Serious crime down in Ottawa, up in Kingston during pandemic

·3 min read
Serious crime dropped significantly in Ottawa in 2020 amid a wider drop across the country. (CBC - image credit)
Serious crime dropped significantly in Ottawa in 2020 amid a wider drop across the country. (CBC - image credit)

Newly released data from Statistics Canada shows significant drops in serious crime in Ottawa — but nearby Kingston, Ont., was identified as one of few places in Canada where crime is on the rise.

Statistics Canada's Crime Severity Index weighs police-reported crime by its seriousness, producing a score using a benchmark of 100, which is equal to 2006 crime rates.

Since 2006, serious crime has decreased significantly across the country, but the five years leading up to 2020 saw a gradual increase.

Last year, pandemic restrictions brought down crime numbers across most of Canada, with Ottawa's index dropping to 49.05 from 56.93 in 2019.

"It was a very interesting year," said Warren Silver, a statistician with Statistics Canada's Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Silver said, Ottawa saw major decreases in shoplifting, break-and-enters, theft and robbery.

Ottawa also saw three fewer homicides compared to 2019, and a 17 per cent drop in assaults and sexual assaults without a weapon.

In Gatineau, the drop was smaller thanks to a four per cent increase in violent crime, including an increase in homicides.

Gatineau, Kingston see rise in violent crime

But those small increases were offset by far fewer instances of breaking and entering and failing to stop at the scene of an accident, leading to a drop on the index to 51.38 from 55.76.

Not every crime was down. While harassment and threatening behaviour dropped in Ottawa in 2020, hate crimes rose sharply, with 66 more cases in Ottawa alone — a 57 per cent increase.

Ottawa also saw a huge spike of 62 per cent in instances of identity fraud reported to the police.

"We know a lot of people were living online," Silver said, but he declined to speculate on what was driving the increase.

The Ottawa Police Service did not have a spokesperson available to comment.

Kingston among few places to see numbers rise

Take a trip down Highway 416, and you get "a completely different story," Silver says — a jump on the index in Kingston, thanks to an increase in violent crime.

Even while the pandemic kept many Ontarians confined to their homes, Kingston saw an increase in break-and-enters.

Despite a decreasing number of sexual assaults, the city's score on the violent crime index rose to 73.99, from 67.74 a year earlier.

All that means Kingston saw the third largest increase in the severity of crime in the country, behind only Peterborough and Greater Sudbury.

Violent crime has been on the rise in Kingston since 2017, when it jumped to 62.79 on the index from an average of just 48.9 over the previous five years.

A spokesperson for the Kingston Police Service was not available to comment.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Silver said the the Crime Severity Index is designed to offer a more nuanced picture of crime than regular crime rate statistics, which treat all crimes the same.

On the index, "bicycle theft will have a lot less weight than a homicide," he explained.

"Crimes are weighted based on their maximum penalty in the criminal code, and by the actual sentence handed down by judges." It's then re-evaluated every five years.

Still, the index only captures police-reported crime, which is estimated at less than one-third of all crimes committed.

In Ontario, the index dropped by nearly nine per cent, amid a significant drop in homicides and a nationwide drop in sexual assaults for the first time in five years.

This year is already shaping up to see some of these numbers rise — Ottawa alone has seen 12 homicides in 2021 so far, two more than last year.

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