Statistics Canada will publish data on unfounded criminal cases later this month for the first time in 15 years, after the agency conducted training workshops with police services across the country on new approaches to defining and classifying incidents, including sexual assaults.
The training, which included eight workshops in cities across Canada earlier this year, reached more than 400 personnel in almost 130 police services, the agency said. It marked one of the broadest training efforts Statscan’s justice statistics branch has ever undertaken. The agency hopes an updated and standardized approach to data collection will improve clarity on the outcomes of these cases.
The resumption of data collection comes after a 20-month Globe and Mail investigation last year, which gathered data from more than 870 police jurisdictions, revealed that one in five sexual-assault allegations was dismissed as baseless, or unfounded.
Before The Globe investigation, the number of unfounded cases were not being tracked in Canada since early this century. Last year, after The Globe stories were published, the federal government announced more than $100-million over five years for a national strategy to prevent gender-based violence, while Statscan said it planned to resume collecting unfounded data.
“We’ve tried to make it a little bit clearer for police, and a little easier for victims to report,” said Warren Silver, an analyst at Statscan’s Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. “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.”
The last time Statscan published unfounded sexual-assault rates was in a 2003 special report; it stopped producing them after that due to data-quality problems, including inconsistent reporting by police.
The agency consulted with 61 experts and reviewed international standards in the process of developing new definitions, which it says reflects a more victim-centred approach.
A case is now deemed founded if a police investigation determines that the reported offence occurred or was attempted, or if there is no credible evidence to show the reported incident did not take place. This also includes if a third-party – such as a family member or a teacher − reports a case that ﬁt these criteria.
A case is defined as unfounded if a police investigation determines that the offence reported didn’t occur, nor was it attempted.
Police services are to discontinue the classification of “unsubstantiated” incidents, and they now have new options on how to classify founded incidents that are not cleared.
The first tranche of data, to be released July 23 based on 2017 stats from all police services, represents a starting point, but it won’t yet reflect the uniform approach, as not all police services have adopted the new standards. The agency expects that all police services in Canada will have the new reporting requirements in their systems by the end of this year. As a result, it said, next year will be the first year that fully captures the new reporting standards, the results of which will be released in July, 2020.
Last year’s Globe investigation, led by reporter Robyn Doolittle, revealed that police were disproportionately closing sexual-assault files as unfounded compared with other crimes. It also found huge discrepancies in unfounded rates across the country – suggesting that sexual-assault complainants are less likely to be believed in some jurisdictions than in others.
After The Globe’s series, some police services blamed their high unfounded rates on administrative coding errors. These changes are designed to deal with this concern.
The coverage also sparked reviews across Canada of how police handle sexual-assault cases. One task force, which presented its report to the Waterloo police board this week, found evidence that some police perpetuated rape myths, such as discrediting victims and interpreting delays in victims who report allegations as an issue of credibility.
The police board accepted all of the report’s 11 recommendations, which will include training on trauma-informed interviewing.
Statscan said its new approach will paint a different picture of sexual-assault cases.
“Given the new definition of founded, the recommendation for police to cease the use of ‘unsubstantiated’ and the additional clearance categories, it is expected that fewer criminal incidents will be classified as ‘unfounded,’” it said.