Category Archives: DataJournalism2016_1

Proving consent : why are men accused of rape so likely to leave the trial free ?


One in four women in North America will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. Yet, the chances for the victims to see the culprits locked in prison is slim. Even when  a trial is held, the accused is likely to be cleared.

In Canada, less than half of the criminal offenses all combined are cleared. However, when it comes to sexual assault, two third of cases are cleared (61%). A stable proportion over the last 15 years.

According to Blair Crew, lawyer and professor at the University of Ottawa, they are many reasons that explain this higher clearance rate.

The most delicate part is not to prove that the sexual intercourse happened, he explains, but to prove, « beyond a reasonable doubt », that it was consented.

Deb Singh, who works as a counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, agrees that proving consent is very difficult. « Sexual assault happens usually, according to statistics, when the two people know each other, in a private home. There is usually no witnesses. »

Other evidence might also be hard to find : « a person might have been assaulted even if they don’t have bruises, they might not even have conscience ! »

Often, the trial relies on the only testimony of the woman. But for Blair Crew, one of the reasons the accused is more likely to be cleared is that women might not be taken seriously :  « She can say, very clearly, ‘no, I didn’t consent’, and she might be not believed. »

For Deb Singh, it is also a matter of cultural perception of rape : « For decades, raping your wife was considered as something normal and acceptable. » According to her, rape is still not perceived seriously. « Last year in Ontario and Canada, there have been a number of judges who have made all sort of sexist comments, » she said.

90% of the cases are cleared in Nunavut

Aboriginal women might be even more exposed to the difficulty of the procedure.

The proportion of cases that result in a conviction can be drastically different from one province or territory to another. In Nunavut, about 90% of the accused walk free from the court, and about 80% in Northwest. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the rate drops at 37%.

Blair Crew states that « there might be different court procedures », but that the amount of aboriginal women might also be at stake. « Studies show that aboriginal women are less likely to be believed », he said. That would explain why in provinces where the proportion of aboriginal women is high, the clearance rates are higher according to the expert.

Only 6% of rapes are reported to the police

Many cases are thus cleared by charge, but some sexual assault cases might also be cleared otherwise, which includes, among other things, when the complainant declines to press charges. The proportion of cases of sexual assault cleared otherwise (18%) is slightly higher than in other criminal offenses (16%).

Blair Crew explains that it is more likely that the victims of rape tend to drop charges during the procedure, given the fact that it can be difficult to go through for the victims.

The defense might also ask for a therapeutical record, or request information about the woman previous sexual life. These requests that women could find intrusive or humiliating to the point that they decide to abandon the case.

From what Deb Singh observes after about 16 years of working with survivors of sexual assault, there is some kind of « double victimization » during the legal procedure. She recalls the case of a young woman against who the defense attorney used her activism against sexual violence on campus to discredit her, saying that « she wants the system to not convict her perpetrator because it would prove her activism was meaningful. »

The majority of the sexual assault are not reported to the police, only 6% according to a study of Statistics Canada ( While they are numerous reasons behind this, « women are aware of the difficulty of the procedure » said Blair Crew. « They fear they might not be believed. »

Blair Crew says that Ontario is currently training its crown better to handle sexual assault cases. « In the long term, I think it can make a difference. »

Aboriginal populations projected to rise but not because of births


In the next 20 years the aboriginal population categorized by First Nations, Metis, and Inuit is projected to increase dramatically as more people begin to report themselves as being aboriginal.

According to data from the 2006 Census and 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) over the course of five years the aboriginal population as a whole increased by 20 per cent. While high fertility among aboriginal women is one factor in the population increase, the largest factor driving the growth has to do with an increased number of people identifying themselves as aboriginal.dashboard-1

Aboriginal identity has been a point of confusion at the legal, political, and personal level. Legislative changes to the Indian Act and most recently the Supreme Court recognition of Metis peoples in April, have sought to legally define aboriginal peoples. For the Metis population, recognition of their identity has been especially difficult in the face of discrimination.

