Violent crime has technically been worse in Canada, but never quite like this. As recently as the early 1990s, the rate of knives and bullets being driven into Canadians was far higher than it is now.
Just on Wednesday, a 17-year-old boy was stabbed and killed on a bus in Surrey, B.C. The tragedy occurs just two weeks after a 16-year-old was killed in a similar incident in a Toronto subway station. And in the interim have come a host of transit stabbings which didn’t make national headlines because the blades missed vital organs.
And worst of all, the crime is everywhere.
When Toronto was struck by the so-called “summer of the gun” in 2005, it was a shocking anomaly within a country that was otherwise enjoying another year of dropping crime.
In the first months of 2023, skyrocketing violent crime is the new reality in basically every Canadian time zone.
In Saskatchewan, First Nations leaders are sounding the alarm on a “crisis” of on-reserve violence. Newfoundland and Labrador is coping with a 20 per cent increase in violent crime severity. In the Yukon territory, politicians and RCMP officials are reporting crime that is both “more intense” and “increasing dramatically.”
A new survey published this week by the Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that two thirds of Canadians believe violent crime is visibly worse than it was before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of respondents, one fifth said they had feared for their safety in the last six months. One in every 20 said they had personally been assaulted.
Amid all the violence is a term that was relatively rare prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic: “Unprovoked random attack.”
It was during the second summer of the COVID-19 pandemic that Vancouver Police officers first started noticing that a disproportionate number of their calls involved random civilians being punched, pushed or stabbed for no reason.
“Over the last fer months, we’ve noticed what appears to be an uptick in unprovoked stranger attacks,” reads a Vancouver Police statement from October 2021. The statement added that, according to their records, 1,705 Vancouverites had been the victim of an “unprovoked stranger assault” in the last year.
It was to be a preview of coming attractions.
Within months, the “stranger attack” phenomenon was in full swing in Toronto, particularly on the city’s buses, streetcars and subway system. At the opening of 2023, John Di Nino, the head of the union representing TTC workers, said the violence was already at “crisis level.”
Just last week In Edmonton, city officials reported a 53 per cent spike in attacks on its transit system, with 70 per cent of those being chalked up to “unprovoked random attacks.”
In an April 3 letter, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police demanded an urgent meeting with the country’s premiers to discuss what they called an “intensive escalation of violence.”
Chief among this escalation was the killing of eight on-duty Canadian police officers in just the last six months. For context, between 1961 and 2009, a grand total of 133 Canadian police officers were murdered in the line of duty – an average of one every four and a half months.
“The number of murders of police officers has resulted in stark comparisons with countries like the United States, to which we have never before found reason to compare,” wrote the CACP.
Historically, if a Canadian police officer was murdered in the line of duty it was almost always incidental; an officer would be shot and killed while intervening in a domestic dispute or while attempting to apprehend a suspect.
But this latest rash of police killings has consisted disproportionately of targeted attacks. Two Edmonton police constables gunned down as they approached a residence on a domestic disturbance call. An Ontario Provincial Police officer shot in an ambush during a routine traffic stop. A Toronto police officer executed as he took his lunch break at a Mississauga Tim Hortons.
It’s not so much that C-75 resulted in more offenders getting bail; pre-trial detention was always a rare measure for accused offenders. Rather, it’s that C-75 utterly gutted the ability of police to punish an offender who refuses to abide by the usual expectations of conditional release.
When someone is released from custody – either on bail or parole – they’re often handed a suite of “release conditions.” The standard condition is to abstain from drugs, alcohol or the possession of weapons. In the case of domestic abuse charges, they may be hit with an order to avoid a victim’s home or place of work.
In the pre-C-75 era, getting caught in breach of these conditions would often result in an immediate 30 days in jail – particularly if it wasn’t a first offence. But C-75 not only pushes judges to grant release in virtually all cases, it denies them the ability to consider whether the accused has done this before.
“When bail/release is being considered for repeat offenders, it’s hard to establish that they have a significant past history of not respecting the conditions imposed on them, which makes it far more likely they’ll receive bail over and over,” wrote Michael Gendron, spokesperson for the Canadian Police Association, in an email to the National Post.