What is the Least Safe City in Canada?

There's often a disconnect between what people feel to be true and what is true, and when it comes to safety in Canada's biggest cities, that fact bears out (to a point, at least).

Recently, Mainstreet Research revealed that a new Mainstreet/Postmedia poll found that, according to Canadians, Mississauga's nearest and dearest neighbour to the east—Toronto—is one of the least safe cities in Canada.

The most unsafe city according to residents?

Winnipeg.

"In 2016 Mainstreet Research (@MainStResearch) began looking at Canadian perceptions of safety across 15 major cities following the release of Statistics Canada crime statistics in attempt to measure relevant differences. A few consistent patterns have emerged in 2016 and largely those trends have continued in 2017," said Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Research.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), those surveyed were not asked about safety perceptions of Toronto's satellite cities, so there's no data on how safe people feel in Mississauga. That said, we can glean some idea of perceptions of safety from people's feelings about Toronto—the closest major urban centre to our fair city.

"With just a single exception in the City of Toronto, cities that are the seat of provincial government have a relatively higher perception of safety than other urban centres in their home province. Victoria, Edmonton, Regina and Quebec City all have higher perceived safety when compared to Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon & Montreal respectively. In Ontario where the nation's capital continues to have higher perceived safety than Toronto, the pattern does continue but in this case, the city with the House of Commons outperforms the city with Queen's Park."

So, what city do people think is the safest?

"Ottawa continues to lead the pack among the 15 cities surveyed in 2017, increasing by net +4 per cent over 2016 despite an increase in both its overall crime rate by 5% and Crime Severity Index by 10 per cent," Maggi says. "The centre of Canada 150 celebrations this year and the ongoing concentration of media being related to issues of the federal government, makes Ottawa Canada's safest city."

People don't feel quite so safe in Toronto—even though they should.

"Toronto lies at the other end of the spectrum and continues near the bottom of the list of safe cities in contrast to the lowest crime rate among the 15 cities that were surveyed," Maggi says. "Toronto did see a two per cent increase in crime rate and a five per cent increase in its Crime Severity Index, but dropped 11 per cent with 40 per cent saying Toronto was safe, and a majority (52 per cent) saying Toronto was unsafe (-12). Toronto again joined Winnipeg as the only two cities that have a net negative perceived safety."

According to the report, Toronto actually has the lowest crime rate of the 15 major cities in Canada. In fact, the report indicates that when considering how many people live in the city, Toronto is one of the safest municipalities in Canada.

One reason behind the misconception? Media attention. The more crimes—even rare ones—make their way into the news, the more common people think they are. Although there's no data on Mississauga or Peel in general, it's not uncommon to hear calls for increased police presence and attention from the mayor from the public after crimes are reported on by the media.

"The other trend we have seen continued in 2017 is the correlation between media concentration and perceptions of relative safety. A single violent crime that occurs in Toronto or Montreal, could have dozens of media mentions and potentially be shared on social media hundreds or thousands of times while the same crime in smaller urban centres does not get the same amplification effect."

So, where would people move to feel safe?

"Atlantic Canada is perceived as safe by most Canadians but not necessarily as highly by Atlantic Canadians," the report says. "Charlottetown, St. John's and Moncton are all in the Top 5 while Halifax remains in seventh spot of safest cities with Charlottetown continuing second to only Ottawa. The only Western Canadian city to make the Top 5 was the capital of B.C., Victoria," finished Maggi.

And what city actually has the highest crime rate of major cities Canada?

Believe it or not, it's Regina, Saskatchewan (and Saskatoon isn't far behind, as it boasts the second highest crime rate). While both cities have much lower homicide rates than, say, Toronto (which had 96 homicides in 2016, compared to Regina's eight), their small populations make their homicide numbers (Saskatoon had 10 homicides in 2016) more alarming.

The Mainstreet/Postmedia poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.16 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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