Exploring the Link between Crime and Socio-Economic Status in Ottawa and Saskatoon: A Small-Area Geographical Analysis

3. The Social Geographies of Ottawa and Saskatoon and Overall Trends in Crime

Table 3.1 provides a list of selected socio-economic characteristics of Ottawa and Saskatoon from the 2001 Census. The data is shown for the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) and the central city of each. In this report, the term "central city" is used to refer to the largest municipality within each CMA – the City of Ottawa and the City of Saskatoon. As can be seen, in terms of population, the Ottawa CMA is more than 4 times the size of the Saskatoon CMA while Ottawa's central city population (comprising the City of Ottawa and excluding the Gatineau portion of the CMA) is almost four times the size of Saskatoon's central city. Population growth between 1996 and 2001 was significantly higher in Ottawa's CMA and central city as was the arrival of new immigrants over the same period. Saskatoon, particularly it's central city, experienced low growth between 1996 and 2001 and saw only a small number of new immigrants coming to the city.

A distinguishing feature of many cities in western Canada is that they have higher proportions of Aboriginal residents than those in Central and Atlantic Canada. According to the 2001 Census, 20,275 Aboriginal people live in the Saskatoon CMA giving it the highest rate among all mid-to-large sized urban areas in Canada (9.1%). Nearly 10% of the central city population is Aboriginal. A large number of the city's Aboriginals live in and around the core neighbourhoods, particularly on the west side of the South Saskatchewan River and overall, they suffer from significantly higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage. By comparison, Ottawa has a smaller Aboriginal population totalling 13,500 or just over 1% of its CMA and central city populations.

Both Ottawa and Saskatoon have relatively strong economies with job growth evident in professional service occupations such as education, management, administration and science. However, as can be seen in Table 3.1, Saskatoon's CMA and central city unemployment rates are slightly higher. (The unemployment rate among Saskatoon's Aboriginal population is 22% and among North American Indian males it is 33%). Both cities have generally well-educated residents, although Ottawa's level of educational attainment is higher. More than 80% of the city's population aged 20 and over has at least a high school diploma compared to 75% in Saskatoon. And, while the proportion that has a college certificate or diploma is comparable between the two cities, a significantly higher percentage of Ottawa residents have acquired a university degree. The gap between the two cities can be explained, in part, to the fact that Aboriginals in Saskatoon, on average, have lower levels of education then non-Aboriginals.

Table 3.1 also reveals that there is a significant difference in income levels between the two cities with the Ottawa CMA having a median family income of nearly $70,000 compared to just under $55,000 in the Saskatoon CMA. Even more telling is a difference of nearly $20,000 in the median family incomes in the two central cities. It should be noted, however, that the cost of living is higher in Ottawa, particularly as related to housing prices. Furthermore, the table shows that a slightly lager proportion of families and a substantially greater percentage of unattached individuals in Saskatoon are living in low-income. The poorer socio-economic condition of Aboriginal people in Saskatoon is a factor in the income gap between the two cities. For example, according to the 2001 Census, the average income in Saskatoon is $28,045 while for Aboriginals it is $17,667 and for North American Indians $14,513.

As shown in Figures 3.1 and 3.2, in 2003, Saskatoon had the highest crime rate among all CMAs in Canada (15,164 per 100,000 population) as well as the highest violent crime rate (1,718 per 100,000 population). By comparison, the Ottawa CMA (Ontario portion) had one of the lowest overall crime rates (6,325 per 100,000 population) and violent crime rates (754 per 100,000 population). Furthermore, Figure 3.3 reveals that Saskatoon had the second highest rate of property crime among all CMAs (after Regina) while Ottawa had one of the lowest.

Table 3.2 provides a detailed look at selected crime statistics in Ottawa and Saskatoon in 2001, 2002 and 2003. The table makes it apparent that Saskatoon has an acute crime problem. For a city with a population of about 225,000 it has recorded very high numbers of total criminal code incidents during the 3-year period. In fact, when comparing the data between the two cities, Saskatoon has higher rates of crime in every category and for each offence type in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

In addition to Saskatoon having an overall crime rate more than double that of Ottawa, there are a number of other trends that can be drawn from the data in Table 3.2. As seen, an important feature of crime in Saskatoon is the prevalence of violent offences, particularly assault and robbery. In 2003, the city recorded 3,351 total assaults and 739 robberies, large numbers considering the size Saskatoon's population. The rate of assaults (1,388 per 100,000 population) was more than twice that of Ottawa's and the rate of robberies (306 per 100,000 population) more than three times. It is clear that Saskatoon also has a significant problem with 'break and entering' offences. In 2003, the city registered 5,028 of these crimes (both residential and commercial) compared to 5,749 in Ottawa, a city with more than three times the population size. Furthermore, in 2003, the rate of offences involving 'theft under $5000' was more than twice that of Ottawa's. While it may be viewed as a relatively minor issue, both Ottawa and Saskatoon have witnessed increases in offences related to property damage, largely incidents of vandalism committed primarily by youth. These crimes labeled as 'mischief under $5000' were again more prevalent in Saskatoon, which in 2003 recorded a rate almost three times that of Ottawa. Figure 3.4 is a graph showing changes in crime rates in Ottawa and Saskatoon between 1999 and 2003. As shown, there was a relatively steep increase of 30% in Saskatoon's total crime rate between 1999 and 2003 with a particularly sharp rise between 2002 and 2003. By comparison, Ottawa's crime rate was generally flat but did fall slightly between 1999 and 2003. The graph also displays changes in the violent crime rate in the two cities and indicates that while Saskatoon recorded steady increases over the five-year period, particularly between 2002 and 2003, Ottawa's rates were more or less stable.

Table 3.1 - Selected 2001 Census Indicators: Ottawa and Saskatoon
Variable Ottawa (CMA) City of Ottawa Saskatoon (CMA) City of Saskatoon
Total Population 1,063,664 774,072 225,927 196,811
Population Change 1996-2001 6.5 7.3 3.1 1.6
% Recent Immigrants 3.6 4.5 1.4 1.5
% Aboriginal Population 1.2 1.1 9.1 9.8
Unemployment Rate 5.6 5.8 6.7 7.2
% of Population with Less than Grade 12 Education [1] 18.5 15.6 25 24.3
% of Population with a College Certificate or Diploma [1] 17.9 18.2 18.9 15.9
% of Population with a University Degree [1] 28 31.9 19.3 20.4
Median Family Income [2] $69,518 $73,507 $54,362 $54,025
Incidence of Low-Income Families [2] 11.6 11.4 13.5 14.7
Incidence of Low-Income among Unattached Individuals [2] 33.4 32 40.4 41.1
  • [1] Based on population aged 20 and over.
  • [2] Based on 2000 income
Date modified: