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Off topic: Why Canada is less violent … except sometimes


A while back, and I cannot find it now, a commenter expressed the view that Canada is less violent than the United States because we have more atheists here.

Sounded wrong to me. First, Canada is not always less violent. It depends on what you count.

If anyone thinks they can just murder a public servant in the course of his/her duties, for essentially religious reasons, and have it classed as routine “workplace violence,” Canada is definitely the wrong country to pick.

We have never seen things that way, and most of us hope we never will.

It doesn’t mean we are anti-religious: From our Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.

I (born citizen) was one of the witnesses abruptly summoned to the Constitution Committee hearings, in Ottawa in 1981. All that said and forgotten, here are some useful things to know:

1. The original Canadians were people who either refused to take part in the American Revolution or were living in the United States but fled, to avoid getting involved. Not all were white. Many were Native Americans or African Americans, worried about how the Founders would treat them.

This was not out of cowardice. Canadians have performed very well in military engagements. We simply did not believe that the proper response to George III was a revolution. We reckoned we could outlive him.

2. Canada also had the historical advantage that the American Revolution apprised the British that they could not just deal peremptorily with the “colonials” any more. So by the time Canadians became seriously unhappy (Rebellions of 1837), the British sent out toffs instead of redcoats, to find out why we were so unhappy. Then they started pressuring us to become more independent. By 1867, Queen Victoria was choosing us a national capital (Ottawa) over tea.

3. Because we don’t really have a history of violence, we usually don’t try solving problems that way (please, I am NOT talking about some guy murdering a public servant in the course of his duties. We call that: Getting to the top of our In tray, and we deal with it promptly).

I mean, in general, if there is a lot of violence somewhere in our own territory, we would historically prefer to send out a police force (the Mounties, for example) to just start enforcing the Criminal Code. Not a cavalry, you understand, but a police force.

4. We have not tended to be in wars we have lost. So that means older Canadians like me are not full of resentment and rage. We like new immigrants. But we think it will help them adjust if they know a little about the country.

At least, it helps them go to sleep at night because the most likely way they would die is boredom or exposure to cold, not violence from their neighbours.

* I did not live in Ottawa then. I never even ate a meal here at the time, so I had no “expenses” to declare, when asked by the Committee, at the time. Air travel in those days was so free and easy that I was even on the wrong flight as well, but no one cared. After all, it was just the usual run between Toronto and Ottawa. Everybody was a Canadian or else wanted to be one, or maybe wanted us to do something for them. So, the flight attendant simply said, take a seat, and marked up my papers accordingly. This was long before terrorism took hold, of course.