“Metis identity is a very confusing thing to a lot of people, mainly because there’s two major aspects of our identity; not only do you have to be of mixed ancestry: European and aboriginal, but you also have to have that connection to a historical Metis settlement,” said Kelly Douquette, a Metis law student at the University of Ottawa.

Douquette thinks more people will identify themselves as Metis after the Supreme Court decision.

“Now that our rights are recognized and we are legitimized by the government, a lot of people don’t feel as afraid to come forward, and really be proud of who they are.”

In the Statistics Canada report Projections of the Aboriginal Population and Households in Canada, 2011 to 2036, the Metis population is estimated to experience the most growth from ‘ethnic mobility’ the formal term for self-identification.

“Self-reported identification is more important for the Metis population and the non-status Indian population, because even within the aboriginal population you have differences of main factors of growth,” Stephanie Langlois, senior analyst for Statistics Canada demography division, said.

“Someone in the past might not have identified themselves as an aboriginal person and five years later they self-identify with an aboriginal group.”



Annie Turner, a statistician with Statistics Canada, said the drastic increase can be attributed to a number of factors.

“We know that fertility rate is higher for aboriginal people compared to non-aboriginal people but there are many factors that we need to take into account when comparing the aboriginal population between 2006 to 2011, so there could be slight differences in the wording of the questions, differences in methodology between the 2006 Census and NHS, some legislative changes for example Bill C-31 in 1985 or Bill C-3 in 2011,  which could affect these concepts of aboriginal identity or registered Indian status, as well as the definition of reserves.”

The 2036 projections estimate that the aboriginal populations could rise even higher if certain growth characteristics such as fertility and ethnic mobility continue their trends. In the western provinces such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, aboriginal populations could make up one in five people in this provinces by 2036.

Meanwhile in the territories like the Yukon, Nunavut, and the North West Territories, Inuit hold the highest share of the total population although of a much smaller total population.

Compared to the non-aboriginal population, the aboriginal population is growing at a much faster rate. The non-aboriginal population is increasing less than one per cent a year, mainly due to immigration, while the aboriginal population is averaging 1.1 to 2.2 per cent.


Only a fraction of mischief to religious property incidents result in charges


churchAlthough 380 religious properties across Canada were targeted in hate-related mischief between 2011 and 2015, only eight per cent of those incidents led to a charge, according to data from Statistics Canada.

“This is a huge concern,” said Amira Elghawaby, the communications director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, “It just begs more questions. How much resources are being put on these issues?”

Within the five-year period, 2011 had the highest number of charges. Only 13 charges came out of the 72 incidents that happened in the year. In 2015, only five people were charged despite 79 incidents.


“We know that our police services are often working with very limited budgets but it’s very important that police services take these concerns very seriously and they send a strong message to the wider community that such attacks are not going to be tolerated,” Elghawaby added.

But in most cases, the culprits of these forms of mischief are not easy to identify.

“The vast proportion of mischief incidents are graffiti,” said Mary Allen, a senior analyst with the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at Statistics Canada. “And when it’s graffiti, you have no idea who did it.”

The most common form of mischief involves the use of graffiti
The most common incidents of mischief to religious property involve the use of graffiti.

Incidents of hate-related mischief to religious property sometimes extend beyond graffiti. In September 2016, a mosque in Hamilton was the target of an arson attack. The National Council of Canadian Muslims has a hate crimes map that tracks hate-related mischief reported to the police or by news organizations.

Reluctance to report hate crimes

Incidents of hate-related mischief to religious property may be higher than the numbers show.

“We know that there is often a reluctance for institutions to report to police,” Elghawaby said about institutions within the Muslim community.

Her organization launched a national hate awareness campaign in 2014 to educate people about hate crimes and encourage them to report. In the same year, the number of police reported mischief to religious property was 96, the highest between 2011 and 2015.

