Is violent crime on the rise in Nunavut?

Violent crime exceeds property crime in Nunavut.


IQALUIT — In 2000, Nunavummiut racked up the highest per capita rate of violent crime in Canada, as Nunavut’s overall crime rate shot up 17 per cent in the first full year of the territory’s existence.

Annual crime rate numbers released last week by Statistics Canada show that 6,130 Nunavummiut were charged with criminal offences in 2000, compared with only 5,085 in 1999.

But do these numbers mean that Nunavut society is getting more violent?

Staff Sgt. Mark Hennigar, the operations chief for Nunavut’s “V” division of the RCMP, says the increase in numbers between 1999 and 2000 may be due to variations in reporting methods.

“I would question very highly the numbers before I would base too much on them,” Hennigar said. “I don’t know the actual method of collecting there.”

The numbers appear to show that the rate of violent crime among all groups in Nunavut — males, females, adults, young offenders — increased from 1999 to 2000.

But Hennigar says that RCMP members in Nunavut didn’t notice much difference in the amount of work they had to do between 1999 and 2000.

“I don’t think there was a heck of a lot of difference at all,” Hennigar said.

Another unique feature of crime in Nunavut is that the incidence of violent crime is greater than the incidence of non-violent property crime.

That makes Nunavut the only jurisdiction in Canada where the number of people charged with violent crimes is greater than the number of people charged with property crimes.

For example, Yukon and the Northwest Territories each have higher crime rates than Nunavut — because their rates of property crime are much higher.

But each of the other two territories have rates of violent crime that are lower than Nunavut’s. The Yukon’s violent crime rate is only about half that of Nunavut’s, while the NWT’s violent crime rate is about three-quarters of Nunavut’s.

Hennigar couldn’t offer an explanation of why this is happening, except that perhaps property crimes are dealt with informally in many Nunavut communities.

In contrast to Nunavut, Canada’s overall crime rate dropped by 4.5 per cent in 2000, although there was a 3 per cent increase in violent crime across the country.

As in previous years, crime rates in the northern territories were much higher than in any province.

Although Nunavut may enjoy the dubious distinction of having Canada’s highest rate of violent crime, the Northwest Territories has the highest overall crime rate in Canada.

In Nunavut, it’s mostly males who are responsible for crimes of violence — 676 in 2000, compared with only 484 in 1999. As for females, 119 were charged with major crimes of violence in 1999, compared with 98 in 2000.

The same applies to young males aged 12-17. In 2000, 60 males in Nunavut were charged under the Young Offenders Act with crimes of violence, compared to 35 in 1999.

The rate of property crime, on the other hand, increased less rapidly in Nunavut, from 185 people charged in 1999 to 192 people charged in 2000.

The only bright spot is that fewer young offenders were charged with property crimes in 2000. In that year, 99 young people were charged with property crimes, down from 149 in 1999.

“Youth crime in general in Nunavut is very low,” Hennigar said.

He said he doesn’t know why youth crime in Nunavut is so low compared to adult crime, but he says it may reflect the large numbers of intervention programs that are aimed at young people.

“There’s certainly a lot of work at the community level with intervention with youth, and youth programs. It’s a major priority of ours,” Hennigar said.

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