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Canadian Review of American Studies Volume 23, Number 4, 1993, pp. 89-112 Violent Crime in Canada and the United States: A Theoretical Assessment VincentF. Sacco Introduction 89 The present paper reviews and critically assesses dominant accounts of Canadian-American differences in interpersonal criminal violence. Two major types of accounts are identified. The most popular type of account locates the source of these differentials in cultural distinctions that are thought to separate Canadians from Americans. A second form of explanation deemphasizes the importance of culture and focuses attention instead on the study of comparative socialstructure. In so doing, it offers a critique of the cultural approach. It is argued below that neither cultural nor structural accounts can by themselves provide a satisfactory interpretation of Canadian-American patterns of violent crime. It is also argued that any attempt to refine and integrate structural and cultural accounts necessitates a critical reexamination of some of the basic assumptions made by scholars who have attempted to apply these perspectives to the issue in question. A review of the literature that attempts to interpret the meaning of differences in Canadian and American patterns in violent crime is preceded by a discussion of the empirical evidence around which the theoretical debate revolves. 90 CanadianReview of American Studies An Overview of the Data It willbecome apparent in the discussion that follows that analytical attention is restricted to "common law'' crimes of interpersonal predation such as homicide, robbery, and assault. Thus, the domain of interest comprises a category that is not synonymouswith either crime or violence (see, for example , Torrance 1986).In this respect, the available data support two broad generalizations about the ways in which patterns of such crime differ between the two societies. First, differentials between Canadian and American violent crime patterns have been most extensivelydocumented and appear to be least ambiguous in the case of homicide. In general, aggregate rates of homicide in the United States greatly exceed those in Canada (Francis 1987; Hagan, "Enduring ," 1989; Michalos 1980). Between 1977 and 1987, for instance, the American rate was between three and four times the Canadian rate (Statistics Canada 1987).In 1986, the Canadian rate was 2.2 per 100,000 population compared with an American rate of 8.6 (Johnson 1990).Analyses of time series data suggest that these differences are enduring and that there is little indication of convergence over time (Hagan, "Comparing," 1989; "Enduring," 1989; Lenton, "Conflict," 1989; but, see Lenton, "Homicide," 1989;Block, McKie, and Miller 1982). Second, although it is generally recognized that data relating to violent offences such as robbery, assault, and violent sex crimes are less reliable than data relating to homicide, it does appear that with respect to such offences, Canadian-American differences are less strong and less consistent. Several observers place the Canadian robbery rate at approximately fifty percent of the American rate (Chretian 1982; Hagan 1984; 1988). Using Interpol data, for instance, C. B. Kalish (1988) estimates the 1984Canadian robbery rate per 100,000as 93, as compared with the American rate of 205 for the same year. The findings of a fourteen-nation victim survey provide data that permit an assessment of Canadian-American differences in robbery rates in a manner that is not contaminated by the vagaries of official record-keeping practices (van Dijk, Mayhew, and Killias 1990). The results of this study suggest a pattern of offending that is not markedly dissimilar from that revealed by police measures. Vincent F. Sacco I 91 Of all major categories of violent crime, sexual offences present perhaps the most serious definitional and measurement difficulties(Silverman 1980). As a result, official data relating to such offences must be viewed with caution. Kalish (1988) analyzes Interpol data which allow a comparison of Canadian and American rates of rape for the period 1980 to 1982.For the first two years of this series, the Canadian rate is approximatelyone-half the American rate while for the third year, the American rate is three times the Canadian rate. Other writers, however, maintain that the American rate during a roughly comparable period was, on average, approximately four times the Canadian rate (Chretian 1982;Hagan 1984). Although changes to Canadian law hinder more recent...


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