New Expositor series will examine reasons behind increase
Violence on Manitoulin: Part I of a series
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Manitoulin Expositor has learned of an increase in violent crimes in 2020. Over the course of this series, this newspaper will speak with area law enforcement officials to learn about what has been happening in Island communities, as well as with agencies that provide support to victims and their families to learn about what may be driving some of the trends.
MANITOULIN – Police-reported incidents of violent crime were roughly 22 percent higher in the Manitoulin Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment area in 2020 compared to 2019 levels: a concerning pattern, according to the chair of Manitoulin’s Community Policing Advisory Committee (CPAC).
“These stats are definitely alarming,” said CPAC chair Al Boyd, who is also a Northeast Town councillor and a retired OPP officer, at the March 10 meeting. “We would like to see those numbers come down for sure, there’s no doubt about it.”
The Manitoulin Expositor contacted Manitoulin OPP detachment commander Inspector Megan Moriarity on February 3 to request police statistics about violent crime on Manitoulin. This was in response to seeing a report at a Tehkummah council meeting that violent crimes in that township amounted to four in 2020, up 400 percent from one incident in 2019.
Inspector Moriarity had agreed to share the report but later learned that there were rules that stipulated she could not release a copy of the report to the press, but that she could present it at the CPAC meeting on March 10; however, members of the press were forbidden from recording or taking screenshots of the report as she presented it.
The report from OPP did not account for any criminal incidents from UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service or Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service communities unless the incident began in an OPP-patrolled area. The Expositor previously requested those statistics from the two Island forces but did not receive details over the past month.
The report presented at CPAC includes data across the entire Manitoulin detachment area, which stretches from east of Spanish to Worthington on the North Shore, and roughly 70 miles northward.
While many of the figures focused on 2020, there were also some data comparing 2018 through 2020, but the 2018 numbers are skewed because Espanola only joined the detachment for policing services in October 11 of that year.
It began with an assessment of the demographics of who is most likely to become a victim of a violent crime. The most at-risk category in 2020 were females between 15 and 19 years of age, followed by females between 25 and 29 years old, then 40 to 44 years old and finally, 50- to 54-year-olds. Men between the ages of 35 and 39 were the next-highest-represented demographic in the violent crime victims list.
Overall, women comprised 135 violent crime victims in 2020 or 54.4 percent, while male victims totalled 113 or 45.6 percent, for a total of 248 victims of violent crimes within the detachment last year.
When looking just at domestic disturbance occurrences, of those reported to local OPP in 2020, there were 91 that met the threshold of criminal charges and 253 others that were non-criminal in nature. Known offender demographics for charges reported to police were about 78 percent male and 21 percent female.
The majority of violent crimes, 136 incidents, involved assaults and firearm-related offences, making up 54.8 percent of all violent crimes in 2020. Coming second was the category of other offences involving violence or the threat of violence, standing at 31.5 percent.
The final 13.7 percent stretched across homicides, attempted murder, sexual crimes, other offences regarding violence or related threats, robbery and offences related to depriving freedom.
There were two incidences of homicide in 2020, up from zero in both 2019 and 2018. Reported incidences of attempted murder were zero in 2018, one in 2019 and two in 2020.
Reported sexual offences have seen a slight decline. There were 31 incidents in the partial 2018 stats, 37 in 2019 but 25 in 2020.
Firearm-related offences and assaults have increased steadily over the three-year span, starting at 104 in 2018 and growing to 130 in 2019 and 137 in 2020. Within this category, there was a steady rise in assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, from 15 in 2018 to 20 in 2019 and 30 in 2020.
Reported offences related to depriving freedom held relatively steady, as did robberies.
However, offences involving violence or threats thereof increased massively between 2018 and 2020, from 88 in each of the first two years to 146 last year.
Within this category, criminal harassment doubled from 2019 to 2020 and the charge of uttering threats nearly doubled in the same timeframe. The exact figures for these charges were only shown on screen briefly.
Inspector Moriarity noted that hiccups to internal systems mean that when the system scans for cases related to mental health, they may not appear in the reports.
“We know mental health is a larger factor than what shows up in our statistical collection,” she said, adding that this is likely a significant factor over the past year during COVID-19-related restrictions.
“We’re working with our mobile crisis worker on that (mental health) aspect of it. I’m also in talks with the hospital to re-adjust how we approach that, to make workers more readily available from the hospital side of things,” she said. “We’re also hoping to get mental health people involved at that point of entry into the system to provide better assistance.”
Factors seen over the past year include increased drug use, more time spent at home and more financial pressures, though Inspector Moriarity said she could not discuss how those factors may or may not relate pandemic. Mr. Boyd, the CPAC chair, said he believed the pandemic was a lead contributor to the increase in violent crimes.
Billings Councillor Bryan Barker asked if there has been an increase in assaults against police; Inspector Moriarity said there had indeed been such an increase, though it was not large enough of a jump to be statistically significant.
Central Manitoulin Councillor Steve Shaffer said his municipality’s crime report for January and February showed an optimistic drop of 100 percent in violent crimes and suggested the increased stresses contributing to violence may be easing, but he wondered aloud if there may be fewer crimes reported after the Mindemoya detachment’s closure.
Inspector Moriarity said the Manitoulin OPP detachment will be getting another two recruits from the class that just reported to police college, which will put the constable numbers on Manitoulin to 100 percent capacity. The detachment is working to fill one sergeant’s vacancy.
The Expositor has not yet received statistics from the two Indigenous police services on Manitoulin regarding violent crimes. This newspaper has also contacted victims’ services providers on the Island to get their insights into the increase of violent crimes. This information will be shared in a coming edition of The Manitoulin Expositor.