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Canada 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Ottawa

Western Hemisphere > Canada; Western Hemisphere > Canada > Ottawa

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Ottawa does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED OTTAWA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Canada-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

While the Byward Market and downtown area is an enjoyable spot for boutiques and restaurants, low-level criminal activity plagues visitors and businesses alike. Drug dealing, petty theft, and vehicle break-ins are common. Aggressive pan-handling has been identified in the vicinity of the Byward Market area. Occasional incidents of violence have been reported as well. There is no evidence that Americans or U.S. government employees are directly targeted for criminal activity in Ottawa. 

Cybersecurity Issues

In May 2010, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) released a memo indicating that cyber threats against government and private sector industry entities in Canada were the fastest-growing and most complex problems facing the agency. While cyber espionage targeting sensitive economic and national security information from nation-state actors remains a large-scale threat, the threat by politically- or financially- motivated independent cyber actors also remains a concern.

The security firm Websense reported in 2016 that Canada ranked second in the world in terms of the number of malicious web pages designed to harvest personal and financial credentials. In 2014, Cisco Systems commissioned International Data Corporation Canada with surveying approximately 500 Canadian businesses and 2,000 employees spanning a number of sectors to determine the overall cyber security posture of the Canadian private sector. The survey determined about 60% of Canadian businesses have either no cyber security plan in place or possess one that does not account for increased data consumption and the evolving information technology landscape.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Normal road conditions in Ottawa are similar to those found in large U.S. cities. Visitors driving in the winter should expect to encounter adverse driving conditions. Snow plowing, snow removal, and treating of major and secondary roadways is very efficient. Ottawa is a tourist and business-friendly city, and movement throughout the city and the province of Ontario is unrestricted. Travelers should not experience any security related issues driving around Ottawa or Ontario. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation throughout Ottawa and Ontario is considered safe and reliable.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW) is located 10 miles (15 kilometers) south of the city center, and a drive between the two locations takes about 20 minutes. It is the sixth largest airport in Canada and relatively small by U.S. standards yet very efficient. The airport adheres to international civil aviation safety and security standards, as does management of flight operations. Security measures are commensurate with U.S. airports, and the security personnel are well-trained and effective in the performance of their duties.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED OTTAWA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

In October 2014, Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) elevated its domestic terrorism threat level from LOW to MEDIUM indictating that “an individual or group within Canada or abroad has the intent and capability to commit an act of terrorism in Canada.” The next week, a series of shootings took place at the Canadian National War Memorial, across the street from Parliament. The attacker shot a Canadian soldier on ceremonial sentry duty. He then entered the Centre Block Parliament building at Parliament Hill, where members of the Parliament of Canada were attending caucuses. The attacker ran inside and was cornered and killed by the law enforcement officials, following a shootout with Parliament security personnel. Following the shootings, the downtown core of Ottawa was placed on lockdown while police searched for additional potential threats. At the time of the shooting, the attacker, who reportedly planned to leave Canada for the Middle East, was living in a homeless shelter in Ottawa while waiting for the processing of his Canadian passport application. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the "passport issue was central to what was driving" the attack. The attacker had expressed support for jihadists and others in the Middle East resisting the West's engagement in the region.  

The call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums or via the broader approach on social media, continues to be a global concern. It is difficult to determine which message will inspire a violent extremist.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED OTTAWA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations and protests in Ottawa occur regularly, are mostly non-violent and orderly, and are usually led by workers unions, specific ethnic groups, or student associations. Permits are required for demonstrations, and municipal/federal authorities monitor and are usually present at events to ensure public order. Law enforcement officers often monitor these protests. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change produces an hourly Air Quality Index report, which forecasts ranges from good to moderate air quality similar to moderately-sized U.S. cities.

Critical Infrastructure

Ontario is home to over one quarter of the farms in Canada. Farming, including livestock farming, is a multi-billion dollar industry in Ontario. Therefore, food contamination (microbial, chemical, or physical) is always of concern and is regulated by several federal acts that govern food products (the Safe Food for Canadians Act, the Food and Drugs Act, the Consumer Protection Act).