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The biggest difference between Canada and the US is the right to bear (bare?) arms. I know that Canada has a lot of guns, but very few handguns. We also have very different property protection rights. In the US you have the right to use force to protect your property. Canadians don't have that right. The gun rights were included in the US constitution to retroactively make the revolution legal. But it was also written when the height of arms technology was the smooth bored flint lock. There is no way that the founding fathers could predict the advancement (?) in arms technology. william spearshake
I would certainly agree with Mark Frank with respect to a view expressed at 29 that I believe to be incorrect: Murder IS as likely to be reported in Canada as in the United States. Forensics operates pretty much the same. Bodies do not just sort of turn up in Canada, absent a big public uproar. One issue is that Canadian police officers can go an entire career without ever encountering a really serious crime. So there is some question whether they always know how to handle it right. But no question they would know what it is. They will typically be dealing with complaints about noisy parties, drunk drivers, cat ladies (1 apt/100 cats), peeping Toms, WHOSE motorbike is that in my back yard?, my tenant has a weed farm ... you get it. For better or worse, it's usually Tony Soprano-free. My own thesis is that less violent societies are those that typically get STARTED with less violence (in their CURRENT incarnation). Note: In North America, no one cares what happened 1000 years ago. Maybe we should but we don't. The United States got started in a revolution (1776) and survived a dreadful civil war (1859). Canada suffered neither of these events. It was coddled into independence. Look, when Queen Victoria is choosing your national capital over tea and cakes at Windsor Palace, you are being coddled. It's like you are marrying rich and Mama is choosing your wedding dress. So not surprisingly, when the Quebec separatists started raising Cain in the 1960s, no civil war ensued in Canada. Troops were sent in to quell the violent offenders in 1970, but that was pretty much it. Quebec separatists have been yakking about their grievances ever since, to steadily diminishing interest. I am not saying there haven't been violent events in Canada. You could check out Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, the Riel Rebellion, or the Montreal Massacre, among a few. But it is not clear that any of these events led to big historic changes. In other words, it would likely require some manipulation of the facts to demonstrate from Canadian history that starting a violent episode is the best way to get something done. Note: None of this has anything to do with the kabuki theatre of ice hockey. ;) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4--iEOftLZ4 News
#29 drc466 1) I don't think there is any evidence crime is better reported in the USA - homicide, which is the measure I have been using, is reported pretty reliably consistently in most first world countries. 2) Could be 3) The trouble with this theory is that area where the US violence exceeds the rest of the world is mostly in young, black, males and the victims are also mostly young black males. See http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4863 It also worth noting that while the USA is still much more violent than almost all other first world countries the difference in homicide rates has dropped dramatically from about 9 to 1 (!) to about 5 to 1 over the last 30 odd years. So whatever caused it is getting less. Mark Frank
Well, to say violence is cultural is almost a tautology - "violent groups of people tend to be violent". But it is true - countries with high rates of violence have cultural groups within them that have cultures of violence. I'd like to offer 2 quick and 1 long reasons why Canada (and some other countries) has less violence than the U.S. 1) Crime is better reported in the U.S. 2) U.S. urban/hip-hop/gangsta culture glorifies violence. 3) Cultural Homogeneity (Mark Frank touched on this at 25, and is kind of a roll-up of News' points in the OP). While both Canada and the U.S. are relatively young countries, both initially did a really good job of being "melting pots". People who came over from around the world would keep their traditions, but generally self-identified as "Americans" or "Canadians" first. It is always harder to commit a crime against a friend and neighbor than "the other". As more cultural groups within the U.S. start to lose that sense of "Americanism", crime increases. African-Americans see themselves as an oppressed minority first, U.S. citizens second (gross generalization, I know, but I'd love to be proven wrong). Likewise Mexican immigrants, Muslims, Africans, etc. Modern-day immigrants set up little enclaves of their own cultures, rarely mix w/ general society, and do not internalize American rule of law (religions, like Islam, that emphasize such similar separation from "the other" cause the same effect). Canada has not (yet) seen this type of breakdown - as they see more immigration I predict they will, and crime rates will follow accordingly. This concept also explains why Scandinavian countries are less violent but becoming more so; why African countries are so violent (tribal); why countries like Germany and Russia have been internally less violent but externally more violent. Show me the number and types of cultures of a country, and the cultural beliefs within those cultures, and I can predict how violent that country will be. Regardless of the country's history. drc466
