Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dial 'M' for... Misleading

Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but... man, it seems like I've been saying that a lot lately. Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but sometimes you offer some questionable conclusions.

I'm thinking specifically of your report yesterday, proclaiming -- I can only assume with true, diehard civic pride -- that Winnipeg successfully reclaimed its crown and walked tall as the Murder Capital of Canada in 2008.

Yeah! Woo! Party!

But, no, hang on a second here. Much as I adore our city's constant contendership for the Slurpee and Murder Capital crowns (because, admit it, it's nice to believe that we can win something), there's a lot about this declaration that I don't think I can fully endorse.

The first natural reaction is "why the hell are you guys reporting last year's statistics as news, it's like Halloween by now", but you have to play the cards you're dealt. It's attractive to suggest that Statistics Canada put out their Homicide in Canada 2008 report like it was a big deal, but the truth is that they just do crap like this for fun literally all the time. Every weekday they produce a whole bunch of news reports on various things that they were in no particular hurry to get done, a StatsCan function they like to call "The Daily" -- which is totally unreasonable, because what kind of 'daily' doesn't even publish on a Sunday? I know, right?

So, rather than treating it as any sort of major news story, Statistics Canada scheduled their big press release about last year's homicide statistics for the same release date as a report on railway carloading figures from a couple months ago, a study of the placement of hatchery chicks on farms, and a coast-to-coast headcount of pigs. You can see how important this is to them.

Late as the figures may seem, we get 'em when we get 'em, so that one's pretty much out of your hands. But then another, stranger question popped up: why is Winnipeg the "Murder Capital" if, according to Statistics Canada, the murder rate is highest in Abbotsford-Mission, BC?

The Winnipeg Sun took the uncharacteristically reserved tack of titling their article on the subject "Gang violence drives up homicide rates", but they're the Sun so who cares. The National Post offered no commentary and only put up the raw numbers, assumedly because everyone over there is too busy worrying about whether or not they'll still be employed on Monday. CBC News lists the ten largest cities as a sidebar but ignores them in the text proper, instead talking about provincial homicide rates and firearm use. And Global Winnipeg echoed the Free Press' "Murder Capital" declaration, but that's only because they just copied and pasted the Free Press article wholesale. Global, c'mon now. Honestly.

What's the deal? The deal is this: Statistics Canada grouped the areas studied by population, listing the cities larger than 500,000 people as one category and the cities between 100,000 and 500,000 as another. StatsCan gives no instructions or reasons to treat the categories as purposefully distinguished from one another out of any higher reason than organization, but members of our local media have apparently decided to run with the idea that the larger cities are the only ones worthy of being titled the Murder Capital.

So, "Winnipeg named 2008 murder capital", the Free Press (and Global) headline announces. Does this seem like a strange decision to anybody else? First, arbitrarily limiting the title of Murder Capital to "the country's 10 largest centres" not only discounts a lot of potential Murder Capitals, but discounts the majority of the nation's actual capitals. Second, it seems rather suspect to be announcing a city as the Murder Capital when it neither has the most murders by actual volume or by adjusted ratio. (If everyone starts rearranging the rules of the game to suit their own needs, it ultimately becomes another sales-dollars-versus-cups-sold kind of problem.) And, third, this seems like a lot of hoop-jumping to go through to declare Winnipeg the Murder Capital of Canada -- so why is it only our media outlets that are doing it? If everybody else in the country is content to give Abbotsford-Mission its time in the sun, why are we as a city trying to argue our way back to the top of a statistic that's not actually supposed to be considered a good thing?

So I can't say that I'm one-hundred per cent behind the reasoning applied here to declare us the Murder Capital. You know what, though? I'm still keeping it! I'm in total agreement with the outcome, but not with the way they arrived at it.

You see, Winnipeg is the Murder Capital of Canada; not because of any highfalutin' finagling with the relative population sizes, but because Abbotsford-Mission is two entirely different places and that is totally cheating. Abbotsford and Mission are two separate municipal entities with two separate governments, so treating them as a single statistical city is like talking about "Kitchener-Waterloo" or "Minneapolis-St. Paul" as individual places. It doesn't work like that, son! This ain't no handicap match! If somebody were compiling a list of places that "It's Worth The Trip To", do you think we'd get away with trying to sneak ourselves in as "Steinbach-Winnipeg"? Hell no we wouldn't!

So don't listen to any British Columbian con artists and their attempts to pull a fast one with regional mergers, folks; Winnipeg is once again the proud Murder Capital of Canada, and still the proud Slurpee Capital of the World, because that is just how we roll. Slurpees and Murder! Whoo! Good work, team!

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