On Monday, for the first time in 15 years, Statistics Canada will release data on crime reports deemed unfounded by police, following a nationwide Globe and Mail investigation into how police respond to reports of sexual assault.
The 20-month investigation, Unfounded, surveyed more than 870 police jurisdictions across Canada and revealed that one in five reports of sexual assault were dismissed as baseless or unfounded – a rate far higher than for other types of crime. The report recently won a Michener Award for public-service journalism.
Following the publication of the Unfounded series of stories, Statscan consulted with more than 60 experts and worked with more than 400 police personnel to train forces on the new reporting strategy. Now, cases are defined as unfounded if police can determine that the offence never occurred or was never attempted. Police will no longer classify incidents as “unsubstantiated” and now have new options for classifying unsolved cases.
The Globe investigation also spurred police forces to review more than 37,000 cases, and some agencies have pledged to revamp their approach to policing sexual violence. The federal government pledged $100-million over five years toward a national strategy to prevent gender-based violence, and Statscan made its commitment to resume collecting unfounded data. It stopped collecting it after 2003 due to problems with data quality, including inconsistent police reporting.
“We’ve tried to make it a little bit clearer for police and a little easier for victims to report,” Warren Silver, an analyst at Statscan’s Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, told The Globe and Mail earlier this month. “These new categories will be more transparent because you will [now] know not only if an incident was not cleared but why it was not cleared.”