Profile and Projection of Drug Offences

In Ontario

Highlights for Ontario

  • In 1998, there were 14,354 adults charged by the police with a drug offence, accounting for 37.6% of Canada, same as its population share of 37.7%.
  • From 1977 to 1998, the number of adults charged with a drug offence decreased by 30% from 20,388 adults charged in 1977 to 14,354 adults charged in 1998. However, the trend has been levelling in the last few years.
  • In terms of types of drugs, there had been an increase in the number of adults charged with cannabis offences in the late 1970s, followed by a rapid decline and a levelling trend. In contrast, there had been a large increase in the number of adults charged with cocaine offences during the mid-1980s. An increase has also been reported in the number of adults charged with miscellaneous drug offences in the early 1990s. However, heroin offences recorded an increase over the past 20 years, reaching its peak in 1993.
  • In terms of nature of offence, drug possession now accounts for 69% of all adults charged with drug offences. The remaining 31% involve trafficking, cultivation and importation of drugs. The proportion of drug possession has remained rather stable in the last few years.
  • A comparison between the number of adults charged with drug offences and the number of drug cases handled in Ontario provincial criminal courts reveals that for every 100 adults charged, about 83 cases end up in courts.
  • Based on the extrapolation method of projection selected, the number of adults charged with drug offences will increase about 2% in the next five years, increasing from 14,354 in 1998 to 14,583 in 2003.

Background

In September 1996, the Agent Affairs Unit of the Criminal Law Branch within the Department of Justice requested the Research and Statistics Division to analyze the level of drug offences in the past and to make future projections. The purpose was to provide information to facilitate discussions relating to volume and case management of drug cases.

This is an update of that project. There are two products in the project: a national report and a series of jurisdictional reports. The reports provide information on historical profile of the trend of drug offences in the past 20 years plus a five-year projection of the trend into the future.

Data Sources

The profiles and projections were based on police reported data collected by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. The period of data used was from 1977 to 1998, the latest data available. As the objective is to produce indicators of workload in drug prosecutions, data on the number of adults formally charged by the police are used.

These data were collected by the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR) which represents the crime data of every police force in Canada. The data from this survey are the most current and reliable data on drug offences that are available in Canada today. [At the request of the Agent Affairs Unit, the number of drug offences here include only those under the Narcotic Control Act (NCA), excluding those under the Food and Drugs Act (FDA).]

In addition to police data, we also look at some data from provincial criminal courts as collected by the Adult Criminal Court Survey (ACCS). However, the data are at the present incomplete, with data from 9 jurisdictions representing 80% of the national total number of cases. Data from British Columbia, Manitoba and New Brunswick are not yet available.

Profile of Historical Trends (Figures 1-2, Appendices 1-2)

Police data from the UCR are broken down by the types of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, cannabis, and miscellaneous drugs. Data are also broken down by nature of offence, including possession, trafficking, importation, and cultivation.

In terms of types of drugs, number of adults charged in Ontario with cannabis offences accounted for 70% of all drug offences in 1998, followed by cocaine (23%), and heroin (2%). The remaining 5% were for miscellaneous narcotics.

Heroin offences increased from 124 adults charged in the late 1970s to around 583 in 1993. The total number of adults charged slowly declined in the 1990s to 225 adults charged in 1998.

Cocaine offences increased rapidly from 198 adults charged in the late 1970s to its peak of 4,976 adults charged in 1992. From then on, the number of adults charged with a cocaine offence has decreased by 34%, to 3,304 adults charged in 1998.

Cannabis offences have experienced an increase in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, the level dropped rapidly for two years, followed by a period of levelling trend. The lowest number of adults charged (8,717) was recorded in 1994. Since then, it increased to 10,019 in 1998 (+15%).

Miscellaneous drug offences stayed at below 500 adults charged between 1977 and 1991. The total number has been levelling ever since, except in 1998, where 806 adults were charged.

Figure 1 Number of adults charged with drug offences, by drug type Ontario, 1977-1998

In terms of nature of offence, drug possession accounted for two-thirds (69%) of all adults charged with drug offences in 1998; drug trafficking accounted for 23%; cultivation of cannabis accounted for 5%; drug importation accounted for the remaining 3%. The number of adults charged with drug possession slightly increased between 1977 to 1981, from about 17,566 in 1977 to 18,327 in 1981. Since then, the number of adults charged decreased gradually and by 1998, the total was 9,895. Drug possession accounted for 86% of all drug offences in 1977 but only 69% in 1998.

In contrast, the number of adults charged with trafficking and importation of drugs increased rapidly from 2,748 in 1977 to 5,361 in 1992. Since then, the trend has been on a steady decrease.

The number of adults charged with a cultivation offence has remained fairly stable from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. From 1990 to 1998 however, it rapidly increased from 137 adults charged with a cultivation offence in 1990 to 757 in 1998 (almost 5 times higher).

Figure 2 Number of adults charged with drug offences, by offence type Ontario, 1977-1998

As a whole, the total number of adults charged with drug offences in Ontario decreased from 20,388 in the late 1970s to 14,354 in the last few years. The trend has generally been increasing in the last few years.

