Northern Economist 2.0

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Addressing Violent Crime in Thunder Bay

Mayor Bill Mauro has gone public in his calls for help in dealing with crime in Thunder Bay.  In reports by Thunder Bay Television and the Chronicle-Journal, the Mayor has called on the federal and provincial governments for assistance in dealing with the spike in violent crime that is afflicting Thunder Bay.  The City of Thunder Bay is hard pressed to deal with the financial impact on the police budget of the recommendations made by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) to deal with systemic racism and now the spike in gang-related violent drug crime that is underway.

Thunder Bay is experiencing a surge in violent crime that has been underway for a number of years. While overall crime rates are down in Thunder Bay as shown by overall traditional crime rates as well as the Crime Severity index, violent crimes are up. As Figure 1 below shows, overall crime as measured by the Crime Severity Index (Source: Statistics Canada) has fallen from a peak of 126.25 in 1998 to reach 88.25 in 2017.  Violent crime, however is at 145.81 in 2017 and was 122.62 in 1998.  When linear trends are fitted to the data, violent crime has been trending up over time while overall crime severity has been trending down with non-violent crime severity quite flat.

Nowhere is the issue of violent crime more apparent in Thunder Bay than in the case of homicides which in 2019 already total 4 – with a fifth just outside of town.  In 2017, Thunder Bay lead the country’s cities in homicides per 100,000 and 2018 saw 8 homicides which is likely to result in Thunder Bay once again topping the national urban homicide rates. If one uses a City population of 107,910 then for 2018 one gets an estimated homicide rate of 7.4 per 100,000 population for 2018.  If the four murders in the city limits during the first quarter of the year alone are an indication of what is to come this year, a spike to 16 homicides this year would result in a homicide rate of 14.8 per 100,000 population for 2019. Figure 2 plots Thunder Bay’s homicide rate from 1998 to 2017 (Source: Statistics Canada) and then adds my estimates for 2018 and 2019 based on the evidence to date. 


While violent crime can disproportionately affect the indigenous community, there is also what seems to be a surge in external gangs from outside the city and a battle over drug market share driving up the violent crime rate.  Dealing with this does require more policing resources but a blanket call for more cash for the City of Thunder Bay is unlikely to generate much of a response from either the province or Ottawa.  What might be better is more policing resources dedicated to reducing the flow of this external crime to Thunder Bay.

Given its strategic position in the middle of the country as a transshipment point, Thunder Bay is actually a choke point for transportation – as in ancient Rome, all roads lead to Thunder Bay.  The travel options to get to us are also fairly easy to track given they converge here.  For outside criminals to come and do business here there are really only four options to get either themselves or their assorted criminal products here: 1) by car, 2) by air, 3) by rail and 4) by water – at least during shipping season.  My point is that the first line of offense needs to be working with external policing forces to raise the cost of doing criminal business in Thunder Bay by raising the probability of criminals getting caught.

Essentially, at the provincial level more OPP officers and resources need to be deployed on the highways immediately leading into and outside of Thunder Bay.  More frequent stops of vehicles on the highways that seem suspicious would be one way of interrupting the flow of drugs and criminals to Thunder Bay.  Indeed, the ramped up impaired driving laws might be of some use here. 

A stronger RCMP presence in the City at the airport, rail yards and waterfront (especially during shipping season) and at the Pigeon River border to check for suspicious shipments with co-ordination of information on potential suspicious behavior with border officials, airport security in other Ontario cities, and railway police is yet another strategy.

Perhaps such an enhanced crime interception and disruption strategy is already underway in Thunder Bay with cooperation between local, provincial and federal police forces in conjunction with airport, border and transportation company officials. I would expect no less.   On the other hand, given the dysfunctional attributes of our current federation, I would suspect that there is still much work to be done