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Crime Rates Grow Post-Pandemic

Historical Vaughan Street Jail

As of June 2023, more than 2000 people were in Manitoba jails. In youth correctional facilities, there are over 100 people jailed. This is the highest number of incarcerated individuals in Manitoba in 10 years. Beyond the data, the city itself has felt more dangerous for people throughout. What was once localised to particular neighbourhoods has become a city-wide issue. To many, it seems like the city has become more dangerous in the past ten years, and the data reflects what Winnipeggers have been feeling.

According to data published by the Manitoba government, the inmate count during the 2022/23 fiscal year increased 12 per cent compared to the 2021/22 fiscal year. This increased rate of incarceration coincides with an enormous increase in violent crime. While crimes related to drugs and traffic saw a decline from 2021, property crimes and violent offences saw dramatic increases.

According to the Winnipeg Police Service, 2022 was the worst year for violent crime the city has seen in 13 years. Violent crime in Winnipeg -which includes homicides, kidnappings and assaults- rose 19 per cent from 2021. The tally on violent crimes also reflected a 24 per cent increase compared to the average rate of the past five years.

In 2022 the city also saw the highest toll of murders on record after 53 homicides were committed, an increase of 23 per cent from 2021. This increase in violent offences has led Winnipeg’s jails to reach their limit, as two-thirds of Manitoba’s six jails are already beyond their capacity. Total crimes in Winnipeg increased dramatically, 25.6 per cent from 2021. Youth crimes in the city had substantial increases as well. Aggravated assault charges against youth offenders increased 56 per cent since 2021 while robberies by young offenders increased a whopping 95 per cent in 2022, according to the Winnipeg Police Service annual report.

Provinces across the country have each had to deal with an increasing wave of crime since the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted. Winnipeg has stood out compared to all other cities in Canada, with a population over 100,000 in regard to the Crime Severity Index (CSI). According to the Stats Canada website, the crime severity index “measures changes in the level of severity of crime in Canada from year to year. In the index, all crimes are assigned a weight based on their seriousness. The level of seriousness is based on actual sentences handed down by the courts in all provinces and territories… More serious offences have a greater impact on changes in the index. “

In 2021 Winnipeg ranked fifth in the country for crime severity index rating in a city with a population over 100,000. Winnipeg’s crime severity index score in 2022 was 150, an increase of over 26 per cent from 2021 and the highest of any Canadian city with a population over 100,000. Additionally, Winnipeg’s violent crime severity index score increased 23 per cent to 207.8

In the entire province of Manitoba, the crime severity index increased by 14 per cent from 2021 compared to 2022. This is the largest spike seen in any province over the last year. This starkly contrasts the national average CSI, which increased 4 per cent. Manitoba’s CSI in 2021 was 146.49, second among the provinces (behind Saskatchewan at 152.46), while the violent CSI for Manitoba in 2021 was 210.93, a 15 per cent increase. The national average CSI per province is 78.10, while the national average Violent CSI is 97.74 per province.

Despite these data, the recidivism rate in Manitoba has decreased in recent years. Peaking at 33 per cent in 2017/18, the rearrest within two years has gradually gone down to 21 per cent in 2022. Additionally, the average time an individual waits from their first hearing to their final disposition has increased year to year since 2018/19, with an average wait time of 235 days in 2021/22. This has led to cases in which a defence attorney files for a case to be dismissed due to unreasonable delay increasing year to year as well since 2018/19, with 28 claims filed in 2021.

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The pandemic year saw a decrease in crime in all provinces and a majority of cities from coast to coast as people were encouraged to stay inside across the country. In Manitoba, in particular, jail populations actually decreased as much as 30 per cent from February to May 2020, a total of 618 fewer people incarcerated in Manitoba jails in that period. This marked the lowest inmate count in Manitoba in a decade.

The mindset at the time among the provincial judiciary was to have as few people as possible in Manitoba jails in order to avoid spreading COVID-19.

Since the lockdowns have ended and people have returned to living life, crime has gone up nationally, first steadily increasing in 2021 and again in 2022. As has been stated, Manitoba has seen some of the most severe increases in the country. More people than usual were given a chance at bail, and more early releases were offered. Courts across the country took to the same strategy, and jail populations decreased across the country. This left some wondering if this was an indication that our prisons were being overused in the first place. 

Howard Sapers, the formal federal correctional investigator, said in an interview with CBC, “What it tells me about how we use jail, in general, is that we overuse it.”

In the same interview, he went on to say, “If it’s safe to release these people now or to not incarcerate them, to begin with… then it was probably safe before we had this virus. We’ve gotten very comfortable with using custody when we really don’t have to.”

The pandemic also left Manitoba courts with a mess of problems from the pandemic year. According to the Provincial Court of Manitoba Annual Report 2021-2022, there was an increase in cases that took longer than 18 months to complete. The previous average of under 4 per cent rose to nine per cent. This substantial increase is likely due to delays caused in 2020, which carried over into 2021. The significance of this figure pertains to a Supreme Court ruling that provincial cases must be heard within 18 months.

In November of last year, Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen rolled out a plan to track down people with warrants as well as increased supervision of those on probation or who are a high risk to commit another crime. The primary goal of this initiative is to catch more criminals sooner before they are able to commit more crimes. Goertzen has said of the plan, “You’re going to end up with a higher prison population, which again isn’t a bad thing if it’s taking those who would otherwise be a risk to the community and taking them off the street.”

While Winnipeg plays host to the world as the Police and fire games are hosted here every year, we have a lot of work left to do at home. The government of Manitoba plans to continue investing in modernized techniques to target dangerous and high-risk offenders. Among other ideas, the province has committed to doubling the number of police officers patrolling downtown Winnipeg.

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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