“There is a fear of being seen as a problem in the neighbourhood, being further marginalized in the community, and so sometimes there are mosques that will just quickly, if it is graffiti, they will just remove it and not tell anyone at all,” Elghawaby said.

Allen said sometimes, communities of new immigrants who may not speak English or who feel uncomfortable talking to the police, are reluctant to report when their religious properties are targeted.

“If a community has a strong relationship with the police and strong ways to communicate with the police, you can expect higher reporting,” Allen said. “Police-reported hate crime numbers are very complex because of that.”

Statistics Canada’s most recent analysis of police-reported hate crimes states that the most common categories identified in mischief to religious property were Catholic.

(To see the entire Juristat report by Statistics Canada, please click on the annotated image)

No clear cause of change in numbers

The number of hate-related mischief to religious property went from 55 in 2013 to 96 in 2014, a 74 per cent hike. Last year, that number went down to 79. But there are no clear indications as to why that is.

“It’s really hard to disentangle,” said Allen. “It’s really hard to know whether the increase in the numbers is related to reporting or incidents. It’s probably both…with so much of what we produce, you can’t be sure that it’s measuring what is actually happening out there, but it’s measuring the reporting of it.”

Ottawa’s online harassment


The rate of people being charged for harassment using the internet or a phone in Ottawa is over double that of Toronto – but that doesn’t necessarily mean the problem is any worse than elsewhere in Canada, says the Ottawa Police Service.

According to analysis of statistics from Statistics Canada, nearly fifty people per 100,000 in Ottawa’s population were charged with indecent or harassing communications last year, a term which broadly describes using a form of telecommunication to harass, alarm or annoy another person. This is over twice the level seen in Toronto and in Ontario as a whole, both of which stand at around 22 charges per 100,000 population.

It is also substantially higher than the average rate of Canada as a whole, which is just over forty charges per 100,000 population.
However, the Ottawa Police Service claims that these statistics can be explained as a result of the crime classification system used by police in Canada.

Constable Marc Soucy said, “It all depends on how other police forces categorise their crimes.
“We use the model that’s issued by Statistics Canada and that could be why some police forces have some discrepancies when it comes to numbers.”

Police in Canada are required to enter data about all crimes into the Statistics Canada system, which prepares them for easy access by the public. The system only allows police to enter up to four offences per ‘event’. This means that not all of the offences involved in a case involving many separate crimes might be included in the report to Statistics Canada.

If the Ottawa Police Service tends to include indecent or harassing communications among those four offences more often than other police forces, then their statistics can be skewed. The statistics may suggest that they charge more people than other jurisdictions, even if those elsewhere are charged with the same crime, simply depending on which offences are sent to Statistics Canada.

Cyberbullying is one such case where many offences can apply to one incident. While cyberbullying as a concept is not itself a crime – the term is vague, and covers a wide range of behaviour that is not necessarily criminal – many offences, such as intimidation, counselling suicide and harassing communication, can be referred to as cyberbullying if they are committed with the use of technology. If a case of cyberbullying is brought to the police, only the most serious of these offences will be reported to Statistics Canada.

Soucy points out that despite the high rate, the Ottawa Police Service receive telephone or internet harassment cases fairly infrequently.
“I don’t think it’s an everyday thing, I do believe it happens but I doubt we get a file every day.”

This sentiment was echoed by Carleton University’s Department of Safety, which is responsible for listening to students who are being harassed.

Jeff Condie, a Community Liaison Officer for the Department of Safety, said “I think online harassment is moderate at Carleton, and is not something we deal with every day.”

He also noted, however, that there are likely to be many cases of harassment that do not reach them.

“I would say that a lot of cases would go unreported. This can be attributed to a number of factors, such as the victim not wanting to take the time to file a complaint, feeling embarrassed about what the harassment entails or simply not knowing that they are a victim.”
The advice from the Ottawa Police is, “if you fear for your safety, or if somebody’s done you wrong, and it’s maybe criminal, to report it to police.”

