Crime and Canadian Immigration


In a recent piece for The Walrus magazine, Rachel Giese presents and then explores the inverse relationship between crime rates and immigration, as data shows that Canadian crime rates dropped as Canadian immigration increased.

Two studies in the United States revealed a similar trend as the American data indicated that cities with the highest increase in immigration also saw the largest decrease in violent crime. These results prompted researchers in the United States to examine the causality of the relationship. Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson and his team began looking at data spanning over eight years in 180 Chicago neighbourhoods in an attempt to explain the apparent connection between immigration and decreasing crime rates.  Three thousand men and women were looked at in this study which concluded that first generation immigrants of any nationality were 45% less likely to commit violent acts than third generation Americans. This statistic extends to neighborhoods with large concentrations of immigrants (of all backgrounds) as they were shown to have an overall lower incidence of violence.

Interested in how the trend played out in Canada, a group of University of Toronto researchers began to study the correlation between Canadian immigration and crime. The research team used data from a 1976 survey on youth delinquency as their baseline. The original research conducted by Professor John Hagen asked participants questions about their families, their attitudes toward education and more targeted questions like how they spent time with friends, did they smoke pot, and what kind of trouble they got into. Hagen’s University of Toronto colleagues Ron Levi and Ronit Dinovitzer repeated the survey in 1999 using the same Toronto neighborhood involved in the first study.

While immigration was not a consideration in the original research design, the demographic changes which took place in the Toronto neighborhood over the interval thirty year period made for a perfect opportunity to study the effects of immigration on crime. In fact, immigration had become so prevalent in the neighborhood that of the 900 respondents in the 1999 survey, 66% were of non-European immigrant backgrounds.

After comparing the results of the two parallel surveys, the researchers concluded that drinking, drug use, vandalism, fighting and other crimes they termed “youthful illegalities” were significantly lower in the 1999 cohort which was comprised of approximately 10% more immigrants of non-European background. The researchers maintained that culture-specific values could not be the contributing factor to the decrease in crimes, as the reluctance to commit crimes was found across all nationalities.

The study also uncovered an interesting pattern of second generation Canadian immigrants (defined by the researchers as having arrived before the age of six or being born in Canada) being more inclined than first generation Canadian immigrants (defined as those arriving after the age of twelve) to commit the similar “youthful illegalities” of fighting, stealing, taking drugs and vandalizing. A similar relationship was found in a Statistics Canada study. Using spatial analysis of crime data from regions of Montreal and Toronto, researchers found that the percentage of recent immigrants was inversely proportional to violent crimes. Additional supporting evidence can be found in a study conducted by the Correctional Service of Canada in the 1990s, which found that immigrants of all regions and age groups were under-represented in federal prisons, among those serving two or more years.

With multiple reputable sources confirming the existence of a correlation between the proportion of recent immigrants and decrease in crime, the cause of this relationship needs to be examined. The University of Toronto researchers Dinovitzer, Hagan and Levi provided three key factors in explanation of the infrequent delinquency of first generation immigrants; strong familial bonds, commitment to education and risk aversion. The researchers noted that a certain synergy emerges when these three factors are combined, making the children who possess these traits all the less likely to get in to trouble. Dinovitzer emphasized that any young person possessing these characteristics would be less likely to commit a crime, however they seem to be more prevalent in first generation Canadian immigrants across all ethnic backgrounds. However, these qualities tend to diminish in strength in second and third generation Canadian immigrants, as they integrate and converge towards the general Canadian population.

Based on these findings, it would seem that Canadians have a few things to learn from their less-violent immigrant neighbors.

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