Counting murders by overdose deaths in Canada
Published Saturday, November 27, 2021 9:00AM EST Last Updated Saturday, November 27, 2021 8:17PM EST
Homicide charges following investigations into overdose deaths in Canada can be described as falling into two categories: pre- and post- fentanyl.
The cases W5 found before the current ongoing opioid crisis include the Canadian who had a hand in comedic performer John Belushi’s overdose death in 1982, and three deaths in which manslaughter charges were laid between 1993 and 2008. All three led to convictions, including one upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.
But starting in 2016, W5 counted a significant uptick: 135 manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death charges being laid by police and prosecutors across Canada.
The open-source investigation began by scouring news and legal databases. The police services in those reports were contacted regarding the number of charges they have laid, and the survey was expanded to include Canada’s largest police services.
Some provided news releases, while others provided statistics, most notably the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), that has laid 63 of the 135 charges counted by W5 since 2016. Fifteen other police services across Ontario laid 25 charges in that time period, making Canada’s most-populous province the national leader in drug-induced homicide charges (65%).
The number of homicide charges being laid in overdose deaths peaked in 2019 with 65, a number that fell by more than half in 2020, and down to 11 in the first ten months of 2021. The OPP told W5 that it hadn’t laid any homicide charges in overdose deaths this year.
The final tally does not include one second-degree murder charge that was laid, and later stayed, against a mother in the 2017 overdose death of a newborn, but it does include one case where a first-degree murder charge was initially laid, then downgraded to manslaughter. That charge was dismissed in that case after the individual pled guilty to drug trafficking charges, a common outcome in many of the cases reviewed by W5.
As many of the cases reviewed by W5 continue to move through the court system, their outcomes will show whether or not the homicide charges actually “stuck” or otherwise had an impact in combating the opioid crisis.