Hydro: Low-income families continue to struggle with rising energy costs

Hydro One transmission lines near Kingston, Ont., July, 2016.
Hydro One transmission lines near Kingston, Ont., July, 2016.

Data released from the Ontario Energy Board, the organization responsible for regulating the province’s energy sector, shows that over the past two years, low-income customers in Ontario fell behind on their electricity bills at a rate more than twice the provincial average.

Over the past two years, the number of low-income customers in Ontario behind on their electricity bills climbed from roughly 14,000 at the end of 2013 to nearly 20,000 by the end of 2015 – an increase of 42 per cent. The overall number of customers behind on their bills during this same period went from 472,000 to more than 565,000 – an increase of 19 per cent.

“The OEB is committed to protecting Ontario’s energy consumers – especially low-income consumers,” said Karen Evans, a spokesperson for the OEB. “We understand that for some Ontarians, electricity prices are making it difficult to make ends meet. The data shows that low-income consumers are having difficulty paying their bills.”

Meanwhile, the same data shows the total dollar amount owed by low-income customers in Ontario during this period increased from $5.3 million to more than $13 million – a jump of 140 per cent. Overall, the amount consumers owed electricity distributors in Ontario went from $108 million in 2013 to more than $172 million by the end of 2015 – an increase of 59 per cent.

While Evans acknowledges that rising electricity costs have placed a growing strain upon the province’s families, she also says her organization works closely with local aid groups and social service providers to ensure low-income Ontarians have access to government assistance.

“We’ve created programs that are specifically designed to help vulnerable customers,” said Evans. “[We] also have special rules in place that utilities must follow when dealing with customers with limited finances, including waiving security deposits and allowing longer payment periods.”

Assistance not enough

Despite all the rules and regulations, many Ontarians say the rising cost of electricity is simply too great to keep up with.

Jason Ladouceur, a 37-year-old from Parry Sound, Ont., says rising electricity costs and the constant threat of disconnection have been a “absolute nightmare.”

“This summer was terrible,” said Ladouceur. “We thought we had everything under control, but then I was late on one payment and they were right back at my door ready to disconnect.”

Ladouceur owes more than $3,000 in overdue payments to Hydro One, the province’s largest electricity distributor. He says the bill dates back to when his home had two meters, and that he was essentially being charged twice for the same thing. Hydro One did eventually remove the second meter, but his electricity bill remains.

“It’s just insane to think we were responsible for covering bills on two separate meters,” said Ladouceur, whose family now lives in the downstairs in-law suit of their home as a way to conserve electricity. “It’s legalized extortion – that is what Hydro One has created.”

Aid groups struggle to keep up

Aid organizations across the province have also struggled to keep up.

Jared Zieroth, Executive director of the United Way of Thunder Bay, says his organization has seen a rush of low-income and impoverished families over the past few years requiring assistance with their electricity bills.

“For us, the ask just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Zieroth. “The gap between what we’re able to fund and the need continues to grow.”

Zieroth says his organization’s primary concern is poverty, but adds that energy costs – not just electricity, but also natural gas and propane – have made getting by just that much more difficult for low-income families.

“Thunder Bay has been a fantastic community,” said Zieroth. “They pitch in, but there’s really only so much they can do.”

Canadians Leaving Country For Terrorism Now Four Times Higher, Statistics Say


Recent statistics have shown that the amount of Canadians leaving the country to join terrorist organizations has increased exponentially over the past two years.

Terrorism incidents in Canada have more than doubled between 2014 and 2015, according to incident-based crime statistics from StatsCan in 2015. Out of the 173 reported incidents in 2015, the amount of Canadian nationals leaving the country to participate in the activity of a terrorist group quadrupled from 2014.

That’s 28 nationals leaving Canada in 2015 compared to 7 in 2014. Experts are attributing the rise in numbers to ISIS’ self-proclaimed status as a state as compared to being a traditional terrorist organization.

