In February 2017, Robyn Doolittle published an article in the Globe and Mail, showing that police forces in Canada were dismissing 1 in 5 sexual assault cases as “unfounded”.
Because of that report, Statistics Canada began collecting data on unfounded rates again. The last time they had published these rates was in 2003, but had stopped after police services reported unfounded decisions inconsistently, leading to poor data.
According to Statistics Canada, cops label a crime as “unfounded” if they determine through an “investigation” that the offence never actually occurred, or even attempted, for that matter.
Here is the data for what the Globe and Mail labelled as “Lethbridge Region” and which they attached to the Lethbridge Police Service.
The average between the 5 years was 21.8%. If we ignore the 2013, which was labelled as “N/A” in the Globe and Mail data, the average was During the same 5 year period 27.25%.
By comparison, the 5-year average for Alberta was 18% and the national average was 19%.
Here’s Lethbridge compared to Calgary and Edmonton during the same 5-year period.
Since this data is now 7 years old, I decided to look at the data for Lethbridge. I found this dataset from Statistics Canada for Canada, the provinces, and census metropolitan areas. Alberta has 3 census metropolitan areas: Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge.
The data runs from only 2017 to 2020. Here it is for Lethbridge.
Not only has the percentage of unfounded cases apparently been dropping since Little’s story broke, but they are significantly lower than they were for the previous reporting period.
For example, 2012’s unfounded rate of 30% is about 6 times higher than the 4.55% seen in 2020.
Now keep in mind that the data Little presented isn’t necessarily the same data that Statistics Canada published. It’s not clear that both datasets cover the same geographical area, let alone use the same reporting sources.
That being said, take a look at Calgary and Edmonton’s unfounded rates during the same period.
Edmonton is more or less the same as the previous reporting period, but Calgary’s has dropped in half; although it’s slowly creeping upward.
Look at Alberta’s unfounded rate.
And the national unfounded rate . . .
They, too, have been trending down. So, it may not be that Lethbridge cops have finally gotten their act together as much as it is a broader trend across the province and country. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t tell us why the rate has been dropping, only that it has.
Finally, let’s compare Lethbridge with Calgary and Edmonton for the 4 most recent years, as we had for the earlier reporting period.
What we see here, is that while Lethbridge seems to have been trending down more recently, compared to the previous reporting period, it has still been higher than Calgary and Edmonton. In fact, it’s also been higher than the provincial and national averages.
Until the last year of the dataset, in 2020. For the first time in the available data, Lethbridge had an unfounded rate lower than Calgary and Edmonton, as well as lower than the provincial and federal rates.
In 2020, Lethbridge’s unfounded rate was 4.55%. The national rate was 8.89% and the provincial rate was 9.4%.
It’ll be interesting if we similar numbers once the 2021 data becomes available. Is Lethbridge finally starting to turn a corner, or was 2020 simply an outlier, a statistical blip?
Well, there are two more stats I want to show you that may indicate the cops are taking this seriously.
First, the not so great news.
The number of sexual assaults in Lethbridge more than doubled during this 4-year period. Or, more specifically, the number of sexual assaults that were reported to the cops increased.
However, take a look at how many people were cleared of sexual assault charges in Lethbridge, according to Statistics Canada.
That number has actually being trending down, which means a smaller percentage of people charged with sexual assault are being cleared, compared to 2020. Granted, it’s still nearly half (at least as of 2020), so there’s still more work to do.
That being said, check out the percentage charged.
So even though the percentage of sexual assault cases reported to the cops that end up labelled as unfounded have gone down and the percentage of cases resulting in being cleared has gone down, 2 out of 3 sexual assault cases are still not resulting in charges.
Maybe we’re not quite there after all.