Crime Rate in Vancouver BC | How Safe Is It?
Vancouver, British Columbia has been my home for the last five years, and I'm very proud to live in one of the most beautiful and compelling cities on the planet. After being the in spotlight over the last few years, including the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and the Stanley Cup Riot of 2011, I felt it was important to talk about the crime rate in Vancouver and give a realistic account of conditions from an actual resident.
Vancouver routinely makes the top five ranking in a comparison of the most 'liveable' cities in the world, and for good reason. There is very little complain about, and we are very fortunate to live here. That being said, there is still crime in this city, and it is evolving and branching into new forms over time.
This article will talk about the crime rate in Vancouver BC, as well as talk about what specific crimes are more popular that others. We'll address hot button issues, such as gun violence, robbery and theft, and we'll touch on what the city is doing to combat such issues.
This is an anecdotal and opinion based piece from the perspective of a resident. I will try to provide statistics to back up what I'm claiming as we go. If you disagree with anything or require clarification, please post a comment in the box at the bottom.
Overall Crime Rate in Vancouver, BC
Crime rate is a difficult thing to figure in black and white terms. Canada on the whole has a very low crime rate when compared to the rest of the world, and the rate of crime has been drastically dropping for years.
As a city, Vancouver has the seventh highest crime rate in Canada, which is not bad considering that the metropolitan area is the third largest in the country. According to Statistics Canada, both violent and property crime rates are dropping year over year. As of 2012, there were 4,762 property incidences per 100,000 people in Vancouver, on average, and there were 1,353 violent crimes per 100,000 people. This may seem like a lot, but consider that since 2006 these numbers are on a steady decline.
Once thing to remember is that Vancouver is a city of neighbourhoods. Each one is different, and crime rates will vary drastically from area to area. However, on the whole, Vancouver is a very clean and safe city. I have never felt particularly unsafe, even in sketchy areas.
Drug Use and Criminalization
One of the major contributors to crime in the city is the drug addiction situation. Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside used to be the heart of the city's financial district, and it's home to many of the oldest and most classic structures in the area. However, it has turned into a lower income area and now it's home to a large portion of Vancouver's homeless and drug addicts.
The crime rate in this area of Vancouver is significantly higher than others, mainly because it's a haven for drug use and prostitution, and it's probably the only area of the city that I recommend tourists avoid. It's an easy area to wander into because nearby Gastown is a tourist Mecca.
Vancouver has made attempts to improve situations in the area, but belligerent residents resist what they consider to be gentrification. Some controversial efforts by the city include safe injection sites for addicts. The area is in need of change and hope and I certainly desire to see improvement.
Sale of Cannabis & Grow Ops:
Sale of marijuana is still illegal in British Columbia, but in Vancouver possession of small amounts of the drug will likely be overlooked. Many people openly smoke it in public and there's a strong movement to decriminalize it in the province.
Many dispensaries operate openly in the city, and the police department has no plans to crack down on them, instead focusing their energy on more 'criminal' activities.
However, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) takes drug operations very seriously, and they have made efforts to crack down on the thousands of grow ops in the city. According to BC Hydro's usage readings, they estimate there could be as many as 5,100 marijuana grow operations in the Greater Vancouver Regional District alone.
Gun Violence and Crime in Vancouver
Vancouver has one of the higher incidences of gun violence in Canada, statistically speaking. The newest figures I could find on gun related crime in the area is from a 2006 Statistics Canada report that indicated that Vancouver had around 45 gun related crimes per 100,000 people on average, which was the highest in Canada.
However, we should be careful reading that statistic. Guns are very difficult to procure in Canada, and when compared to other countries where ownership is legal, the rate is extremely low. The occasional shooting does occur, but they are very rare and usually related to gang activity in the area. More on that below.
Gangs Wars and Similar Crime
Much of the shootings and violent crimes in Vancouver can be traced back to gang related incidences and retaliations. There are significant activities by motorcycle gangs, Indo-Canadian gangs and Asian street gangs.
Some of the key players in recent history include the United Nations gang, the Hells Angels, the Buttar Gang, the Independent Soldiers and the Red Scorpions. Their disputes came to a head in 2009 when there was a rash of gang related violence and many shootings and stabbings.
After a series of leadership arrests, the drug war situation in the Lower Mainland has calmed down, though shootings are not unheard of to this day. The number of violent crimes perpetuated by these gangs definitely skews the statistics, and overall the risk of gun violence in the city is quite low.
Vancouver's Response and Crime Task Forces
Vancouver's response to crime in the city has tended to be reactive rather than proactive. When an incidence occurs, there will be a lot of media coverage and many promises to respond better in the future, as we saw with the Stanley Cup Riots of 2011, where police control was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in the downtown core during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Fortunately, Vancouver is one of the most technologically 'wired up' cities in the world. Most businesses have high definition security camera footage, and most people carry phones with cameras in their pockets, which allows us to record crime in progress much easier. This can make people lean towards vigilante or crowd justice, but Vancouver also has some of the best courts in the world too. Crown prosecutors and criminal defence lawyers in Vancouver ensure that both sides are heard and that an impartial account is given. And fortunately, corruption is almost non-existent in the city too.
Violent crimes such as stalking (harassment), domestic violence, homicide, extortion and robbery are all considered a big deal, and they're dealt with in the various court systems around BC3.
Although most of the province is covered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), several of the larger cities have their own police forces, and the Vancouver Police Department is a separate entity. That's a nice thing, because officers are trained on the particularities of the city and its needs. Vancouver has over 1,000 trained officers in the VPD, including bicycle and dog squads.
So How Safe is the City?
All these statistics and numbers can tell a story of the city that's not accurate. The reality is Vancouver is one of the safest cities in the world. It's clean, livable and gorgeous, and the police and infrastructure are fantastic.
No city is free of crime, and when there are lots of people living in close proximity there are bound to be a few deviants. Beyond that, numbers don't tell the whole story.
This is my way of saying if you're visiting, please feel free to enjoy all the amazing things this city has to offer and don't worry about crime, you'll be fine!
1) "Firearms and Violent Crime", by Mia Dauvergne and Leonardo De Socio, 2008, Statistics Canada
2) "Kelowna has the highest crime rate in Canada: report", by Chad Skelton, 2013, Vancouver Sun
3) "Violent Offences", by Emmet J Duncan, Criminal Lawyer in Vancouver