You probably already know that Toronto is, by far, one of North America’s safest major cities. Numbers can be manipulated, but when it comes to cold hard crime stats they cannot lie outright. The criminal offence numbers on the City of Toronto website, as of 2004, put our fair city light years ahead of such metropolitan sin-dens as ‘Nawlins, D.C. and Philly. In fact, when it comes to homicide and burglary, you are safer in Toronto than any big city in the United States and most of those in Canada…though the site is quick to point out that ‘Toronto is still touched from time to time by violent acts.’
But if that is the case, then why do so many Ontarians seem to fear Toronto and see it as a dangerous place? Since ‘violent acts’ are indeed taking place somewhere, then where exactly do you NOT want to be? One of our colleagues decided to conduct a small investigation into this matter. See what she discovered.
What areas of Toronto would be unsafe for a young woman to walk alone at night?
The results of the informal Facebook poll listed these as the top Toronto locations my girlfriends wanted to avoid at night (the first three actually tied for first place):
- Parliament from Dundas to Queen
- Queen Street East from Sherbourne to Jarvis
- The Danforth, east of Pape
- King & Dunn
- Bathurst & Queen
It came as no surprise that some major drug areas are included in the above list, though one of the most offensive intersections, Sherbourne & Dundas (notorious for crack, prostitution and just general chicanery) was skirted. As Denise pointed out, we can extend the danger zone to “as far as Dundas and George Street where Filmores Hotel & strip-club is on the corner”. Avoid passing the street if you can, or be extremely careful at least. But the Danforth east of Pape? I would not for a minute compare the halal area around Donlands/Greenwood, the Ethiopian strip near Coxwell or the Italian Legion-style clubs at Woodbine with any part of Dundas Street East. The Danforth is vital, lined with decent bars and restaurants and shops; it teems with life at any hour. By day it has got to be the stroller capital of North America. So where do all those young families go at night? West of Pape, says Niki*, who believes that after ten, almost all the Danforth turns ‘sketch’.
Danielle* echoes my own personal sentiment: give me busy any day, even bad busy (lots of lights and people up to no good) than the eerie silence and deep dark of a suburban side street. A downtown girl, she is deeply suspicious of sleepy residential neighbourhoods where each house is surrounded by a high hedge. “Anything could be lurking there,” she tells me with a shudder. “At least downtown it is well lit, there are people around, you can call for help. Out there is where all the serial killers are and no one can hear you scream.”
Having happily lived at Wellesley/Jarvis and Carlton/Jarvis, intersections that shoulder the ‘gay village’ as well as several high-crime pockets, I tend to agree with her in principle (though I have never encountered a serial killer anywhere in Toronto). The sound of crickets is a lot scarier to me than the beat coming from a drug-infested after-hours club. I asked Danielle if she liked camping and she freaked out even further, saying that your only defence in the woods is that it is probably too far for rapists and psychos to go and find you; but if they do, you are in big trouble. Of course, she is pushing 6 feet also and walks with the confidence of one who is at home in her city, if not in a tent.
Knife by Ryk Neethling
Bathurst and Queen, formerly hip Queen West but now basically a retail extension of the Eaton Centre with a few nightspots thrown in for flavour, was also a surprise to find on my Facebook friends’ list as an area that unaccompanied women should detour at night. One respondent went further and specifically mentioned feeling unsafe at nightclubs in the Entertainment District (which encompasses Queen & Bathurst, and which she described as ‘carnivorous’).
Recently it became forbidden for Toronto newscasters and reporters to name the old boroughs like Scarborough, Etobicoke etc. (that existed before the amalgamation of the GTA mega-city) when referring to crime locales. Understandably, citizens and politicians didn’t like huge chunks of the GTA getting a bad rap, hence the edict that requires intersections to be named rather than entire neighbourhoods when mentioning where a crime took place. That way, we will all know that you do not want to be caught dead at Jane and Finch on a moonless night – described on a Yahoo! Answers board as ‘the worst part of town’ – without necessarily scaring off nearby York U students.
So what intersections are officially recognized as high-crime in Toronto?
A violent crime map by Toronto neighbourhood census tract, circa 2006, lists these grids as the top offenders:
- SE of Jane/Finch
- NE of Jane/Finch
- Off Kipling North of Lake Shore
Interestingly, Queen/Dundas/Spadina/Bathurst was number 6 on the list and Parkdale was number 8. Of the list of 20 areas, only 8 are in downtown Toronto; the other trouble spots are at, or near, the very edges of Toronto.
Of course, it is also interesting to note that for the purposes of the map, ‘violent crime’ means everything from homicide to threatening phone calls. If you want the nature of the crime broken down further, you can find minute to minute crime stats and locations on SpotCrime, where a recent visit showed that crime in Toronto seems to be overwhelmingly in the nature of robberies; mostly, I am sad to report, in the city’s north-east end. Toronto Police Services also offers crime maps broken down by neighbourhood and type of crime. You would think that more property crime would occur where there is something worth stealing, but strangely, neighbourhoods like Rosedale-Moore Park seem to be nearly crime-free.
So where is it safe for a single woman to walk at night in Toronto? It is hard to say. It depends on what you are worried about happening. The City of Toronto lists several ‘priority’ neighbourhoods without saying exactly what that means, though one can be fairly sure it is a euphemism for high crime and high poverty; Jamestown (there goes Sherbourne again) and Jane/Finch top the list. But even this is tricky; you might be more likely to get shot at Jane and Finch than at Spadina and Bloor, but chances are good that if you do get shot at Jane and Finch, you are not a female crossing the street alone at night, looking over your shoulder.
*Not their real names.