Lies, damn lies and statistics – the sequel

This post, she’s a-been, how you say, upty-dated. 

This is actually the subject of my MediaScout column today (which I’m just finishing writing as I type) but I wanted to post here because, frankly, I’m pretty pissed off.

Rather than retype my argument, I’ll just post the rough draft of my Scout post here for your amusement (compare it to the finished version and see how many edits you can find! Fun for the whole family!). Suffice to say, the Citizen dropped the ball on this one:

It’s a hard and fast rule of political journalism. The government spins, the media unravels that spin and presents the facts the best they can. It’s a vitally important role – especially when the subject du jour is crime. Crime cuts to the core of Canadians like few other issues; reputations can be unfairly broken by unfounded allegations and stories like that of Jane Creba can captivate a nation. The Creba case was a big reason the Tories’ anti-crime agenda proved so popular with Canadian voters and yesterday, the government made two significant crime-related announcements. In a widely-reported development, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced new money for RCMP training and recruitment, while the Globe reported that Justice Minister Vic Toews announced that legislation will be introduced to create tougher new bail rules for people accused of gun crimes. At first glance, the Big Seven does its due diligence. The Citizen backs up Harper’s claim that “serious crime” is on the rise in Canada with statistics showing that homicides, attempted homicides, aggravated assaults and assaults with a weapon were all up in Canada in 2005. The Globe interviews two experts who oppose the new bail rules, warning that placing the onus on the accused to prove they are not a threat to society establishes a dangerous precedent.

Looking more closely, however, one starts to see some dangerous gaps in the Big Seven coverage. While the Globe gives space to Toews’ critics, they juxtapose details of the proposed bail legislation with a quote declaring that “criminals will not longer be coddled” – a dangerous connection to make given that people accused of crimes are not always criminals, at least not under the long-standing “innocent until proven guilty” convention. The oversight is more troubling in the Citizen article, however. While the statistics in the article seem to back Harper’s assertion, the article doesn’t mention that the rate of common assault, by far the most common form of violent crime, decreased between 2004 and 2005, resulting in no substantial change in violent crime in Canada from 2004 to 2005. “Serious crime” is not a recognized category by Statistics Canada, “violent crime” is – and it has been decreasing since the mid 1990s (complete national crime statistics are available from the Statistics Canada website). It would appear that Harper knew he couldn’t claim that violent crime (a well-known measure of criminal activity) has been on the increase so he invented a new classification – and the Citizen played into his hand. Canadians deserve better.

The aformentioned update: The Scout post is online now, you can find it here

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