2. Typologies and Patterns of Crime

2.5 Crimes of Morality and Public Order: Definitions and Patterns

Dr. Jon Heidt


The history of prostitution laws in Canada and their enforcement is confusing to say the least. For many years, the act of exchanging sex for money was technically legal in Canada, but it was illegal to communicate about this intention. Then, in 2014, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act officially made it illegal to buy sexual services; most public aspects of prostitution (e.g., brothels, communicating about transactions in public) remain illegal under the Act. However, independent sex workers can communicate privately with a client through phone, email, text, or social media without violating any laws. Given that prostitution laws are rarely enforced consistently anywhere in Canada, that prostitution is rarely reported, and that arrest rates of sex workers are highly dependent on local variances in law enforcement practices, reliable statistics are difficult to acquire. We do know that there were 135 police-reported incidents of prostitution in 2019, which is an increase from 115 in 2018, as shown in the Statistics Canada table of police-reported crime for selected offences (Moreau et al., 2020).

Drug use

The correlation between drug use and crime is well-known, well-documented, and real (Bennett et al., 2008). However, it is important to remember that correlation does not necessarily mean causation, and there are numerous variables at play when trying to understand either criminal or drug-using behaviour, let alone how the two relate to each other.

Drug criminalisation has been shown to be an ineffective method for controlling or preventing drug use (Miron, 2004; Reinarman et al., 2004; Reinarman, 2009). In fact, evidence indicates that prohibition has exacerbated problems associated with drug use and addiction (Baum, 1996; MacCoun & Reuter, 2001; Alexander, 2008; Maté, 2008; Robinson & Scherlen, 2014). Criminal justice data seem to support these findings. First, statistics indicate that under prohibition, drug use has become much more widespread and that young people are using drugs at younger ages. Second, drugs have steadily become more potent under prohibition (Robinson & Scherlen, 2014). For example, the proliferation of fentanyl and other potent opioids is driving the overdose epidemic in Canada. Designer drugs refer to drugs created in underground or secret labs by changing the chemical properties of other pre-existing drugs – examples include MDMA (“ecstasy”), MDA (“molly”), GHB, and synthetic stimulants (e.g., bath salts and flakka) and cannabinoids (e.g., Spice and K2) (NIDA, 2011). Most concerning is the fact that these drugs become increasingly potent with each generation. Even natural cannabis has increased in potency over time with the emergence of increasingly stronger strains and the advent of butane hash oil and other concentrates such as wax and shatter (Cowan, 1986; Beletsky & Davis, 2017). The documentary Flood: The Overdose Epidemic in Canada explores the causes and effects of this trend by examining increasingly powerful opioids like fentanyl.

Finally, prohibition may also be aggravating problems some communities have with police. When drug possession is treated as a criminal offence, both users and dealers take steps to hide what they are doing. In this situation, the demand for potent and concealable substances will be high and there will be less interest in weaker versions of the drug. This was also true during alcohol prohibition. For example, beer and ciders became less common during prohibition, while high-proof hard alcohol became more readily available (Heidt & Wheeldon, 2021). There is also evidence to indicate that drug laws are enforced against Black and Indigenous minorities at much higher rates and with more severe consequences (Mitchell & Caudy, 2014; Owusu-Bempeh & Luscombe, 2020).

Decriminalisation of drug possession is poised to become a major issue in the future. Portugal and several other countries have had success with decriminalisation, and both Vancouver and Montreal have requested the federal government to support their municipal shifts toward drug decriminalisation (Canadian Press, 2021; Crockett, 2021). Contrary to opponents of drug policy reform, cannabis legalisation and decriminalisation of drug possession do not appear to contribute to increases in drug use, overdoses, mental illness, or crime (Heidt & Wheeldon, 2021). Somewhat surprisingly, areas that have decriminalised drug possession have seen addiction and overdose rates fall (Greenwald, 2009; Hughes & Stevens, 2010, 2014). There is also no indication that young people are using more cannabis in jurisdictions that have legalised recreational cannabis. In fact, the greatest increases in use have occurred amongst older people (Heidt et al., 2018; Heidt, 2021). It is interesting to note that, in the last decade, rates of drug use as recorded in official statistics have plummeted, though this may be due to reduced of enforcement rather than a true drop in drug use. In 2019, the rate of drug offences per 100,000 population was 187, which was a decrease from 229 in 2018 (Moreau et al., 2020).



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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Jon Heidt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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