Public Safety Canada identifies 10 sectors of critical infrastructure (Health, Food, Finance, Water, Information and Communication Technology, Safety, Energy and Utilities, Manufacturing, Government, and Transportation). Canada’s critical infrastructure is massive, geographically dispersed, and owned by many different players mostly within the private sector. Public Safety works with its partners to manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities across these sectors. The National Strategy supports the principle that critical infrastructure roles and activities should be carried out in a responsible manner at all levels of society. Responsibilities for critical infrastructure are shared by federal, provincial, and territorial governments and critical infrastructure owners/operators. Individuals also have a responsibility to be prepared for disruption and ready to cope for at least the first 72 hours of an emergency.

Canada and the U.S. share cross border critical infrastructure with movement of people and goods between Canada and the US.

Economic Concerns

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and other Canadian law enforcement agencies are committed to undertaking coordinated action to counter the threats posed by intellectual property crime. According to the RCMP, “Twenty years ago, most members of the public, as well as most police officers, had never heard of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Crime in Canada. Today, the situation is dramatically different both domestically and internationally. Organized crime has discovered that the manufacturing and distribution of counterfeit goods are easy ways of generating huge profits rivalling those in the drug trade but with very little risk of getting caught. Even if apprehended and convicted, there is only a slight chance of incarceration.” 

In addition to the tremendous losses to government tax revenues and the legitimate Canadian economy, recent seizures of counterfeit goods (pharmaceuticals, electrical products, brake parts, contaminated shampoo/food products) show that these unscrupulous counterfeiters care nothing about the health and safety of consumers. Intellectual property is an important part of the Canadian economy and, as the country shifts toward an information-based economy, intellectual property rights are increasingly more important. The priority of criminal intellectual property investigations has increased when dealing with counterfeit products, which represent a health and safety concern to the consumer, and discussions continue between U.S. and Canadian officials to address the threat of counterfeit products transiting Canada that are intended for entrance into the U.S. economy.

Privacy Concerns

There is a relatively low risk to privacy concerns in Canada. The Privacy Commissioner handles several complaints each year about violations of privacy rights. According to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, “Canada has two federal privacy laws, the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. The Privacy Act took effect on July 1, 1983. This act imposes obligations on some 250 federal government departments and agencies to respect privacy rights by limiting the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. The Privacy Act gives individuals the right to access and request correction of personal information about themselves held by these federal government organizations. Individuals are also protected by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) that sets out ground rules for how private sector organizations may collect, use or disclose personal information in the course of commercial activities. The law gives individuals the right to access and request correction of the personal information these organizations may have collected about them. Initially, PIPEDA applied only to personal information about customers or employees that was collected, used or disclosed in the course of commercial activities by the federally regulated private sector, organizations such as banks, airlines, and telecommunications companies. The Act now applies to personal information collected, used or disclosed by the retail sector, publishing companies, the service industry, manufacturers and other provincially regulated organizations. The Act does not apply to the personal information of employees of these provincially regulated organizations. The federal government may exempt organizations or activities in provinces that have their own privacy laws if they are substantially similar to the federal law. PIPEDA will continue to apply in those provinces to the federally regulated private sector and to personal information in inter-provincial and international transactions by all organizations engaged in commercial activities.  Oversight of both federal Acts rests with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada who is authorized to receive and investigate complaints.”

Personal Identity Concerns

The Constitution and other laws/policies protect religious freedom. When there are reports of societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practices, prominent societal leaders often take positive steps to promote religious freedom and condemn intolerance. 

Drug-related Crimes

Drug use (cannabis, methamphetamine) occur in parks in the Ottawa area and around the downtown homeless shelters. Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), OPS, and RCMP continue to actively pursue and arrest those involved in drug operations.

