Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

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VANCOUVER – An increase in random attacks highlighted by Vancouver police could point to major problems that could be exacerbated by the pandemic, experts say.

Vancouver police said in a series of social media posts last week that there were 1,555 “unprovoked, alien assaults” involving 1,705 victims reported between September 1, 2020 and August 31 this year.

“The majority of the victims simply went their day: running errands, walking or visiting our city,” a notice said.

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Art. Tania Visintin said an assault is defined as accidental when there is no relationship between the victim and the suspect and no event led to the attack.

“That means there was no verbal communication or no physical interaction,” she said. “It simply came to our notice then. Out of the blue.”

Police began noticing the increase as officers compared notes at morning meetings to discuss events overnight, Visintin said.

“We need to collect this data,” she said. “And that way we know how we can use our resources to make the city safe.”

Experts say there could be a number of reasons for the increase in random attacks, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Colton Fehr, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology, said COVID-19 has put “a lot of different and significant pressure” on people.

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“And it’s understandable, I think, that more emotions somehow come to the surface, and under these types of circumstances, we can see more irrational types of actions, such as assault,” Fehr said.

“It may be a speculative consideration.”

Statistics Canada said in a report released in July that although there was “fairly widespread decline in many types of crime” by 2020, the country experienced increases in “rates of various criminally harassing and threatening behavior” compared to 2019. It said they included external threats, criminal harassment and indecent or harassing communication.

Statistics from three other Canadian cities show different trends in the number of assaults, although none of them have tracked random or unprovoked attacks.

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Toronto reported 17,323 assaults in 2019, down from 15,203 last year. So far this year, 15,737 assaults have been reported in the city.

Edmonton Police spokeswoman Cheryl Voordenhout said the city has seen a three percent increase in assaults in its center this year compared to the same time in 2020. But the number of assaults from across the city fell by about four percent over the same time period.

Edmonton police reported a seven percent increase in “mental health-related incidents” in the center and a two percent increase across the city for the same period last year compared to 2021, she added.

Earlier this month, Police Chief Dale McFee spoke about what has happened in the city center and said police are working with the provincial department responsible for mental health and addiction.

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“We need some support and some investment made in some of these spaces,” he said.

Art. John MacLeod of Halifax Regional Police said the city experienced 2,371 assaults in 2019, 2,379 last year and 1,906 this year.

“As you can understand, the number of reports varies from month to month and year to year due to many factors, and as such we would not be able to talk to specific trends,” he said in an email.

Vancouver police released examples of the kind of unprovoked assault officers have been investigating.

In one case, a woman was walking with her elderly father when a girl who appeared to be about 12 years old hit her in the nose. The suspect has not yet been identified, police said on social media.

In another, a man was running errands when someone came up behind him and cut his throat on him, police said. Witnesses helped the man, who had “significant injuries,” police said. A suspect was arrested and charged.

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Fehr said mental health conditions could worsen during the pandemic.

“So in reality, those who might otherwise be treated or otherwise able to cope with their conditions, they are under a lot more stress associated with a global pandemic,” he said.

“And one of the things that could happen, depending on the nature of one’s mental illness, they can do something that we would otherwise think is irrational, such as these random forms of abuse.”

Robert Gordon, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology, said the abuse could be the result of a combination of various factors, including substance abuse, homelessness or mental health issues.

“It’s a cocktail that’s quite toxic and not one that we should be surprised by. And it’s taken the COVID situation, I think, to bring it to the forefront because people are scared. Some of that fear is pumping. up, reinforces the issue of random attacks on the street. “

Visintin said that while COVID-19 could be a contributing factor, there is a bigger picture that includes mental illness and substance abuse. Vancouver police intend to continue collecting the data.

Fehr said the information is important because much can be learned from the numbers, and not just in Vancouver, but also by comparing them with other jurisdictions.

“This kind of data is very valuable for learning how to best manage in times that look like emergencies,” he said. “There is a lot to be gained by collecting this data.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 27, 2021.

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