“10 years ago there was no organization actively telling people to come and join them,” says Meriem Rebbani-Gosselin, a research officer at Montreal’s Center for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence.  The institution was the first of its kind in the nation and offers 24/7 support to families, teachers and social workers concerned with individuals who may be shifting toward radical, violent thought.

“It’s not so much, ‘I’m going to show up there and it’s going to be up to fate.’ A lot of people are very certain that they’ll arrive there in a legitimate country.”

Cities that saw the highest increases of Canadians leaving to join a terrorist group included Ottawa/Gatineau, Vancouver and Montreal, which went from having one Canadian national leaving in 2014 to seven in 2015.

But other experts are questioning the terrorist organization’s legitimacy as a state and wondering if, in fact, numbers are truly on the rise.

Statistics should only be taken with a grain of salt, some terrorists experts are claiming. Jan Fedorowicz, who teaches the history of terrorism at Carleton University, says that while ISIS propaganda has been effective and attracted Western nationals, the number of Canadians leaving to join organizations like ISIS has most likely declined.

“They positioned themselves as winners,” Fedorowicz said. “They were expanding and moved into various cities suddenly and that appealed to people lost and disaffected. ISIS is now on the defensive.

“One of the attractive aspects of ISIS used to be social programs and they offered serious money to recruits. For unemployed or desperate people that appealed. They don’t have those resources anymore.”

Another troubling speculation about the statistics are the discrepancies StatsCan has with other reports. The Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS) estimated that 62 nationals left Canada to fight for terrorist groups as of March 2016, while the 2016 Public Report On The Terrorist Threat To Canada reported as many as 180.

For Gosselin, inaccuracies in data can be attributed to the idea that it’s almost impossible to track all Canadians leaving with the intention of going to Syria for terrorist reasons, especially since direct travel to Syria is almost impossible.

“When we talk about rape statistics, of course you can have sexual abuse statistics but these will never be the actual number of victims because there’s a lot of people who don’t report. It’s the same thing with the number of people who left for Syria.

“It’s hard to hide the fact that someone got on a plane and left the country, but there has to be a number of people who got on a plane to another country and reached Syria by other means.”

The means of getting to Syria have become much more difficult since Turkey closed its border with Syria. This has led to a decline in nationals leaving to join ISIS as well, experts say.

“The numbers are going down but I wouldn’t say it’s because of a fall off in demand,” said Dr. Lorne Dawson, Director of TSAS. “The numbers are going down because it’s so much harder to go.”

Dawson and TSAS, between May 2014 and March 2016, have researched and drawn their own statistics claiming that 62 Canadians have left the country for terrorist activities in the Middle East from interviewing foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, jihadists and people who want to go to Syria and Iraq. He claims that, while inaccuracies may exist, the threat no matter the size should not be ignored.

“ISIS itself has now for about the last six months repeated the statement, ‘Don’t come.’ ISIS is telling people to stay at home and do something there.”

“Terrorism, statistically, continues to be a small phenomenon and we’re not as inflicted as other countries. But I always stress to people, while we’re better off than most countries, it would be a total elusory to think we don’t have a serious problem here.”

Lack of training could result in numerous unreported arsons

Members of the Ottawa Police Service Arson Unit conduct a controlled vehicle burn.
Members of the Ottawa Police Service Arson Unit conduct a controlled vehicle burn.

A potential lack of qualifications along with the ignorance towards the crime’s significance may be the cause for numerous unreported arsons across Ontario.

With municipalities across the country sending local fire services to contain and extinguish fire outbreaks on a daily basis, some believe that underqualified fire servicemen are not able to, or simply do not, determine whether or not a fire was an arson.

“Arson is pretty much the most under-investigated crime in Canada,” says Sgt. David Christie of the Ottawa Police Service’s Arson Unit. “It’s mind-boggling. I’m sure there are at least ten fires a year in Ottawa, if not more than that, that have been incorrectly determined to be accidental.”

