Fewer crimes are being solved and criminal trials are taking longer than ever before as Canada’s justice system struggles to keep up with growing crime rates, a new report finds.
The Canadian justice system appears to be performing much worse today than it was five years ago, according to the latest Justice Report Card released by Ottawa think tank the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
The report found that Canada’s Violent Crime Severity was at its highest point since 2007, rising by 6% in 2021 and 5% in 2022.
“From 2018-2022, the national homicide rate increased every year, including by 8% from 2021 to 2022; the current homicide rate is the highest it has been in thirty years, and the police-reported rate for sexual assault is at its highest level since 1995,” explained researchers.
The report card grades the nation and then breaks down an evaluation of each province and territory.
“Each level of government bears a portion of the costs of criminality and each level of government therefore has an interest in its suppression,” the report explained.
The report detailed that certain provinces made considerable changes in their ranking from the previous 2017 Justice Report Card, like Alberta, which increased its overall ranking dramatically, while Ontario saw a major decline in 2023.
Territories have consistently ranked low due to their high rates of crime per capita, which far exceed the figures of any province. Nunavut and the Northwest Territories had a violent crime rate that was over 12 times higher than in Ontario.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba had the highest violent crime rate among the provinces and Ontario had the lowest.
The last Justice Report Card was released in 2017, giving the institute five years of data to review. The areas of focus are broken down into core objective metrics of public safety, support for victims, cost and resources, fairness and access to justice and efficiency on a per 100,000 population basis.
While the violent crime rate has increased dramatically, areas of public safety improvement were found in the “administration of justice offences,” such as cases that involve breach of probation and those “unlawfully at large.” Those areas have all seen a substantial rate drop from 2018 to 2021.
When reviewing the system’s support for victims, the institute examines the proportion of offenders given restitution orders, Canadians’ perception of police being approachable and how many people used victim service agencies.
Restitution orders per 1,000 guilty offences were not found to be common, and remained below 2.6%. They were particularly low in provinces like Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick, with Ontario showing a decline as well.
Data on people who sought aid from victims services agencies has increased steadily over the last five years.
In the area of cost and resources the data revealed a mixed messaging. On the one hand, police per 100,000 has declined since 2017 and the cost of corrections per capita remained flat.
The average daily cost of an inmate has risen however, as has the cost of public safety per person. These costs have increased at a time when Canada’s incarceration rate per 100,000 adults has been in decline since 2018.
“The proportion of Canadians who express confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system is troublingly low,” reads the report. “In 2022, only 62% of Canadians expressed confidence in the police, with only 46% expressing confidence in the justice system more broadly”
“Arguably the biggest issue with fairness in Canada’s criminal justice system is the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in incarceration. Since 1995, the Criminal Code of Canada has required courts to consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment, especially when it comes to Indigenous offenders.”
The Supreme Court of Canada mandated that lower courts “must take judicial notice” of various factors when sentencing Indigenous offenders in 2012, including “the history of colonialism, displacement, and residential schools.”
Despite these distinctions, the proportion of Indigenous people incarcerated remains extremely high, “especially in Ontario and the four Western provinces.”
Canada’s justice system scored the worst in the area of efficiency, especially when compared to previous report cards.
“The percentage of cases stayed or withdrawn increased in every single province and territory since 2017, as has the median criminal case length,” reads the report.
Additionally, crimes are being solved at a much lower rate in 2023, with more and more cases being stayed or withdrawn.
When criminal cases do make it to trial, they also take much longer to be resolved.
“Our criminal justice system has unquestionably become less efficient over the last five years, despite the introduction of measures designed to enhance the expedient dispensation of justice.”
“For the most part, the story is not a positive one. On all five of the broad criminal justice objectives, the system is not performing as most would hope, and the situation appears to be deteriorating,” concluded the report.