British Columbia

Majority of those who died of overdoses in B.C. were not involved in criminal system: Stats Can

The majority of British Columbians who died of a drug overdose had no criminal-related interactions with police in the two years leading up to their deaths, according to a new study from Statistics Canada.

Study found majority did not encounter police for criminal incidents in the 24 months prior to death

People carry a coffin to remember friends, family and community members who died as a result of overdoses, during a procession to mark Overdose Awareness Day in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday Aug. 31, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The majority of British Columbians who died of a drug overdose had no criminal-related interactions with police in the two years leading up to their deaths, according to a new study from Statistics Canada.

The study, part of a pilot project that looks at people who fatally overdosed between 2011 and 2016 in Surrey, B.C., specifically, and across the province, generally, looked at the relationship between those who died of a drug overdose and their interactions with the criminal justice system. 

Co-author Benjamin Mazowita, who wrote the report with Shannon Brennan at the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, said their research is trying to address the lack of information related to the social and economic factors of people at risk of an overdose.

"In order to address this data gap, Statistics Canada is undertaking this work with municipal and provincial partners in British Columbia to better understand the characteristics of individuals at the core of the crisis," Mazowita said.

The main finding in the report was the majority of people —  66 per cent of people in B.C. and 64 per cent in Surrey — did not have a criminal interaction with police in the two years preceding their death.

Common themes among those involved with police

But the third or so who do have police contact have a particular profile, Mazowita said. 

The vast majority (83 per cent) who were apprehended were for non-violent crimes like shoplifting. The types of property most often stolen included consumable goods such as food, cigarettes or alcohol (32 per cent), personal accessories (16 per cent), identification, financial and other securities (nine per cent), and vehicles (nine per cent). The other 35 per cent included pets and metals.

People were also often accused of violating "administration of justice" rules. 

"[These] offences are often referred to as the revolving door of crime. They are usually the result of an accused's prior criminal involvement and previous interaction with the justice system. So they include things such as breach of probation and failure to comply with court order and things of that nature," Mazowita said. 

Drug offences — including the possession of cannabis and cocaine — only accounted for 11 per cent of police interactions. 

Identifying risk factors

He says the results of this report can be used to help identify risk factors of overdose related deaths and create profiles of different populations who are at risk of an overdose.

This specific study, he said, along with other research done on overdose victims' employment histories and interactions with the health-care system, can create a more complete picture of who is at the core of the crisis. 

Ultimately, he said, it can help support interventions. 

British Columbia has the highest rates of illicit drug overdose deaths in the country. According to Statistics Canada, between 2011 and 2016, 2,362 people in British Columbia died of an overdose.

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