistic Canada is reporting Canadians are much less likely to experience crime of all types.

Nanaimo’s crime overall continues to plummet, down 26.9 per cent from figures for 2005.

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said the Nanaimo detachment pays little attention to rankings and gives more credance to statistics from its criminal analyst.

There have been short-term spikes in robberies and homicides in Nanaimo in the past two years, he said.

Spikes of even small numbers of a specific type of crime can significantly skew figures for that crime. For example, if a city has no homicides in one year, but has one murder the next year, the homicide rate just jumped 100 per cent.

Sexual offences, including a series of 13 cases where women were groped in 2009, helped push Nanaimo from Canada’s 21st most dangerous city in the Mclean’s rankings to 12th place in 2010.

Cases involving Internet child pornography also skewed Nanaimo’s sexual offence rankings in the last two years.

“In one 72-hour period, we had six or seven robberies and that will cause a significant spike,” O’Brien said. “We’d be really concerned on a spike if over a four or five year period we are significantly over the national average.”

Nanaimo is not immune to violence, but police keep close tabs on gangs and organized crime to nip potential problems in the bud, he said.

“Prince George has one of the highest murder rates in Canada,” O’Brien said. “Does that make it an unsafe city or does that make it unsafe for people who are involved in organized crime and are dealing drugs? Those are targeted hits.”

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said he believes police in Nanaimo are doing a good job and the Mclean’s article is a disservice to the communities.

“We find it a little bit hard to understand, if we have a 26-per cent decrease in crime and a high clearance of solved cases, how we could be considered in that high range?” said Ruttan.

Anderson said most Canadians are not concerned about crime.

“I’m one of the tens of millions of Canadians that’s going to have an ordinary day,” he said.