Canada’s Illicit Drug Charges Climb To 30-year High

Crime is less severe in Canada than it was a decade ago but the seriousness of violent crime is holding steady, according to a new report from Statistics Canada. (Photo: Malcolm Taylor)Crime is less severe in Canada than it was a decade ago but the seriousness of violent crime is holding steady, according to a new report from Statistics Canada. (Photo: Malcolm Taylor)Canada’s illicit-drug problem hit a 30-year high in 2007, with marijuana leading the way but losing ground to cocaine, ecstasy, crystal meth and date-rape drugs.

Statistics Canada reported Wednesday the increase in drug crimes reported to police, which reached more than 100,000, coincided with the overall crime rate hitting a 30-year low.

The agency speculated that a police crackdown on drugs could be responsible for the opposite trends, along with a decade-old change in federal law that cast more drugs as illicit and made drug production a crime.

“Police may focus law enforcement efforts more on addressing drug-related crimes when time, resources and priorities permit,” said the report. “It is also possible that legislative changes may affect the drug offence rate by criminalizing certain behaviours that were not previously considered to be a crime.”

Statistics Canada, citing a recent national study, also said that the increase could be attributed to more people using illicit drugs in recent years.

In 2007, the national drug-crime rate reached 305 cases per 100,000 population, building on 15 years of steady growth.

British Columbia retained its 30-year ranking as the country’s drug capital. In 2007, the rate in B.C. was more than double that in Saskatchewan, the next highest province.

Vancouver was Canada’s most concentrated drug centre, followed by Victoria, Abbotsford, B.C., and then Trois-Rivieres and Gatineau, both in Quebec.

Adults were more likely than young people to be caught with drugs. But youths, comprising 19 per cent of cases, were catching up in 2007.

The number of teens under 18 caught with illegal drugs more than doubled in a decade, while the rate of adults who were charged increased 32 per cent.

“This increase corresponds with an increase in drug use among youth,” said the report.

Statistics Canada also said that almost half of all drug charges in 2007 were stayed, withdrawn, or dismissed.

“Drug-related cases are less likely to result in conviction than cases in general,” said the study.

Cannabis accounted for two-thirds of all reported drug crimes and 75 per cent were for possession, 13 per cent for trafficking and 11 per cent for production.

Cocaine was the second illicit drug of choice, comprising 25 per cent of charges. About half were for possession and half for trafficking.

The category of “other” drug offences, however, was the fastest growing because it encompasses an explosion in synthetic drugs, mainly in Western Canada.

Statistics Canada noted that a little more than half of adults who were convicted of drug trafficking were incarcerated for an average of 278 days. For possession, 16 per cent were jailed for an average of nine days.

A proposed bill by the Harper government, however, would take away a judge’s discretion in sentencing adults by imposing mandatory minimum jail terms for selling drugs.

For youth, probation was the most common sentence for both possession and trafficking convictions, reflecting a 2003 change in young offender laws that encouraged alternatives to incarceration for all but the most violent crimes.

The Conservative government is also planning to toughen the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The Statistics Canada study noted that the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse estimates that illicit drug use costs the justice system about $2 billion annually.

“This figure climbs even higher when other social and health-related costs, such as medical expenses, loss of productivity and work absenteeism, are taken into account,” said the report.

Total police-reported drug offences, by census metropolitan area in 2007

(500,000 or more population)

Vancouver – 14,407

Toronto – 12,132

Montreal – 7,563

Edmonton – 2,437

Quebec – 2,090

Ottawa – 1,915

Calgary – 1,891

Hamilton – 1,325

Winnipeg – 1,151

(100,000 to less than 500,000 population)

Victoria – 1,596

London, Ont. – 1,211

Kitchener, Ont. – 1,210

Gatineau, Que. – 1,120

Halifax – 1,029

Windsor, Ont. – 968

Saskatoon – 873

St. Catharines—Niagara, Ont. – 650

Thunder Bay, Ont. – 355

Saint John, N.B. – 339

Kingston, Ont. – 319

Regina – 345

St. John’s, N.L. – 257

– Article from CanWest News Service.