Canada’s crime rate is falling — but drug charges are rising

Posted on July 7, 2017 in Child & Family Debates – News/Canada – Canadians like their pot. Police like to charge them. A look at marijuana use and criminal charges.
July 7, 2017.   By

Pot is the most popular of Canada’s illicit drugs.

According to the 2015 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, about one in 10 Canadians aged 15 and older reported marijuana use in 2013. One-third of Canadians reported using it at some point in their lives.

The police-reported crime rate peaked in 1991 and had been declining ever since. Not so the police-reported rate of drug-related offences. They grew by 52 per cent from 1991 to 2013, according to a Statistics Canada report into drug-related offences.

There were 109,000 police-reported drug offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in 2013 alone, with two-thirds involving cannabis. In fact, half of all the offences were for possession of pot. Cocaine accounted for the next largest group of offences at 16 per cent.


About one in 20 incidents reported by police on 2013 was primarily drug-related, according to the Statscan survey.

Affected most by police-reported drug offences are young people, ages 18-24, charged at a rate of 1,176 per 100,000 people in that category, followed by those 12-17 at a rate of 741 per 100,000.

In roughly half of completed cases in youth and adult courts involving marijuana, the marijuana charge was the only charge. Marijuana cases across the country were “more commonly stayed or withdrawn (55 per cent) than cases involving other types of drugs (38 per cent),” notes the Statistics Canada report.

While possession charges laid by Toronto police gradually increased under Bill Blair’s tenure as chief, in 2013, the service ranked low in laying of drug offences, per capita, compared to other large urban areas.

Across Canada in 2013, four out of 10 marijuana-related offences (41 per cent) were “cleared” — or disposed of — before reaching court, compared to 17 per cent for other drug offences.

Police have been using discretion to keep a lot of marijuana cases out of the courts, but police databases that track arrests have, in many cases, indeterminate shelf lives.

“Once you’re on the radar, you’re always on the radar,” says Daniel Brown, a Toronto criminal lawyer.

In Toronto, a first arrest for simple possession often results in an unconditional release or diversion, resulting in no criminal record, but the arrest remains in the system.

A second arrest may not be treated as lightly and can lead to charges, court appearances, the stress that comes with that, including the financial strain of paying a lawyer, and a conviction that can affect employment and travel.

Often, conditions are placed on the convicted, leading to administrative charges for breaching those conditions, which can include automatic jail time.


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