Denyse, I get a kick out of non Americans trying to analyze the US from afar. It is amusing. I don't try to analyze Canadians, Australians, Western Europe or any other country. I do not know enough to do so. I have friends from all these areas and met many others over the years but keep away from expressing an opinion on what makes their country tick. Canadians are close to the US and are probably inundated with US TV so have a better view of the US than any other country. Thus they may have a better insight than most. The reverse is not true. Few if any Americans are exposed to Canadian media so I would not have a clue about what goes on there except for my frequent visits over the years which said to me that Canada is pretty much the same as the US. My son was a hockey player so I got to see a lot of Canadian hockey rinks especially in the Toronto area. Every day probably 10 million Americans travel from one city to another and none expect to see violence as they travel. We have an excellent road system which is full of cars on any day of the year. The occasional traffic accident may be the most violent thing they will see. Also for those who are not traveling, most will go for years before seeing any violent interactions. Given that, nearly every American knows that there are places in the US where one does not go because there is violence there and the chances of an outsider encountering it is high. So why is this true? Is this a recent phenomenon? It is probably more so today than in the past starting 50 years ago but was always present. I could go into many reasons but as the country gets ethnically more diverse, supposedly there are over 50 languages taught in NY city schools, the occasions of running into people who are not like you and are probably from different economical strata increases and the likelihood of violent interaction increases. One of the big threats that some social critics throw around today is that white Caucasian Americans of European dissent will sometime in the next 50 years make up less than half of the population. On top of this the illegitimacy rate in the US among non Caucasians has been climbing steadily for decades. It was less than 10% in the 1930's but is over 40% for the country as a whole and up to 75% in some of larger cities (now 30% among those of European background). If one does not think that this is a formula for violence then they are really naive. As far as religion, the trend in the US like most western countries is going down fast but it is more so in the poorer areas of the country where violence is more prone. jerry
denyse #26 Isn't it nice to discuss something with less emotional heat than religion/ID? I agree that differences are really interesting. But in general differences explain why things are different, not why they are the same. So it is very reasonable to ask what was different about Germany that explains why it took such a terrible (and different) route from say the UK, France and Canada (that particular question has been debated and researched many, many times). When it comes to violence I want to understand what is different about the USA which is the odd one out (I don't think religion/atheism is anything to do with it). Mark Frank
Mark Frank at 25: Well, this has been interesting. Thinking about it, there are at least two different approaches to the key questions. One, I would think of as the Big Ideas approach. You know, separation of church and state, women's rights, democracy, rule of law, etc. I don't object to it, but it doesn't help me understand why Germany descended into the hell of Nazism, even though it was far more enlightened than Canada, or for that matter, than rural Missouri or frontier Alaska - by the standards most people would apply. One could say, I am more interested in what was different than in what was the same. One difference might be that if a country gets started boringly, without violence, there is no national mythology of violence, or none in particular. People may be less likely to see violence as solving problems or being a cleansing force or the path of destiny. Or whatever. That doesn't necessarily mean they will never resort to it. Oddly, Canada has been much more resolute in dealing with terror than the United States has been. Probably because gunmen feel so much more unsettling that the police just shoot them, and you don't hear much about riots over that. News
Denyse at #24 This is not the kind of question that can ever be answered definitively but there a couple of points worth making. Convergent evolution happens for a reason. Species have different histories but common challenges in their environment cause them to become similar. So there is a common cause for a common effect - it is just not historical. In the same way - first world countries have extremely diverse histories - even within Western Europe* - but end up very similar in some deep respects (democracy, rule of law etc). It seems much more plausible to put low violence down to this than propose it is multiple coincidences each with their own distinct historical reasons which happened to end up with similar homicide rates. * It is a common mistake to treat Western European countries as homogenous. For example: - Some were devastated by the world wars - others did not even participate - Some have had long-standing stable governments for centuries, others are younger nations than Canada - Some have homogeneous stable populations others have seen waves of different types of immigration - The richest are twice as rich as the poorest And so on Mark Frank
