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REPORTED INCIDENTS, CONVICTIONS, INCARCERATION AND SENTENCING IN RELATION TO ILLEGAL DRUGS IN CANADA  

 Prepared For The Senate Special Committee On Illegal Drugs

Gérald Lafrenière
Law and Government Division


23 May 2002

LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT


REPORTED INCIDENTS, CONVICTIONS, INCARCERATION AND SENTENCING IN RELATION TO ILLEGAL DRUGS IN CANADA

INTRODUCTION  

                        This paper provides a brief overview of Canadian statistics dealing with reported incidents, convictions, incarceration and sentencing in relation to illegal drug offences in Canada.  Most of the information contained in it was obtained from publications prepared by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.  

                        Some of the information presented in this paper must be carefully interpreted.  While it would be easy to use this information as a basis for drawing conclusions in relation to drug use and the demand for illegal drugs in Canada, it is generally thought that crime statistics reported by police are a reflection of police activity.  Thus, these numbers often relate to changes in police tactics and priorities, and are not generally reflective of societal changes.  This is especially true for police reported drug-related statistics.  Nonetheless, it would be difficult to conduct a comprehensive review of Canada’s illegal drug policy without at least briefly examining some of the crime statistics dealing with illegal drug use in Canada. 

                        This paper forms part of a series of papers prepared by the Parliamentary Research Branch of the Library of Parliament for the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs.

 

REPORTED INCIDENTS([1]) AND CHARGES  

                        As is clear from Figure 1, incidents reported by police according to the most serious crime reveal that, from 1983 to 1995, incidents related to drug offences were relatively stable, hovering around 60 000 per year.  However, from 1995 to 2000, there has been an increase of approximately 50%, with the number of reported incidents reaching nearly 88 000.  In fact, the rate of drug offences increased by 9% in 2000 in relation to the previous year.    

Much of this increase can be attributed to cannabis-related offences.  These offences account for the majority of all drug-related offences in Canada.  In 2000, cannabis-related offences accounted for just over 66,000 of reported incidents, thus 75% of all drug-related incidents.  This percentage has been relatively stable over the years.  Of this number (66,000), 68% (over 45,000) were for possession of cannabis, 16% for trafficking, 14% for cultivation, and 2% for importation.([2])  This means that over 50% of reported incidents in relation to drug-related offences are for possession of cannabis.

In recent years, the cultivation of cannabis, particularly in British Columbia, has raised concerns.  A report by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics states the following:  “The illegal cultivation of cannabis, particularly in cases where it is being grown without landowners’ consent, has recently become an important issue.  This type of offence has also seen an increase over the past decade:  from a rate of 5 incidents per 100,000 population in 1990 to 29 in 2000.”([3]) 


Figures 2A and 2B provide information on the location of reported incidents from 1988 to 1997.  Not surprisingly, the most populated provinces are at the top, with Ontario in the lead followed by British Columbia, Québec and Alberta.  British Columbia has historically had the highest provincial rate of drug crime in the country.([4])  For example, in 1997, the rate was 426 incidents per 100,000 population, almost double the national figure of 222.  In the same year, the province with the lowest reported drug crime rate was Newfoundland, with a rate of 132 incidents per 100,000 population.


                        
                    

                        From the available data (see figure 3), it would seem that total charges for drug-related offences have declined noticeably since 1997.  The reader should be aware that the number of reported incidents (discussed previously) is not equivalent to the number of charges that are laid by the police.  In some cases, the police will report a drug incident but will decide not to charge the offender.  It is important to note that figure 3 does not include data from three of the provinces (New Brunswick, Manitoba and British Columbia) and from one of the Territories (Nunavut).  In addition, data from certain courts in Québec is not included.  Also, the data prior to 1995 is based on approximations made from the average distribution of charges during the period covering the years 1995 to 2000. 

Because the province of British Columbia is not included, it is clear that the actual number of drug charges in Canada would be much higher than what is found in figure 3.  As was previously explained, British Columbia has, in the past, consistently reported the highest rate of drug crime.  Statistics in 1997 show, however, that with respect to charging drug offenders, the province of British Columbia is more lenient than other provinces:  “Among provinces and territories, police departments in British Columbia reported the lowest charge rate (47%) for drug offences.  Only 35% of cannabis incidents and 36% of “other drug” incidents resulted in charges, compared to 79% and 81% for all the other provinces combined.”([5]) 

With respect to cannabis offences in the year 2000, the male population is much more likely to be charged with an offence.  For both youth (12 to 17) and adults, 87% of the people charged with cannabis offences are male.([6])  In addition, adults are much more likely to be charged than youths (83% of the people charged are adults).([7])


Source:  Statistics Canada, Table 252-0004

 

CONVICTIONS

 

Figure 4 details the outcome of those charged with drug offences in selected provinces.  It would appear that from 1995 to 2000, there has been a fairly significant increase in the percentage of accused having their charges stayed or withdrawn.  Not surprisingly, this has resulted in a lower percentage of accused being found guilty of drug offences once they have been charged.  Again, it is important to note that figure 4 does not include data from three of the provinces (New Brunswick, Manitoba and British Columbia) and from one of the Territories (Nunavut).  In addition, data from certain courts in Québec is not included.  Also, the data prior to 1995 is based on approximations made from the average distribution of charges during the period covering the years 1995 to 2000. 


