How the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Affecting Crime Rates Across Canada

17 police services reported that certain criminal incidents decreased by 17 percent in the first six months of the pandemic. However, domestic violence calls increased. Calls for threats against family members also increased. These calls increased by four percent when compared to 2019. With lockdown measures potentially extending well into 2021, certain crime rates may continue to rise.

Crime Rates During the COVID-19 Pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, Statistics Canada measured the effects of COVID-19 on the crime rates in Canada. During the first six months of the pandemic, police reported a 27 percent decrease in sexual assaults when compared to the same period the year prior. Police also reported a decrease in property crimes. Shoplifting decreased by 46 percent, residential breaking and entering decreased by 22 percent, and motor vehicle theft decreased by 15 percent. In contrast, the number of calls for service related to wellness and mental health checks, and domestic disturbances calls rose by eight percent.

Domestic Violence Offences in Canada

Domestic violence is not specifically defined in Canada’s Criminal Code. However, it is a very serious offence. It is defined as an assault that occurs between two people in the context of a domestic or romantic relationship. This can include common-law partners, husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, or family members. In a domestic violence case, the burden of proof falls onto the Crown prosecutor to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. As the main witness in the case, the alleged victim will provide viva voce (spoken) evidence. The police may also testify on what occurred when they arrived at the scene. The penalties for domestic assault vary depending on the circumstances. They can range from a peace bond to time spent in prison.

Increase in Domestic Violence in Ontario

Lockdown measures across Canada have forced many people to stay in their homes. Women and men are confined in their homes with their abusers. Cities across Canada are seeing an increase in domestic violence. Partly because of confinement, but also because of employee layoffs. Layoffs have caused more people to become stressed and worried about their financial situation. As a result, more people are likely to lash out at their partners, spouses, children, or friends. 

Statistics Canada conducted a survey in April 2020, which found that one in 10 women were “very or extremely concerned” about the potential for violence in their home during the pandemic. Some women sought shelter to provide them with refuge. In contrast, the reporting agency also saw a decline in police reports of spousal violence. 

This could potentially be explained by the inability of a victim to contact the police while living with their abuser. Victims may also be worried about the aftermath of calling the police to report a crime. For example, in France, three police officers were shot and killed after responding to a domestic violence call. The woman sought refuge on the roof after the house was set on fire following the shooting.

Crime Rates in Shelters

Shelters across Canada are blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for the increase in domestic violence. In Barrie, ON, shelters reported a 40 percent increase in calls related to domestic violence. Women reported incidents of shoving, punching, and hair-pulling from their abusers. Similarly, RCMP officers in Alberta’s eastern district responded to 600 more domestic violence calls when compared to the same period in 2019. 

In Toronto, the Assaulted Women’s Helpline received more than 55,000 calls between March and September 2020. The helpline hit a peak of about 8000 calls in June. Yvonne Harding, the helpline’s resource development manager, noted an escalation in the severity of abusive behaviour in the calls.

The COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on the lives of Canadian citizens and the crime rates. The first six months saw a decrease in some crimes, while the number of domestic violence calls surged. As COVID-19 related restrictions ease thanks to the vaccine roll-out, victims may find it easier to leave a difficult situation. Domestic violence may even out to the levels seen before the pandemic. On the other hand, property crimes could potentially rise as fewer people are confined to their homes making the opportunity easier for criminals. 

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