While the recent Statistics Canada report on violence against young women and girls in Canada’s territories and the northern parts of most of its provinces, reported on in the July 12 edition of the Nickel Belt News, isn’t exactly comforting, given that it shows that females under 25 are more likely to be victims of violence in the north than in the south, but it does help place the problems affecting Thompson in context.
There is little doubt than when Stats Can’s annual Juristat Crime Severity Index is released this month that Thompson will be ranked as one of the most-violent communities with a population over 10,000 people, alongside some other usual suspects like North Battleford, Saskatchewan and Williams Lake. B.C. and likely at least one northern Alberta community. This should come as no surprise to anyone. The Prairie provinces and Western Canada tend to have higher crime rates than central Canada and the east, crime and violence are usually worse than in northern parts of provinces than the south, and Northern Manitoba has pretty high rates of violence and crime, second only to Saskatchewan when it comes to violence against young women and girls. Thompson is a bit of an outlier in that Northern Manitoba sees more violence in its one urban area than in rural areas, but for the most part, the conditions in Thompson would be familiar to people from many other northern communities in Canada.
As RCMP officers in Thompson have noted before, this city is like the downtown of Northern Manitoba, or even its Las Vegas. It attracts people from all around the region, some of whom come here to party, or because they have nowhere to live in their own communities, or even because they want to access services that they can’t get at home, whether it’s health care or education or even just shopping. If they get into a bar fight while they are in Thompson, or a dispute with someone on the street, be it a stranger or someone they know and don’t get along with, and police end up getting called, it may be recorded as an assault and Thompson will become, statistically, just a little more violent as a result.
The fact that Thompson is not unique doesn’t let city leaders off the hook, however. If rising crime becomes a big enough concern that people start leaving town, the population drops, which affects per capita grant funding from the federal and provincial governments. If fewer people and businesses want to be here, property values start dropping and the city collects less revenue from property taxes, which means they start hiking rates and exacerbate the situation by combining high crime with higher taxes. People have been known to sacrifice a lot in exchange for quality of life, but people don’t necessarily equate being eight hours away from the nearest bigger city and having to deal with six months of winter every year as big pros, regardless of how much relatively unspoiled wilderness and fishing and hunting is available nearby.
Many of the problems that put Thompson in the position of having a lot of violent crime per capita are things that city council can not solve themselves, such as poverty and substance abuse and mental health issues. Luckily for people here, with both provincial and federal elections coming in the next few months, now is the perfect time to start asking would-be members of those respective governments what they plan to do to help Thompson become a safer place and what those who were successfully elected in previous elections actually accomplished in that regard.