Ottawa

Pot possession charges far more likely in Gatineau than Ottawa

If you're going to smoke marijuana, the numbers say you're much more likely to get away with it in Ottawa than in Gatineau.

'A very big problem for someone that's young,' Gatineau lawyer says

In 2014, for every 100,000 people over age 12, 188 people in Gatineau were charged with simple marijuana possession, compared to just 52 in Ottawa. (CBC)

If you're going to smoke marijuana, the numbers say you're more likely to get away with it in Ottawa than in Gatineau.

CBC News has found someone is almost four times as likely to be charged with simple possession if he or she is caught with a bit of marijuana on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River.

In 2014, 188 of every 100,000 people over age 12 were charged in Gatineau, compared to just 52 of every 100,000 in Ottawa.

Criminal defence lawyer Michael Swanston, based in Gatineau, says young people charged with simple possession can experience a lot of serious complications later in life. (CBC News)

Michael Swanston, a criminal defence lawyer in Gatineau, said his clients include many young people facing simple possession charges that can have complicated consequences later in life.

Those consequences include being unable to receive a security clearance to work in the public service or being unable to enter the United States.

"It's a very big problem for someone that's young, that has their future in front of them and that has a record for that type of offence," Swanston said.

Gatineau has 2nd highest charge rate in Canada

A CBC News investigation looked at possession charges across Canada since 2006.

Over that time arrests have increased by 30 per cent, but the chances of being charged depend very much on where you live.

In the list of the top 34 cities for 2014, Gatineau comes in second behind only Kelowna, B.C., which logged 251 people charged per 100,000 over the age of 12.

St. John's, N.L., came in last with only 11 people charged per 100,000 over the age of 12.

'We're very proactive with impaired driving,' Gatineau police say

Gatineau police spokesman Sgt. J.P. Lemay says officers conducting impaired driving traffic stops are also on the lookout for drugs. (CBC News)

Gatineau's rate is high because police sometimes wrongly target young drivers, Swanston claimed.

"What happens, as far as I'm concerned, is that if you're young and you're driving in Gatineau, let's say in a Honda Civic, chances are that you'll be pulled over, that your vehicle will be searched and if in fact they find marijuana, they will allege they had probable grounds to search your vehicle and you will be charged," he said.

Gatineau police stand by their record.

"We're very proactive with impaired driving. Gatineau police has a priority to get our streets safer and when we're stopping cars for impaired driving we're not just on the look-out for alcohol, we're also on the look-out for drugs," said Gatineau police spokesman Sgt. J.P. Lemay.

"Our officers are observing what's inside the vehicle and they're getting reasonable grounds to go further in their investigation when they're stopping cars."

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