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The Link Between Alcohol Consumption and Crime in Canada

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The legal link between alcohol and impaired driving is obvious. If you take your car for a drive after drinking a half dozen beers and a couple of Jägermeister shots, you are undoubtedly breaking Canada’s drunk driving laws and are setting yourself up for a potential DUI. Should you punch a random person in the face, sexually assault your hot neighbour, slap your spouse, or get in a bar fight after drinking a similar amount, you’ve broken the law. However, the alcohol consumption doesn’t have a similar legal link to the offence as impaired driving, even if you wouldn’t have committed the crime unless you’d been drinking.

Despite the limited legal link between alcohol consumption and most crimes, many criminal offenders admit that their drinking played a role in instigating their crimes. In fact, numerous studies indicate that there is a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and violent crimes. And while correlation does not necessarily imply causation, these studies suggest that alcohol is a significant risk factor linked to assault, sexual assault, domestic assault, murder, and other violent acts.

With more than three decades of criminal defence work in the Greater Toronto Area, Mass Tsang’s lawyers can tell you that drinking tends to be an aggravating factor in many assault cases they worked on. Combine this anecdotal evidence with the studies, and the link between alcohol consumption and many violent criminal acts seems obvious. Let’s take a closer look at some studies and then posit some reasons behind the link.

Studies Clearly Point to Alcohol as an Aggravating Factor

Hundreds, if not thousands, of studies, have been conducted on the link between alcohol consumption and violent crime. And whether broadly focused on violent crime or more narrowly tailored to examine drinking’s connection with assault , sexual assault, domestic violence , or murder, they all conclude that there is a distinct link.

Depending on the research entity, date of the study, country profiled, and type of offence, drinking is typically identified as an aggravating factor in between 30% to 65% of all violent crimes. For example, in many 1990s-era studies on U.S. murders, intoxication was identified as an aggravating factor in more than 60% of cases. In the past decade, though, researchers tend to characterize it as such within a 40% to 50% range. Rates for other offences, such as assault, sexual assault, and domestic assault, also vary depending on variables but tend to range between 30% to 55%.

What Incarcerated Canadian Offenders Say

In an effort to better understand the link between substance abuse and criminal activity, the Canadian Government has periodically interviewed incarcerated criminal offenders since at least 1985. The latest effort , which involved a self-assessment of 27,803 federal male inmates and 1,335 female ones, asked questions to determine — among other things — what proportion of crimes would not have occurred absent substance abuse. Based on the self-reporting, researchers determined that 42% of the offences committed by the offenders resulted from substance abuse, “with alcohol responsible for the greatest proportion of crimes.”

An earlier survey of Canadian prison inmates estimated that approximately 28% of violent crimes and 35% of other criminal code violations were committed under the influence of alcohol.

What Violent Crime Canadian Victims Say

According to a Statistics Canada report — Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2019 — almost 40% of victims of police-reported violent crimes in Canada said that the offender was under the influence of alcohol. Nearly 55% said the incident was related to the offender’s drug or alcohol use. However, it should be noted that this percentage dropped down to 28% in a subsequent 2020 report, though this could be connected to the Covid-19-induced drop in violent crime and related pandemic-related data collection problems.

Other recent Statistics Canada reports offer similar percentages for specific offences. For example, alcohol was considered a factor in 42% of reported incidents of domestic assault involving violence and 35% in which no physical force was used. For sexual assault, alcohol was reported as a factor in 44% of police-reported incidents.

Why Alcohol Consumption Plays a Role in Violent Offences

Alcohol’s role in acts of violence arises in the mind. As a depressant, its effect on the central nervous system impairs judgement, reduces inhibitions, exaggerates emotions, and increases aggression. The more a person drinks, the more likely they are to act impulsively without considering potential consequences. And these actions are often aggressive. According to the World Health Organization, “alcohol consumption is associated with aggressive behaviour more closely than the use of psychotropic substances.”

While alcohol-induced aggression can certainly play a role in sexual assault, other nuances of intoxication also play a role. Intoxication makes people less likely to recognize and respect personal boundaries and increases the likelihood of miscommunication or misunderstanding between sexual partners. Alcohol can also blur a person’s ability to recognize signs of discomfort or reluctance, leading to misinterpretation of consent. The victim’s intoxication can also play a role, making them more vulnerable to sexual assault and less able to defend themselves from it.

Such nuances also play a role in domestic assault by exacerbating existing tensions and conflicts. The influence of alcohol can make people more likely to become agitated, argue, and unable to control their emotions and reactions. This can easily escalate into emotional abuse and result in physical violence.

Location, Location, Location

Aside from sexual and domestic assault, the location of violent crime incidents is also often connected to alcohol. Consider this 2019 report in the Journal of Applied Security that determined that murder, aggravated assault, and simple assault are more likely to occur in bars than at other locations. “Because alcohol impairs peoples’ cognitive functioning and reduces peoples’ ability to control intense emotions, these emotions are more likely to be activated and acted on at bars compared to other locations.” The report’s findings further note that violent crime in bars is “significantly more likely to occur on weekends when bars are typically more crowded, and patrons are generally more inebriated.”

Contact Toronto’s Mass Tsang for Your Criminal Defence

Whether alcohol played a role in the offence or not, if you’ve been arrested in the Greater Toronto Area for any type of assault, you should secure the services of experienced legal counsel to help avoid the severe penalties that come with a conviction. The criminal defence lawyers of Mass Tsang have a decades-long record of securing favourable outcomes for their clients with effective criminal defence strategies. Schedule your free consultation by contacting Mass Tsang Today .

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