This is something that I has been bothering me for a while. At the beginning of this year, I began a true crime and horror podcast and as part of that I have tried to stay in the loop about crime news. This is also the year Toronto had a record-breaking number of homicides, and we still have a month left to go. Toronto had previously been considered one of the safest metropolitan cities in Canada. So what’s changing? Well, the cost of living.
Before I get into my theories, I want to preface them by saying that none of these ideas are new. Activists fighting against poverty have been discussing these ideas for decades. These are just ideas that I have been grappling with ever since I made the transition from a middle-class child to a low income adult. This transition has forced me to acknowledge the privilege I was brought up in that helped formulate old ideas of what caused poverty and how to get out of it.
Now, living in Toronto has been expensive for a long time, so what’s the difference now? Well the cost of living hasn’t just been getting higher, it’s been increasing at a troubling rate. Landlords have been illegally evicting tenants stating they need to do renovations or have a family member move in. Then once the tenant is gone, the unit gets relisted at a much higher rate. Now even the tiniest apartment is being rented at an exorbitant price.
Even though rent has been increasing, wages are not rising at the same rate. While the Liberal government added a steep increase to the minimum wage recently, the newly elected PC government has decided to freeze the minimum wage again until 2020. While businesses think that the wages are rising too quickly, Toronto’s living wage has been calculated to actually be $21.75. This means that even though the unemployment rate has increased lately, working adults are still living in poverty. In fact over 600 000 people in Toronto are living below the poverty line.
Crime has been linked to poverty for a long time. And it makes a lot of sense: Living in poverty has a lot of consequences.
For those working minimum wage, that means that they have to work more than 40 hours a week in order to survive, often without access to health benefits. This can lead to chronic health issues and no resources to deal with them. When you combine that with the fact that racialized people are most likely to be low-income and the racism that they face in healthcare leaving them without treatment, they are often left to find their own solutions.
And with the opioid crisis looming, physicians are putting even more restrictions on medications which in turn fuels the illegal drug market. People who are in pain still need treatment, especially if they have to continue to work full time.
On top of that, for many people, even with minimum wages, they still don’t have enough to cover their basic living expenses. It would make sense that these vulnerable people would look to less legal means, if their government isn’t going to protect them. The rise in homicides this year has been linked to gang-related shootings, according to Statistics Canada.
Knowing all of these things, a rise in crime has been a long time coming. The only way to curb the violence the city is facing is not through increased policing like Mayor Tory has suggested, but by facing the poverty that over 20% of the city is facing. With the recent rent control reforms and the freezing of the minimum wage, we are likely to see only higher rates of crime. If nothing is done about housing costs and low wages, things are only going to get worse.