It should be noted that the trend of reported drug offences may or may not reflect the level of usage of drugs as the level depends largely on the level of enforcement by the police.

Comparison between Police Data and Courts Data

The assumption in comparing the number of adults charged by the police and the number of cases handled by provincial criminal courts is that a small proportion of the offenders charged may not actually appear before the courts for various reasons such as diversion. If this is the case, then the number of drug cases in courts should be slightly below the number of adults charged.

Two years of provincial criminal court data were used in the comparison (1996/97 and 1997/98) .In 1996/97, there were 13,485 persons charged by the police in Ontario while there were 14,186 cases handled by Ontario provincial criminal courts. The ratio between the two numbers was 1.05, compared to 1.01 for Canada as a whole. Note that the number can be higher than 1 because the time of appearance before the courts is not the same as the time of charging by the police and some cases handled by the courts may have been cases charged by the police in previous year.

However, the situation in 1997/98 was quite different. There were 13,078 persons charged by the police in Ontario while there were 8,046 cases handled by Ontario provincial criminal courts. The ratio was 0.62, meaning that for every 100 adults charged by the police, 62 cases were handled in the provincial criminal courts. This was significantly lower than in 1996/97. The situation was similar for the rest of Canada where the ratio was only 0.68. The reason of these lower ratios is not known.

The conclusion is that for every 100 adults charged by the police in Ontario the average number of court cases is about 83, which is similar to the Canada ratio (85). However, the actual number may vary widely from about 40 to 100, depending on the jurisdiction in question.

Methods of Projection

The statistical method chosen in the following projection is called Holt’s two parameter exponential smoothing extrapolation projection. The method is to define the ongoing trend of drug offences for those years where we have actual data, that is, from 1977 to 1998, and to project the trend into the future for 1999 to 2003. The method involves the calculation of moving averages of historical data. While this method uses all data points in the past, it puts most weight on the most recent preceding years. Therefore, what has been occurring in drug offences for the past several years (for example, 1994 to 1998) will weigh heavily on the outcome of the projected trend for the future.

Results of the Projection (Figure 3, Appendix 3)

While the analysis of historical data includes separate profiles based on types of drugs and nature of offence, the projection is only done for overall total number only because small numbers after the breakdown in many of the jurisdictions.

The result of the extrapolation projection shows that the number of adults charged by the police in Ontario will increase slightly in the next five years. The total increase after 5 years is estimated to be about 2%, from 14,354 adults charged in 1998 to 14,583 in 2003.

Figure 3 Number of adults charged with drug offences Ontario, Actual (1977-1998) and Projected (1999-2003)

APPENDICES

Table 1 Number of adults charged with drug offences, by drug type Ontario, 1977-1998
Year Heroin Cocaine Misc Cannabis Total
1977 124 198 461 19,605 20,388
1978 114 269 400 17,105 17,888
1979 73 283 349 19,450 20,155
1980 98 316 443 21,088 21,945
1981 52 426 328 20,890 21,696
1982 94 446 315 14,726 15,581
1983 186 607 219 11,353 12,365
1984 94 832 221 11,834 12,981
1985 129 1,059 284 10,139 11,611
1986 182 1,538 241 9,953 11,914
1987 162 2,053 299 10,807 13,321
1988 202 3,079 279 10,846 14,406
1989 261 4,778 331 12,177 17,547
1990 312 4,015 373 12,047 16,747
1991 318 4,617 203 8,864 14,002
1992 406 4,976 506 9,356 15,244
1993 583 4,481 444 8,923 14,431
1994 415 4,250 439 8,717 13,821
1995 267 3,402 327 9,109 13,105
1996 244 3,291 394 9,833 13,762
1997 269 2,710 418 9,256 12,653
1998 225 3,304 806 10,019 14,354

Source: Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR), Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

Table 2 Number of adults charged with drug offences, by offence type Ontario, 1977-1998
Year Possession Trafficking Importation Cultivation Total
1977 17,566 2,673 75 74 20,388
1978 15,206 2,498 103 81 17,888
1979 17,144 2,830 131 50 20,155
1980 18,799 2,996 84 66 21,945
1981 18,327 3,278 55 36 21,696
1982 12,564 2,882 81 54 15,581
1983 9,831 2,449 35 50 12,365
1984 10,579 2,316 46 40 12,981
1985 9,193 2,352 42 24 11,611
1986 9,162 2,586 134 32 11,914
1987 9,683 3,452 126 60 13,321
1988 10,746 3,459 121 80 14,406
1989 12,382 4,871 157 137 17,547
1990 11,689 4,685 198 175 16,747
1991 8,524 4,975 259 244 14,002
1992 9,426 4,927 434 457 15,244
1993 8,656 4,782 534 459 14,431
1994 9,171 3,841 400 409 13,821
1995 8,666 3,483 423 533 13,105
1996 8,747 3,884 520 611 13,762
1997 8,060 3,464 422 707 12,653
1998 9,895 3,341 361 757 14,354

Source: Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR), Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

Table 3 Projected number of adults charged with drug offences Ontario, 1999-2003
Year Projected Number
1999 14,318
2000 14,385
2001 14,451
2002 14,517
2003 14,583

Projections prepared by Research and Statistics Division, Department of Justice Canada.

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