“Unreported crime”

Shorthand for the moment when politicians cut their rhetoric loose from facts, especially to let it drift into fearmongering and electioneering.

In the long ramp-up to the 2011 federal election, Conservative Treasury Board President Stockwell Day was asked to explain an increase in funding for new prisons in the context of declining crime rates: “We’re very concerned about the increase in the amount of unreported crimes,” he replied, “it shows that we can’t take a liberal view to crime.” Providing scant evidence for the claim, Day did note that the government’s own mandatory minimum sentences might eventually result in an uptick in incarceration; that’s what they call a ‘self-fulfilling prophesy’ in the literary business.

The Harper Conservatives ventured further into alarmist waters in the following election cycle, when sagging poll numbers prompted a pledge to create a Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline, capitalizing on fears about terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Americans are perhaps more intimately acquainted with the politics of fear than Canadians, with Donald Trump incessantly using his bully pulpit to forecast far-left violence and migrant caravans ferrying criminals over the Mexican-American border. But Baltimore journalist H.L. Mencken saw his brand of politics coming a century earlier, writing that the “whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

“Unreported crime” of the kind Day declared likely fits this Mencken mould, composed more of imagination than menace.

(A sober addendum to this deflationary definition is that unreported crime does of course exist in Canada—especially unreported crimes of certain sorts. But that by no means puts it on the rise, as Day would have had us believe.)

Image source: “Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day” by Sheila Steele

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