According to Statistics Canada, Ottawa has averaged the fourth-lowest annual arson rate – measured by incident per 100, 000 population – among Ontario municipalities between 2011 and 2015. However, Christie is adamant that although these statistics offer wishful thinking, they are skewed.

Instead, he suggests that most members of the fire service do not have the investigative and technical background necessary to properly conduct initial investigations. Without such a background, arson may not come to the attention of the arson unit.

“In some places, investigation is just a box the fire services have to tick off,” says Christie. “It’s not a priority so I think that really does impact a lot of statistics of what is an arson and what isn’t.”

Arson, which is the crime of intentionally setting fire to property, that goes unreported can result in one of three potential consequences. First, an arson deemed to be an accidental fire could leave an arsonist with malicious intent at large. Although some arsonists can be assumed to be non-physical threats to the public as their sole interest is in the insurance claim, there remains the potential of a roaming, public-threatening arsonist.

Another potential consequence of improper investigation is mistaking a homicide for an accidental fire-related death. In connection with the first consequence, livelihood could be jeopardized by not calling in an arson unit for proper investigation.

The third, yet likely not the last, consequence is a fraudulent insurance claim affecting the insurance premiums of the public. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, insurance companies that unknowingly face fraudulent claims raise insurance premiums in order to manage losses.

Mario Delorme, the manager of Ottawa’s Origin and Cause branch, notes that reported arsons allow insurance companies to get involved and prevent fraud.

“Insurance companies hire private sector engineers and fire investigators to find answers as to what happened,” says Delorme. “For example, if a recall from a device is shown to have caused the fire, the insurance industry can choose to proceed with subrogation in order to recover the money they had to pay out to replace what the people have lost.”

Whether it’s in the private sector or a municipality, both Christie and Delorme agree that higher demands of expertise across all fire services are a necessity.

“Fires are complex investigations that often require expertise from many different backgrounds and the process of elimination in a fire scene is crucial to support a hypothesis that can sustain rigid scrutiny if it has to go to court,” says Delorme.

Christie adds to Delorme’s thoughts by saying the curiosity and skepticism achieved in police training are rare in the fire service, but are necessary for investigation.

“The issue is having every fire service in Ontario trained and equipped to conduct thorough fire investigations,” says Christie. “That doesn’t always happen. It’s a matter of getting everyone on board.”

Mediterranean refugee and migrant deaths threaten to set grim new record


3,171 refugees and migrants died or disappeared attempting to cross the Mediterranean during the first eight months of 2016, a 20 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

The startling figure is the result of analysis of data made available by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Julia Black leads the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which documents migrant deaths worldwide. “If the pace keeps up,” she says, “we are on track to have the most deaths in the Mediterranean (ever recorded in a single year).”

Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive on the island of Lesvos in Greece. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive on the island of Lesvos in Greece. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Central Mediterranean route, which connects North Africa to Italy, saw the highest number of deaths this year, claiming 2,719 lives between January and August. The route has long been recognized as the deadliest crossing in the Mediterranean by groups such as the IOM and Médecins Sans Frontières. But Black says new smuggling tactics have led to more deaths this year.

“Now that there are a lot of rescue operations off the coast of Libya,” says Black, “smugglers will basically equip a boat, often overload it, and give it basically enough petrol to take it out of Libyan waters, so it can be rescued by these rescue operations. But then the ship will suddenly stop, and the people are stranded at sea.”

Smugglers are also increasingly launching multiple boats at once, each potentially carrying hundreds of migrants. When the boats scatter and encounter trouble on the open waters, rescue vessels are left scrambling.

Mediterranean refugee and migrants deaths by migration route (2015-16)

A gruesome responsibility

Few people understand the grisly task of recovering dead bodies better than Jan Bikker, a forensics specialist with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Since May, Bikker has been in Athens, Greece — part of the Eastern Route that migrants take from Turkey — training organizations on how to recover and identify dead migrants.