Mark Frank at 22: The problem is, we don't know whether the same factors are driving events in the same way. They might not be. That is why I used the term convergent evolution. The principal reason for Canada's *usual* low violence rate is probably its relatively untraumatic [boring] history. No American Revolution and no Civil War, just for example. Japan is comparatively non-violent today despite a horrifying history in the mid-twentieth century. I'd suggest great caution in making an equivalence between the two situations, just for example. News
"A while back, and I cannot find it now, a commenter expressed the view that Canada is less violent than the United States because we have more atheists here." Just a small correction. The comment you refer to did not claim that violence rates in Canada were low because we have a large number of atheists. The comment was a counter to the OP that made the false claim that Denmark had high crime rates because it was largely a secular society. william spearshake
#19 News - Denyse presumably I don't have a problem with negative explanations but why try to explain Canada's lack of violence through characteristics that are unique to Canada when there are fundamental things you share with many, many other countries that have similar low levels of violence? Mark Frank
“A while back, and I cannot find it now, a commenter expressed the view that Canada is less violent than the United States because we have more atheists here.” Rich. Canada is less violent. Canada has a higher percentage of atheists. Therefore atheism is less violent. This kind of reasoning, while all too common is, well, illogical. When will we grasp the concept that correlation does not prove causation. I would contend that a major reason that Canada is safer is that we have much stricter gun laws. I have seen statistics showing that where murder rates by non-gun means are about equal, the percentage of murders by gun are a lot lower in Canada." Wow, you're a doctor and yet you can't see the cognitive dissonance, I.E., the irony, or just plain contradiction you made in this statement. No wonder why people can't find Canada on the map if the folks there are this naive. VunderGuy
Mark, perhaps the USA is just catching up to the rest of the world. That side of the pond has been plundering, raping and murdering for centuries before us. Joe
Mark Frank at 18 is probably onto something here: "once a violent culture is established it becomes relatively acceptable" Yes, I sort of see. It might even become normal to say at the strawberry social, "My cousin was murdered last year." Instead of everybody having to pick their lower jaws up from off the ground and screw them back in and then wonder just what the appropriate social response IS to such a show stopper ... Canada isn't entirely like many western European countries or Japan for two reasons: As a country, it only goes back to 1867 and lots of stuff that might have happened - if enough time had elapsed - just never did. Second, the country was never a defined ethnic state (neither is the United States, of course). Apart from some of the stranger moods of Quebec separatism, there simply isn't any great number of people in Canada who claim to be a "pure" group of some kind, a group with anything to protect other than personal health, welfare, and property. I recognize that these are "negative" explanations, in the sense that I am explaining why things won't happen, rather than why they might. But one can keep thinking about it. It is so easy to miss something if you are very close to a situation. ;) News
#17 News
Things can end up at the same point from *entirely different* histories. Call it convergent evolution, if you like.
That is true - but it would be quite strange if countries as diverse as Canada, UK, Switzerland, Japan and Australia and many others had all ended up with similar homicide rates by coincidence. Surely it is far more likely that the elements they have in common: values, democracy, rule of law, market economies, relative wealth, relatively decent education are responsible for the low violence. Then we have to explain why the USA, which shares all these things, is such an exception. No I don't know the answer. I think you may be right that once a violent culture is established it becomes relatively acceptable and is perpetrated - but how it got that way in the first place I don't know. Mark Frank
Mark Frank at 16: Things can end up at the same point from *entirely different* histories. Call it convergent evolution, if you like. Canada's history is quite different from that of Western Europe and Japan. More like Australia. The world wars were not fought in either these zones and we did not have legal slavery, a God Emperor, or wars of religion. It wasn't our doing. We just didn't happen to have them. So - I hope this is not too difficult to grasp - we could be comparatively non-violent for different reasons from, say why Sweden or Holland is. History matters. What do YOU think is the reason for more violence in the US? News
#15 News
It fatally ignores a historically minor history that is *different from both Western Europe AND the United States.*
