(Originally written for Lift Cannabis 23 January 2017)

Measuring organized crime in Canada: Results of a pilot project

Statistics Canada, in partnership with a number of police forces across the country, recently undertook an ambitious pilot project. “Measuring Organized Crime in Canada” set out to identify gaps and opportunities in current data collection methods at the community level with regards to organized crime. The hope of this project was to better understand to what extend criminal activity is linked to organized crime. It also hopes to strengthen local capacity to capture data in order to better inform policing and policy decisions moving forward.

Like many data-related reports released by the Federal Government, the authors rightly identify first and foremost the need for an overall increase in quality, quantity and consistency of data collection.

For the cannabis community, the report is of interest in part for how cannabis related offences are — or are not — linked to organized crime. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the report should be of interest to those in the cannabis community eager to quantitatively support the case for legalisation. The Trudeau government has been consistent in their message that cannabis legalisation is motivated by the desire to take cannabis profits out of the hands of criminals. In order to show success on this metric post-legalisation, we first need a solid baseline.

The report concludes with seven concrete steps to be taken at the local police force level in order to strengthen their capacity for data collection. The report is particularly interested in organized crime, however most of the recommendations — such as centralizing data review and verification within police stations, and embedding analysts within crime units to mitigate information gaps — will be useful for tracking criminal activity of types.

The first phase of the pilot project called on local police forces to flag organized criminal activity associated with any murder-related crime (first and second degree murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, etc). Building on this, the second phase asked police to flag incidences of drug trafficking and drug production associated with organized crime.

While alternative violations were considered for tracking — including cannabis possession, assault and extortion — they were ultimately excluded. While these crimes can be a side effect of organized crime, they are also common enough outside of the organized crime world, thus making their inclusion in a pilot project too cumbersome at this point.

Cannabis specific incidents

There were a few interesting cannabis-related crime statistics that can be drawn from the drug trafficking data collected for the project. Most interesting was the rate of cannabis related trafficking and production violations tied to organized crime: 32% of cannabis related incidents versus 61% for other illicit drugs. If nearly 70% of all cannabis trafficking and production charges were not linked with organized crime, this directly conflicts with the common narrative that most cannabis on the black market is tied to organized criminal activity.

Also of note is that only 15% of drug production charges laid were tied to organized crime. It would be interesting to know of those charges, which were cannabis related and which were tied to the production of other illicit drugs.

Finally, the age of offenders charged with cannabis related incidents were notably lower than those charged with other drug-related violations. While all organized criminal activity found in the report tended to skew to younger demographics (9 in 10 organized crime related homicides were committed by someone under 35 versus 3 in 4 for homicide not tied to organized crime for example), the ages of cannabis-related offenders were even more significant.

These findings would tend to further support the Trudeau government’s assertion that legalisation will not only help to “take the profits out of the hands of criminals,” but could also help keep young people safe from the harms associated with prohibition.

Ultimately, it is great to see an increase emphasis being placed on the need for quality consistent data collection across Canada. If this government is genuine in its stated goal to put forward sound, data-driven policy, then the first step is ensuring that we have sound data. However, this is yet another report put forward by this government that showcases just how far we have to go before we can be confident in the data collected by law-enforcement and other branches of the government.

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