Bikker has responded to seven shipwrecks since his arrival. “It’s always difficult because, well, normally half of the people who are involved are children, or at least young adults,” he says. And while Bikker is well prepared to respond to these catastrophes, he knows the toll it can take on coast guard crews. “Recovering babies is, of course, not part of their normal job,” he says. “Emotionally, I’m sure many of them will be affected.”

Asked whether he sees an end in sight to the crisis, Bikker offers a bleak assessment: “I don’t think there will be a stop to it.”

No end in sight?

According to Scott Watson, an associate professor of political science at the University of Victoria, this year’s Mediterranean death toll may actually be tied to increased patrolling. Watson points to a similar situation along the U.S.-Mexico border. “As enforcement picked up, they managed to reduce the number of crossings,” he says, “but it forced migrants into more dangerous routes, and so the numbers of fatalities have increased.”

Back in Europe, the number of migrant deaths is all the more concerning considering the number of persons attempting the crossing has fallen by just over 20 per cent. The drop is due in large part to the closing of the Balkan borders, as well as the agreement negotiated this March between the European Union and Turkey.

Like Bikker, Watson is unsure the crisis can be resolved. “The international community is clearly aware of what’s going on and the need to do something,” he says. Watson points to recent efforts to drum up support for increased refugee resettlement, but remains skeptical. “I’m not sure that the tools they have are ultimately going to resolve this, but at least that’s one of the options that’s been kicked around.”

Prostitution rates in Ottawa higher than Toronto and Montreal


Most people would not consider our nation’s capital to have higher prostitution rates than our more populous neighbours, Toronto and Montreal. The numbers tell a different story.

According to the 2015 Statistics Canada Incident-based crime statistics, total prostitution rates in Ottawa were not only higher than the average federal and provincial rates, but also higher than nearby metropolitan cities, such as Toronto and Montreal.

This data shows that last year, the prostitution rate per 100,000 people in the City of Ottawa was 2.61, while the Canadian rate was 0.48, and the Ontario rate was 0.41. Montreal’s rate sunk to 0.32 and Toronto saw its lowest rate in more than 15 years at 0.07.


Christine Bruckert, a Criminology professor at the University of Ottawa says these numbers don’t explain everything we need to know about the issue.

“High stats don’t tell us that there is a particularly large sex industry in Ottawa, it tells us that the police are particularly vigilant,” she explains. Bruckert has been engaged in research on the sex work industry for over 20 years.

“In Ottawa, since about 2007, police have taken a very aggressive approach to sex work,” she adds. Bruckert explains that police have mobilized a community against the street-based sex industry, spoken publically about it and have made the issue one of their pillars.

In 2014, Bill C-36 was introduced, making it illegal to purchase sexual services, but legal to sell them.

Sgt. Jeff LeBlanc of the Ottawa Police says the biggest challenge is finding a balance between the rights of the sex trade workers and responding to complaints from the neighbourhood.

“The new law acknowledges that they have a right to sell their own services, the issue is that we have yet to find a community that welcomes that in their own streets,” he adds.

Areas in Ottawa such as Carlingwood, Hintonburg and Gladstone are more likely to see sex workers, Bruckert explained. But Vanier is one of the biggest street-level prostitution locations, not only in Ottawa, but amongst other major cities as well. LeBlanc says it’s possible that this contributes to more complaints being received and therefore, more investigations being opened.

In larger cities such as Toronto, the sex trade has moved more towards online advertisements that can go unnoticed. In Ottawa, the street-based industry still remains an issue, LeBlanc adds.

“People often forget when they’re talking about them, as if sex workers aren’t part of the community. It’s their community,” shares Bruckert.

The 2014-2015 Crime Trend Report from the City of Ottawa shows that 90 per cent of reported prostitution related incidents were cleared from charges. Because the recent law change says sex workers are immune from arrest if they are selling their own services, these charges only relate to clients or “johns” using these services.


