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U of O research aims to help police keep women safer

Photo: Nadia Drissi El-Bouzaidi

Ottawa police have enlisted the help of a University of Ottawa criminologist to conduct a study analyzing the interactions officers have had with women who report violent crimes.

The first of its kind in Ottawa, the questionnaire may be conducted online, over the phone, or face-to-face with a specially trained interviewer.

The survey, open to all women over the age of 18, received 100 responses in its first three days.

Holly Johnson is the U of O criminology professor in charge of the study, and is also involved in the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) committee to end violence against women.

She said she’s wanted to do this kind of research for a long time.

“We generally ask questions that are important to the justice system: how many convictions are we getting, how fast do we get these cases through,” said Johnson. She said they don’t ask how to make women safer.

“We don’t ask that question, and that’s the question that needs to be asked.”

OPS Chief Charles Bordeleau said ending violence against women has been one of his top three priorities since he took up the job in 2012. He put acting superintendent Joan McKenna in charge of the committee.

“We thought, what better way to learn how we can improve our service than by asking the people that have actually accessed and come forward to make a complaint about a situation they’ve become involved in,” said McKenna.

The police have a very limited role in the project, according to McKenna. “We’re trying to keep it as independent as possible,” she said.

Services are offered in French and English, and Johnson said she also hopes to work with Immigrant Women’s Services to reach those who do not speak either language fluently.

All information will be kept strictly confidential; data will be provided in aggregate forms with careful use of quotations, so as not to identify any of the participants, said Johnson.

She said the survey’s female focus will provide more specific answers.

“To open it up and say violence against men, or violence against people, may mean we may have very general and generic solutions … as opposed to very targeted solutions,” she said. “Coming at it at a more specific way is actually more useful for policy.”

According to 2011 data from Statistics Canada that tracked how many violent crimes women reported to police, Ottawa had the lowest rate of all metropolitan areas in Canada. Women in Ottawa reported 2,423 violent crimes to police that year, representing 602 per 100,000 people.

The situation was worse across the border in Gatineau, where 1,330 violent crimes were reported by women for every 100,000 people, with a total of 1,731 reports. By comparison, Toronto, the largest city in Canada, had only 911 calls for every 100,000 people, with 20,347 total reports.

Thunder Bay, despite having only 992 reports from women, had the highest rate in Canada with 1,905 calls per 100,000 people.

The survey will be open until the end of January and the results will be released in the spring.

To participate in the study, visit or call Holly Johnson at 613-400-0340.