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2006 08 14
Sidewalk Statistics

Early one morning after returning from a quick jaunt to get some milk, I picked up a scrap of litter from our sidewalk and noted it was part of a discarded cigarette package. As I don't smoke, the thing was foreign to me and I'm always a little bemused by the government warnings printed in bold face on the package's front. That's when I noticed another band of statistics.

It reads as follows:
Estimated Deaths in Canada, 1996

Murders - 510
Alcohol - 1,900
Car Accidents - 2,900
Suicides - 3,900
Tobacco - 45,000

A brief review of available statistics at Public Health Canada show these numbers are a little on the broad side. For instance, in 2001, suicides in Canada jumped 10 per cent up to 4,074. Also, statistics vary greatly across age groups. For those between the ages of 20-24 (from 1997 statistics), the number one killer is accidental injury ( car accidents, work injuries, biking accidents, falls etc.) and number 2 is suicide, number 3 is cancer and number 4 is homicide. While for those between the ages of 35-54 the numbers almost flip - with cancer as number 1, heart disease as number 2, accidental injury is number 3, and suicide is number 4 (with homicide not even cracking the top 10).

What struck me when looking at these numbers was not how high cancer and heart disease were but how low homicide was and high on the list suicide was. What's more, the over all "all sexes, all ages" statistics are meaningless. It's the numbers within the numbers that tell a greater story. Suicide rates for men (particularly between 20-24) are four times that of women and the rate for Inuit peoples in Northern Canada are significantly higher than the general population. Basically, if you are under the age of 45, and you are male, the chances of you killing yourself is many times greater than someone else killing you.

So much was made of Toronto's "Summer of the Gun" and the affect of violent crime on Toronto's black communities that it overshadowed many greater problems such as the rates AIDS/HIV infection and youth suicides. One of the many problems with looking at statistics is that by the time they are gathered they only tell what happened and extrapolation to predicate trends (particularly ones tied closely to social behaviour) can be a dodgy business. Generalization and simplification of statistics renders them meaningless and only helps disguise any truth that may be gleamed from them.

The next time newspapers and broadcasters make sweeping statements on Toronto gun crime perhaps they should consult their cigarette packaging or even their local sidewalk where many statistics may lie, waiting to be discovered.
[email this story] Posted by P. Rogers on 08/14 at 03:45 PM

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