Organized crime is present in Ottawa and centered around drug trafficking and outlaw motorcycle gangs. The OPS has noted an increase in the use of guns in the commission of crimes. Lebanese and Russian organized crime, along with local street gangs, are also present in Ottawa, and are mostly involved in the distribution of illegal narcotics and prostitution.

Kidnapping Threat

Dozens of international parental child abductions occur each year between the U.S. and Canada, with courts in both countries applying the Hague Abduction Convention. In Canada, each province has its own central authority. These central authorities have strong relationships with the U.S. Central Authority, the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Children’s Issues (CA/OCS/CI). They generally coordinate directly with CA/OCS/CI on international child abduction cases, and thus the Embassy/Consulates rarely become involved.

In 2012, the RCMP created a new unit, The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains. The unit will maintain a national database for finding missing people and identifying human remains that will link investigators from across the country when their cases match. The database will provide support to police, coroners, and medical examiners and let them compare their findings to cases from across the country.  

Police Response

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) is very proactive and responsive when dealing with all types of criminal activity in Ottawa. The OPS is typically the primary first law enforcement responder in the case of any emergency.

The OPS is proactive in addressing criminal activity. The capabilities of both city and federal law enforcement agencies are on par with their U.S. counterparts. Police can be relied upon to respond to the scene of crimes in a timely manner. Police agencies and emergency medical services in the Ottawa area, also known as the National Capital Region, have the same capabilities as U.S. emergency services. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Reports of police detention of U.S. citizen can be directed toward American Citizens Services in Consular Affairs during normal working hours (Tel # 613-238-5301). The after-hours number is 613-688-5249 and the caller will be forwarded to the U.S. Embassy duty officer. 

Crime Victim Assistance

Members of the community should dial 911 for emergencies and life-threatening situations.

Police/Security Agencies

Federal Police: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the Canadian national police service and an agency of the Ministry of Public Safety Canada. The RCMP is unique in the world since it is a national, federal, provincial, and municipal policing body. The RCMP provide a federal policing service to all Canadians and policing services under contract to the three territories, eight provinces (except Ontario and Quebec), more than 190 municipalities, 184 Aboriginal communities, and three international airports.

Ontario Provincial Police: The Ontario Provincial Police is the largest deployed police force in Ontario and the second largest in Canada. The service is responsible for providing policing services throughout the province in areas lacking local police forces. It also provides specialized support to smaller municipal police forces, investigates province-wide and cross-jurisdictional crimes, patrols provincial highways (including Ontario's 400-Series Highways), and is responsible for many of the waterways.

Ottawa Local Police: The Ottawa Police Service is the police of jurisdiction in the city of Ottawa, which is divided into six police districts. The OPS responds to emergency 911 calls.

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Ottawa Civic Campus is a full-service hospital including trauma care and air-lift unit. The hospital is located near the downtown area and is easily accessible. Tel: 613-563-4000.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Ottawa Civic Campus Tel: 613-563-4000.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

According to federal authorities, every year there are about four million Canadians affected by a food-borne illness. Of these, there are about 11,600 hospitalizations and about 240 deaths annually. Just over 100 deaths are caused by identified bacteria, parasites, and viruses (the balance of deaths have unknown food-borne illness causes): about one-third caused by Listeria monocytogenes, about one-fifth caused by norovirus, 16% caused by Salmonella, and 8% caused by E. coli.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Canada.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no active Country Council in Ottawa. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Ottawa or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Ottawa
490 Sussex Drive Ottawa, ON K1N 1G8, Canada
Hours:  0830-1700

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Operator: (613) 688-5335

American Citizens Services: (613) 238-5335

Consular Affairs: (613) 688-5361

After hours contact: (613) 688-5249

Website: https://ca.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts

Consulate Calgary: http://calgary.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Halifax: http://halifax.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Montreal: http://montreal.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Quebec: http://quebec.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Toronto: https://ca.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/toronto/

Consulate Vancouver: http://vancouver.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Winnipeg: http://winnipeg.usconsulate.gov/

Additional Resources

Canada Country Information Sheet