Source:  Statistics Canada, Table 252-0003

 

INCARCERATION

 

                        As of 31 December 2000, 5,779 convicted drug offenders were under federal jurisdiction (either serving their sentence:  1) in a federal institution or 2) on conditional release).  Of these, 3,890 were serving sentences for trafficking, 621 for importation, 225 for cultivation and 2,221 for possession.([8]) 

                        Of the 5,779 convicted drug offenders serving their sentences on 31 December 2000, 2,548 were serving their sentences in federal correctional institutions:  1,613 for trafficking, 113 for importation, 82 for cultivation and 1,318 for possession.([9])  In addition, 3,231 were on conditional release:  2,312 for trafficking, 508 for importation, 145 for cultivation and 946 for possession.([10])

                        In the five-year period from 1995 to 2000, the total federal drug offender population has increased by almost 9%.  Most of the growth is in relation to those on conditional release as this population has increased by 19% over this period.  At the same time, the number of those serving their sentence in institutions has decreased by 2%.([11])

                        At the end of 2000, the average time served by drug offenders in federal custody was 2.2 years.  With respect to conditional release, the average time served was 3.7 years.  While this is less than the average for non-drug offences, it is interesting to note that the average time served in custody for possession offences was 2.52 years, while it was 1.89 years for trafficking, 1.48 years for importation and 0.88 years for cultivation.  For those on conditional release, the average time served for importation was 4.6 years, while it was 3.6 years for possession, 3.5 years for trafficking and 2.2 years for cultivation. 

Figure 5 provides details of the number of admissions by region in federal correctional institutions in relation to drug offences for the year 2000 and the number of inmates incarcerated in different regions of the country as of 31 December 2000.  These numbers represent drug offenders who were sentenced to a term of two or more years.

Source:  Forum on Corrections Research, September 2001, Vol. 13, p.26.


Figure 6 provides details of the number of admissions to provincial correctional establishments in relation to certain drug offences (trafficking and importation).  These numbers represent drug offenders who were sentenced to a term of less than two years.

 

 


Source:  Statistics Canada, Catalogue 85-211


SENTENCING

 

For the year 1996-97, 64% of persons convicted of drug trafficking were sentenced to imprisonment.  The median sentence was four months.  Probation was imposed as the most serious sentence in 24% of these cases and fines in 9%.([12]) 

With respect to possession, a fine was imposed in 63% of the cases, with a median amount of $200.  A fine was imposed as the most serious sentence in 55% of cases, probation in 22% and imprisonment in 13%.([13]) 

The data in this section does not include New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.



APPENDIX 1

This section presents the data that was use to make the figures in this paper.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                         COND'

 

 

 

   

Ontario

1994-1995

 

3494

1995-1996

2969

1996-1997

3288

1998-1997

3057

1999-1998

2625

1999-2000

2152

 

 

 

Manitoba

1994-1995

213

1995-1996

170

1996-1997

145

1998-1997

101

1999-1998

70

1999-2000

0

 

 

 

Saskatchewan

1994-1995

0

1995-1996

0

1996-1997

0

1998-1997

0

1999-1998

77

1999-2000

34

 

 

 

Alberta

1994-1995

1934

1995-1996

1793

1996-1997

1771

1998-1997

1155

1999-1998

1741

1999-2000

1649

 

 

 

British Columbia

1994-1995

871

1995-1996

994

1996-1997

807

1998-1997

741

1999-1998

757

1999-2000

877

Yukon

1994-1995

50

1995-1996

72

1996-1997

49

1998-1997

42

1999-1998

58

1999-2000

74

 

 

 

Northwest territories

1994-1995

155

1995-1996

0

1996-1997

0

1998-1997

0

1999-1998

0

1999-2000

0

 

 

 

TOTAL

1994-1995

9308

1995-1996

8499

1996-1997

8284

1998-1997

7014

1999-1998

6963

1999-2000

6024


([1])        According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, these are incidents that come to the attention of the police and are captured and forwarded to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics according to a nationally-approved set of common crime categories and definitions.  The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics warns that crime statistics may be influenced by many factors including reporting by the public to the police, reporting by the police to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, the impact of new initiatives such as changes in legislation, polices or enforcement practices, and social, economic and demographic changes.  In addition, the survey counts only the most serious offence committed in each criminal incident, which consequently underestimates the total number of drug-related incidents.

([2])        Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Crime Statistics in Canada, 2000, Juristat, Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE Vol. 21, no. 8 p. 11.

([3])        Ibid.

([4])        It should be noted that in 1997 the rate in both Yukon and N.W.T. was even higher than British Columbia’s.

([5])        Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Illicit Drugs and Crime in Canada, Juristat, Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE Vol. 19, no. 1 p. 5.  In this case “other drugs” means:  1) illegal drugs other than cannabis, cocaine or heroin and 2) controlled drugs.           

([6])        Crime Statistics in Canada, 2000, Supra note 2 at p. 19.

([7])        Ibid.

([8])        Correctional Service Canada, Forum on Corrections Research, Volume 13, no. 3, September 2001, p. 25.  Please note that possession for the purpose of trafficking is included in the trafficking numbers.

([9])        Ibid.  It should be noted that some offenders might be represented in more than one drug offence category.

([10])      Ibid.

([11])      Ibid.

([12])      Illicit Drugs and Crime in Canada, Supra note 5, p. 7.

([13])      Ibid.


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