Starting in mid-May, the city cold called and questioned just over 1,200 residents—Have you, or someone you know, been a victim of violent crime? Do you think there is more violence in our community, or is it just a perception? How violent is your neighbourhood, on a scale of one to 10?
In August, there was further research—a mail-out survey to 5,000 residents. More questions. More participants. More data.
And, in Mike Tipping's estimation, one major oversight.
"Their survey was sent out during the summer," he says, "while most of the students in Halifax are gone."
Tipping is the president of the Dalhousie Student Union. Along with student reps from Saint Mary's, the Nova Scotia Community College and Mount Saint Vincent University, Tipping helped found the brand new Halifax Student Alliance. Their first project? Give students a voice at the mayor's roundtable. The Alliance posted a modified version of the city's 36-question survey on its website, halifaxstudentalliance.ca. In three weeks, it eclipsed the city's phone-in response, reaching over 1,300 students. The results will be presented to the mayor's roundtable panel on Saturday morning.
Donald Clairmont, director of the Atlantic Institute of Criminology at Dalhousie, was hand-picked by the mayor to chair the violence roundtable panel. He's charged with a near-impossible task: turning a growing mountain of public input into a comprehensive violence report, due in the next few months. He says the Alliance should be commended for pushing the student agenda into that discussion.
"These are students paying tuition, paying room and board, going downtown and getting smashed—sometimes—well, that's 20 grand a year per student, doncha' think? Add it up among all students, and that's a third of a billion dollars coming into HRM every year. That's big-time money. And they should have a say."
Clairmont will oversee three straight days of presentations, starting on Thursday morning, in council chambers in city hall. Some portions of the discussion will also be broadcast on Eastlink, including the students' report.
"The other thing I never appreciated, which I've heard from students: If Halifax has a bad rep' and people don't come here, it affects quality of education and the value of a degree," says Clairmont. " came and said we have concerns, and I'm glad they took the initiative."
The survey results are still being compiled, but Tipping says some of the emerging trends are concerning. For example, he says, eight percent of female students report that they've been a victim of sexual assault in the last 12 months.
There also seems to be a general lack of faith in Halifax Regional Police, to the point where students don't even bother going to the cops—even in the wake of a violent crime.
"We ask students if they report all of the incidents that happen to them," says Tipping. "Quite a few of the responses seem to be saying, "No I wouldn't report it,' "I don't trust the police,' or "I'd handle it myself.' You see responses like that and it makes one question the accuracy of crime statistics."
Still, it's difficult to generalize. When asked for anonymous comments at the end of the survey, student responses ranged from skeptical—"I think the media blows things out of proportion,"—to cautious—"I am definitely more nervous in the city than I was five years ago,"—and, occasionally, horrified—"A classmate was swarmed on Spring Garden Road during daylight—he was injured, could not finish his exams and suffered brain damage."
The survey will remain online even after Saturday's presentation; the Alliance wants to keep the discussion alive on campuses around the city.
Tipping isn't exactly sure what issue the Alliance will tackle next, but he's satisfied with their first project. The Alliance's mandate is to become a united student lobby group for students throughout the city and Tipping would like to see it grow.
"There's a lot of potential," he says. "I hope the response this time around reminds people that we are an important part of this community."