I don't get the point. Of course every country has its unique history - just compare say France, Australia, Japan and Switzerland. But they (and most other "Western" countries) have homicide rates at about 1 in 100,000 whereas the US rate is nearly 5. Surely the informative question is "why is the USA so different from everyone else?" Mark Frank
Mark Frank at 13 raises an interesting question. That said, I am not sold on lumping Canada in with Western Europe. This is often done for political convenience, but if you are serious about facts, it is a mistake. It fatally ignores a historically minor history that is *different from both Western Europe AND the United States.* Lots of things never happened in Canada. Far from our having some big solution for these problems, they just never happened at all. The World Wars were not fought here, slavery was not an important or even tolerated institution, in large part because it is irrelevant to northern agriculture ... and, aw, the list goes on. Lots of black people live in populous provinces like Ontario. They tend to originate in the Caribbean (British Commonwealth countries like Canada). There is a whole history of slavery in the US that neither those people's families' countries of origin nor Canada were involved in. We can see it on a history channel and care about it. But it just wasn't our history. So if a person tries to make it a big focus in their life - and then USE that stuff to abuse their neighbours - well ... Note: Lots of people of Irish descent live here too but they tend not to be lazy or bad drunks. Interesting questions, to be sure. News
Well Mark, in the USA we abort over 1 million unborn a year. That dwarfs the number of people who die via violence. Joe
It may be more enlightening to ask why the USA is more violent than the rest of the Western world. Canada is in line with most of Europe (including Ireland and Scotland!). It is the USA that is the outlier. To me it is something of a mystery. Western European countries, Canada, Australia, Japan etc have a range of weather, degrees of poverty and single parent families, welfare state, poverty, cultural backgrounds - and yet homicide rates remain at about a fifth of the rate in the USA - while other crime rates are often worse than the USA. Mark Frank
News 4, you seem to miss the point of my post. The point is not that groups came from the British Isles, rather it is WHERE they came from in the British Isles. Highland Scots and Irish were relatively behind culturally, and far more prone to violence, than their counterpoints in England proper and the lowland Scots. Indeed, some US firms preferred to hire blacks than Irishmen, because the Irish were notorious for being drunk, dirty, unreliable, and very prone to fighting. By the way, my background is Irish. Thornton, just as the Irish were prone to violence in the 1800s, so are African-Americans today. That's just a reality. And the idea that this is correlated with slavery & oppression fails when you consider that black crime rates were lower prior to 1960, when Jim Crow and segregation was legal, than after the Civil Rights Acts were passed. What does correlate most strongly with rising crime rates, of course, is the rise of the welfare state and the demise of the black family. The number one predictor of neighborhood crime is the percentage of single parent families, not poverty, not race. By the way, your slur against my motives is laughable. I gave up 10 times the pay at a financial services company 20 years ago to teach mostly poor & middle class kids, many of them black. Some have gone on to Yale, MIT, and Georgetown. anthropic
Well, quite a few reasonable comments came in recently. I'm surprised no one brought up the fact that would seem so obvious to me, that most Canadians fear nature more than man, and with good reason. Also, the cost of violence in a habitually not-very-violent society is proportionately higher. It's true that police in Canada shoot to kill *in certain situations.* BUT these situations are rare. So a violent person would just tend to attract more unfavourable attention around here, and something would get done sooner, is my best guess. The following incident, which I witnessed, is far more typical of what usually happens here (= nothing): https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/evolutionary-psychology/man-is-ever-a-wolf-to-man-or-maybe-sometimes-just-another-slowly-moving-barrier-against-the-wind/ No one was violent at all, and there must have been thousands of people involved. Alan Fox, is it true that Canadians are rude to Americans? If so, we must stop because they are our best and most reliable customers. Oddly, they do not say we are rude to them. They say we are very polite, and have a lovely accent, and what they mostly want is our girls' private phone numbers. That is the true reason there are so many dual citizens in the world. ;) Hi, Dr Moose! Now, with respect to stricter gun laws, in fairness, I should probably mention that I grew up in a Canadian culture where rifles were taken for granted. All the men and many of the women had been in World War II in some capacity and were riflemen/women. We mainly kept them because of bears (a common nuisance in areas in which I have lived). My mother was correspondence secretary of the local rifle range. But no one thought you would use a rifle to murder someone in our normal peacetime context. A kitchen knife would be just as useful anyway. All I mean to say is, I don't know the details of how Canada's gun laws compare with other countries', but I'd start with, why does a person think they need a gun anyway? News
