Pubdate: Tue, 25 Jul 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Joanna Smith
Page: A2


OTTAWA - The number of police-reported cannabis offences declined for
the fifth straight year, Statistics Canada said Monday, a downward
trend that began long before the Liberals brought forward their plan
to legalize the drug for recreational use.

The annual tally of police-reported crime from the Canadian Centre for
Justice Statistics said there were about 55,000 offences related to
marijuana reported to police in 2016, about 6,000 fewer than reported
the year before - despite previous data showing consumption of the
drug on the rise.

The Liberal government has introduced legislation to legalize
marijuana - a goal it intends to achieve by next summer - but has
decided against decriminalizing simple possession in the interim,
which the NDP has been urging them to do.

Statistics Canada said police charged 17,733 people with possession of
pot last year.

That is a drop of about 3,600 from 2015, but still accounts for 76 per
cent of all cannabis-related charges.

"We've still got a significant number of people being charged for
simple possession of cannabis in this country," said Eugene Oscapella,
a lawyer who lectures on drug policy in the criminology department at
the University of Ottawa.

Statistics Canada also said the combined rate of drug-related offences
for substances other than cannabis and cocaine, which had also been on
the decline, has been increasing since 2010.

That included a seven per cent increase in the number of
police-reported offences related to the possession of drugs such as
prescription drugs, including opioids such as fentanyl, LSD and
so-called "date rape" drugs in 2016, compared to the previous year.

There was also a slight uptick in the number of drug-impaired driving
violations - 3,098 in '16 compared to 2,755 the year before.

Still, 96 per cent of all police-reported impaired driving incidents
involved alcohol last year, with only four per cent involving drugs.

Statistics Canada suggested one reason the rate is so low is that
impairment from drugs is difficult to measure.

Oscapella said the legalization of marijuana should come with more
public awareness of its true effects on driving.

"Before, all we said was 'Thou shall not use.' We paid very little
attention to educating people about social responsibility and
driving," he said.

Meanwhile, the national crime rate did not change in

The national crime rate has been on a downward trend since the early
1990s, although there were increases reported in both 2003 and '15.

Statistics Canada said there were nearly 1.9 million Criminal Code
incidents - excluding traffic offences - reported by police in 2016,
about 27,700 more than in '15.

However, the severity of the crimes increased slightly for the second
year in a row.

The agency said the one per cent increase in its crime severity index
in 2016 was largely driven by a continued increase in the rate of
police-reported fraud, which was up by 14 per cent over the previous

That includes identity fraud, which was up by 16 per cent, and
identity theft, which was up by 21 per cent.

Rebecca Kong, chief of the policing services program at Statistics
Canada, said some specific scams, such as those involving fraudsters
purporting to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, could have led to the
higher number of fraud crimes reported to police.

"It could be also just an increase in awareness among victims and an
increase in encouraging of reporting also," she said.

Irvin Waller, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa,
said little is known about the true rate of victimization from fraud
in Canada, but data from the United Kingdom shows that about 80 per
cent of these sorts of crimes go unreported.

He urged Statistics Canada to include a question about fraud on its
next national survey on victimization.

"I think this small uptick is a reason to want to know more about
what's behind it," said Waller.

There were also reported increases in the rate of some violent

Among them was a 30 per cent increase in the rate of police-reported
incidents of sexual violations against children, which Statistics
Canada said could be partly due to recently introduced harsher
penalties changing the way these types of crimes are classified for
the annual report.

Statistics Canada also said the rate of police-reported sexual
assaults was 15 per cent lower than a decade earlier, despite the
self-reported sexual-assault rate remaining unchanged over roughly the
same period.

"This demonstrates that, due to a range of factors, police-reported
data can underestimate the nature and extent of sexual assault," the
agency said in its release Monday.

Police reported 611 homicides in 2016, which is two more than the
previous year, but because the size of the population grew, the rate
actually decreased by one per cent to 1.68 homicides per 100,000 people.

The city with the highest homicide rate was Thunder Bay, Ont.,
followed by Edmonton and Regina.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt