Stats paint a troubled picture

“First Nations poverty is the single greatest social issue in Canada today,” Angus Toulouse, Regional First Nations Chief of Ontario, said in a 2006 speech. “Poverty breeds helplessness and hopelessness, which results in far too many of our young men and women committing crimes of despair.”

Whether it is poverty, lack of opportunity, alienation or a combination thereof, the elevated crime rates frequently experienced in First Nations communities are an open, tragic secret.

While the same group of repeat offenders is often behind many of the offences – as is the case in non-reserve communities – there is no denying the severity of the problem.

That much is illustrated in stark terms by the newly released 2013 crime figures for the reserves surrounding the Flin Flon-Creighton region.

The Reminder obtained from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics the figures for three Saskatchewan reserves: Pelican Narrows, Sandy Bay and Deschambault Lake.

Pelican Narrows had the highest crime rate of the three communities with 92,111 Criminal Code violations per 100,000 population. That is five times the rate in Flin Flon.

Crime rates on the smaller reserves of Deschambault Lake (86,071) and Sandy Bay (80,763) were fairly similar.

Violent crime

Deschambault Lake had the highest per-capita rate of violent crime (23,188), or 11 times higher than that of Flin Flon.

And Deschambault Lake had the highest rate of break-and-enters (4,106), again much higher – five times, to be exact – than in Flin Flon.

Drug violations were significantly higher on all three reserves than in Flin Flon, with the crime most common in Pelican Narrows (1,873).

Motor vehicle theft was a somewhat rare offence on the reserves but transpired most frequently in Pelican Narrows (18 occurences) compared to Deschambault Lake (11) and Sandy Bay (10).

Of course several factors warrant consideration when reviewing this type of data.

For one, the relatively small size of the three reserves means that just a few offences in a category can produce an inflated picture of a particular problem.

Sandy Bay may have had a per-capita arson rate that doubled Flin Flon’s, but the actual number of arsons in Flin Flon (six) was twice that of the reserve.

It is also entirely possible, if not likely, that all three reserves are more populated than the government census suggests. This would skew the per-capita crime rates.

A concern

Residents of the reserves previously contacted by The Reminder agreed that crime is a concern in their communities but did not want all residents to be painted with the same brush.

“It’s the same minority of people who go to jail over and over again, and it’s not everybody,” said one Pelican Narrows resident. “We have good people who want a better place to live for themselves and their families.”

More aboriginals are getting educated and finding employment, the resident said, adding that there is still a lot to be proud of in his and other First Nations communities.

The crime rate in Deschambault Lake dropped nine per cent in 2013 compared to 2012. It was up in Sandy Bay (33 per cent) and essentially held steady in Pelican Narrows.

As The Reminder reported last week, crime in Flin Flon rose eight per cent in 2013 even as violent crime plummeted 40 per cent.

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