“We have a john school, so that is probably why a high percentage are not being charged in the end,” says LeBlanc.

He explains that this “school” is a diversion program specifically targeting users of sexual services. In order to qualify for these schools, individuals must meet a set of criteria at the scene of the crime and agree to the conditions to avoid charges. This criteria says they must not have a criminal record and not have dealt with the police in the past for similar offences.

Bruckert argues that it’s problematic to treat sex work as being inherently different than any other job, as it adds to the isolation and stigma around the industry and those engaged in it.

“People engage in sex work for the same reasons they engage in other labour activities, such as waitressing. For the money,” she adds.

Christine Bruckert, a University of Ottawa professor says we need to remember that prostitutes are part of our communities.
Christine Bruckert, a University of Ottawa professor says we need to remember that prostitutes are part of our communities.

Sydney Schnieder is the programming coordinator at Carleton University’s Womyn’s Centre. She describes herself as an advocate for the sex workers rights movement and says the best way to support workers is simply by acknowledging and listening to them.

“Each sex worker has a story to tell and they have opinions. Until we start to incorporate their opinions and experiences into our laws, into discussions about sex work, our opinions won’t be valid.”

Arrests for Sexual Assault on the Rise in Ottawa



A dramatic increase in Ottawa’s arrests for sexual assault may indicate a shift institutional shift in the Ottawa Police Services.

According to Statistics Canada crime data, the number of arrests for level one sexual assault, which is assault that results in minor or no bodily injuries, has increased in Ottawa by nearly 50 per cent from 2011 to 2015.

The numbers have surprised some experts. Holly Johnson, a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa says that the numbers present a different picture than what the national trend is showing. According to a Statistics Canada 2014 report on criminal victimization in Canada, only five per cent of sexual assaults in Canada were brought to the attention of police, down from eight per cent in 2004. But Johnson says these new numbers suggest Ottawa itself might be going in the opposite direction, “I’m not sure why Ottawa would be running counter to a national trend,” she says.

The same data that shows an increase in Ottawa’s arrests suggests that the rest of the country is not experiencing a similar spike. In fact the number of arrests for both Canada and Ontario have decreased by about two per cent between 2011 and 2015. Other major cities such as Toronto and Vancouver have seen an increase but not on the same scale as Ottawa.

The arrest rate for sexual assault in Ottawa has sky-rocketed in comparison with other major cities in Canada. The nation’s capital once lagged way behind other major Canadian cities, such as Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary in 2011, but in 2015 Ottawa had a higher rate than all four. While Ottawa’s rate is still lower than national and provincial average, the gap has closed significantly.

Yami Msosa, of the Ottawa Sexual Assault Support Centre, says that the increase in arrests is due to the way police are addressing sexual assault. In recent years Ottawa police have been criticized for the number of sexual assault cases reported as “unfounded.” When an incident is reported as unfounded it means that a crime did not occur or that there is insufficient evidence. Msosa says that the increase in arrests is due to the police changing their practices and laying charges.
“The number of incidents hasn’t actually changed, the way they report it has changed,” she says.
However, Professor Johnson does not think that the answer is that simple. Johnson states that it is likely that the increase in arrests could be caused by a shift in police practices. However, she says that there is limited data to suggest an increase in actual incidents or reports by victims of sexual assault.
“My educated guess is that the police are coding it differently,” she says, rather than treating cases as unfounded.
While the increase in arrests may be considered a small sign of a institutional shift in the way sexual assault cases are handled, Mavis Morton, a professor of criminology at the University of Guelph, believes that there is still a long way to go. She says that an arrest does not mean that the charges will proceed.
“An increase in arrests doesn’t necessarily say anything about what that leads to.” says Morton.
Morton says that while an increase in arrests might be a part of a shift towards taking sexual assault more seriously, “it is not the test that things have changed and that we are moving in a positive direction.