I don't know if this resource is reliable but, if so, the US doesn't do too well in the comparison. Alan Fox
"A while back, and I cannot find it now, a commenter expressed the view that Canada is less violent than the United States because we have more atheists here." Rich. Canada is less violent. Canada has a higher percentage of atheists. Therefore atheism is less violent. This kind of reasoning, while all too common is, well, illogical. When will we grasp the concept that correlation does not prove causation. I would contend that a major reason that Canada is safer is that we have much stricter gun laws. I have seen statistics showing that where murder rates by non-gun means are about equal, the percentage of murders by gun are a lot lower in Canada. Moose Dr
PS @ Deyse Why is it in Canada that the only ethnic group it is socially acceptable (même de rigueur) to be rude about is Americans? Alan Fox
What are typical reasons populations are NOT violent?
I'd guess cost. It's less costly to avoid conflict up to the point when all you possess, for example your life and that of your family, is threatened. When you have nothing to lose, when it is a matter of life or death, choices become simple. Most sentient animals have strategies to avoid and limit conflict but try and corner and kill an animal and it can become quite ferocious at fighting for its life. People seem to be able to put up with a great deal of unfairness and exploitation until the spark of revolution ignites. But then there are always opportunists to exploit such situations. Alan Fox
Thorton, this conversation sounds like it is deteriorating. Can we get back to: What are typical reasons populations are NOT violent? News
To this day, African-Americans are extraordinarily prone to crime & violence
Four hundred years of slavery, subjugation, oppression, institutionalized discrimination, constant assaults by hateful bigots in the religious white majority will do that to a people. But I'm sure you think the Darkies brought it all on themselves. Thorton
Anthropic, a great proportion of the original Canadian population was of British Isles origin too. Historically, there were three groups; The "Indians" (Aboriginal peoples), the French, and the "British" (British Isles origin). Today, you will of course find that the major cities are much more cosmopolitan. However, when you get out into the small or remote towns, you will more frequently meet members of the above three groups. I'm not sure it is true that any of these groups lacked a propensity to violence. What they did not generally have, for long periods, was any special reason to think that violence would solve any problem. For example: You can shoot the Mountie. Sure. Now what? What do YOU think will happen now? Shouldn't we at least have had a meeting about this? ;) News
As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, the southern US was largely settled by highland Scots and Irish who were more prone to violence than the folks who settled in the north. The slaves came from violent societies, too, and naturally emulated those who enslaved them. To this day, African-Americans are extraordinarily prone to crime & violence; if they are subtracted from US stats, America is not nearly as violent a nation as people assume. anthropic
Whoever pays for that is crazy. One thing that is - I hope - gaining a lot of traction is community policing. It is best done informally. Here is an example from my own experience: Some homeowners I knew of encountered a biohazard: Used syringes in their back yard. (heroin, of course) So what the police officers did was, they went door to door in the neighbourhood informing "everyone" of the dangers of accidentally inappropriate disposal of syringes. There was only one person they were really trying to reach and they knew who it was. But they couldn't "prove" it. However, that person went and got medical help when they heard that everyone was being informed of this problem and was watching out for it. News
'I mean, in general, if there is a lot of violence somewhere in our own territory, we would historically prefer to send out a police force (the Mounties, for example) to just start enforcing the Criminal Code. Not a cavalry, you understand, but a police force.' Some of the caper that goes on in the US today is literally (sic) surreal, and I don't doubt some Americans are as acutely aware of it as anyone. The most unbelievable, to my mind, was their sending in a fully-accoutred SWAT team to a barber's shop, because it was suspected that his barber's licence had expired!!!!! Then, the other day, I remembered that barber-shop scene in one of the classic, Leone, Spaghetti westerns, and wondered whether the poor, aforesaid barber thought he'd perhaps somehow wandered onto the set of that film, when Monco (or was it the County Killer?) spins round in his barber's chair and shoots all four or five the baddies within the space of a second or two - with unerring accuracy, of course! No, I couldn't imagine that happening in Canada, Denyse. Incidentally, I've read posts of Americans suggesting maybe it wasn't such a good idea revolting against the Brits, judging from Canada relative sanity. Axel

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