The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Canada at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
Review OSAC’s Canada-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
There is minimal risk from crime in Ottawa. Canada’s murder rate increased by 7% to a near 10-year high in 2017, and gun related deaths were the highest in 25 years. Police reported 660 homicides nationwide in 2017, 48 more than in 2016 and the most since 2009. Canada experienced a rash of shooting deaths this year, particularly in major cities like Toronto. Amid the rise in violence, Canada’s federal government introduced gun laws in 2018 that would require better record keeping and enhanced background checks.
According to media reports, the federal government is dedicating CAD $86m over the next five years to detection dogs, x-ray technology, ballistics testing, and other measures to stifle rising gun violence. The federal government announced disbursement of another CAD $200m to provinces and territories to finance community guns and gangs programs. The funding announcement came as governments at all levels are grappling with rising gun violence. Across Canada, the rate of gun violence rose 33% between 2013 and 2016, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data. After the mass shooting along Toronto’s Danforth Avenue in July 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formed a team to examine the viability of a national ban on handguns and assault-style rifles.
Between 2016 and 2017, the overall crime rate in Ottawa increased 3% (compared to 5.9% the previous year) and sheer crime numbers increased 4%. Police report that the violent crime rate jumped from 541 offences per 100,000 residents in 2016, to 649 in 2017 – an increase of 20%. Ottawa Police Service (OPS) stated the increase “was driven by a rise in uttering threats, harassing communications, assaults, and sexual violations.”
There were 16 homicides in Ottawa in 2018, up from 14 in 2017 but down from 24 in 2016. According to the OPS Major Crime Unit, six of the sixteen homicides are likely gang-related. Since 2005, the homicide rate has crept up to an average of 12 per year. From 1985 to 2005, there was an average of 10 homicides in the city per year. The rise in killings coincides with an increasing number of shootings, with six of the past eight years, including 2018, bringing new record highs.
Criminal elements generally concentrate their activities in the downtown and immediate surrounding wards of Ottawa, which include Embassy official residential neighborhoods. While the Byward Market and downtown area is enjoyable for restaurants and shopping, low-level criminal activity plagues visitors and businesses alike. Drug dealing, petty theft, and vehicle break-ins are common. Aggressive panhandling and occasional incidents of violence also occur.
Lebanese and Russian organized crime elements, along with local street gangs, are present in Ottawa.
There is no evidence that criminal elements directly target U.S. travelers or government employees for criminal activity in Ottawa.
On October 1, 2018, Canada stood up the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (CCCS, or CyberCentre) to serve as the single unified source of expert advice, guidance, services, and support on cyber security operational matters for government, critical infrastructure owners and operations, the private sector, and the Canadian public.
One of the top priorities of the CCCS is to inform Canadians about cyber security matters. On December 6, 2018, the Cyber Centre released Canada’s first National Cyber Threat Assessment. This first public report from the Cyber Centre examines the cyber threats facing Canadian citizens, Canadian businesses, and Canada’s critical infrastructure. The National Cyber Threat Assessment identifies current trends in the cyber threat environment and the likelihood that these cyber threats will occur, and how they could affect Canadians.
Computers and cell phones are subject to searches without a warrant at the border and illegal content can result in the seizure of the computer as well as detention, arrest, and prosecution of the bearer.
Visitors to large cities and popular tourist destinations should be aware that criminals regularly target parked cars for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts. Avoid leaving any unattended possessions in a vehicle, even in the trunk. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Visitors should exercise precaution to safeguard their property.
Canadian law prohibits trafficking of controlled substances and narcotics, including those that may be legal to possess under the law of certain states. Despite the fact that Canada legalized the personal consumption of recreational cannabis, Canadian law prohibits taking cannabis across Canada’s national borders, whether you are entering or leaving Canada. Smugglers risk substantial fines, a permanent bar from Canada, and imprisonment.
Firearms control is stricter in Canada than in the United States. Violation of firearms restrictions may result in prosecution and imprisonment. Visitors bringing any firearms or ammunition into Canada must declare the firearms in writing using a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration form. Visitors planning to borrow and use a firearm in Canada must obtain a Temporary Firearms Borrowing License in advance. You must present these forms in triplicate and sign them in front of a CBSA officer at the border; it is not possible to make photocopies at the border. Full details and downloadable forms are available at the Canadian Firearms Program website, under the heading "Visitors / Non Residents."
Canadian law requires that officials confiscate any firearms, ammunition, and other weapons from persons crossing the border who do not declare having the items in their possession. Authorities will not return confiscated firearms, ammunition, or weapons. Possession of an undeclared firearm may result in arrest and imprisonment. Inspect all belongings thoroughly prior to travel to Canada to avoid the accidental import of firearms or ammunition.
For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions in Ottawa are similar to those found in large U.S. cities. Ottawa is tourist and business-friendly. Travelers should not experience any security-related issues driving around Ottawa or in Ontario.
Visitors driving in winter should expect adverse conditions. Snow plowing, snow removal, and treating of major and secondary roadways is very efficient. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.
Alcohol and cannabis related driving offenses, such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving while ability-impaired, and driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or cannabis, are criminal offenses in Canada. Penalties are heavy, and any prior conviction (no matter how old or how minor the infraction), is grounds for exclusion from Canada. U.S. citizens with a DWI record must seek approval for rehabilitation from Canadian authorities before travel to Canada, which requires several weeks or months to process.
Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW) is the sixth largest airport in Canada. Relatively small by U.S. standards, it is very efficient. The airport and management of flight operations adheres to international civil aviation safety and security standards. Security measures are commensurate with U.S. airports, and security personnel are well trained and effective.
The United States conducts preclearance operations at eight airports in Canada, more than in any other country. Canada is the only country in the world with which the United States has signed a new Preclearance agreement that covers all modes of transportation across the shared border.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is minimal risk from terrorism in Ottawa. The terrorism threat persists, including the homegrown variety, threats emanating from extremist groups abroad, and returnees from overseas conflict zones. The call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums or via the broader approach on social media, continues to be a concern throughout Canada.
In October 2014, Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) elevated its domestic terrorism threat level from LOW to MEDIUM, indicating “an individual or group within Canada or abroad has the intent and capability to commit an act of terrorism in Canada.” There has been no change to Canada’s national terrorism threat level since then.
Recent terrorism incidents in Canada or perpetrated by Canadian citizens abroad include:
- On August 22, 2018, the ISIS media outlet al-Furqan Foundation released a 55-minute audio speech delivered by overall leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The recording incites lone-wolf attacks in the West, mentioning Canada, with bombings, shootings, and vehicular strikes.
- On May 3, 2018, an ISIS-affiliated Telegram poster threatened random attacks in Western countries, with pictures showing an explosion at the intersection of West Hastings and Thurlow Streets, next to the Manulife Place tower in Vancouver, British Columbia. The tower houses the U.S. Consulate on its 20th floor.
- On September 30, 2017, Somali national and refugee Abdulahi Hasan Sharif conducted a vehicle ramming in Edmonton, Alberta, striking an Edmonton Police Service constable. He exited the vehicle, stabbed the officer, and fled the scene. Later that night, police pulled over a van driven by Sharif at a check stop. He fled, seemingly deliberately striking four pedestrians with the van during the police chase. All five required hospitalization, but there were no fatalities. Police arrested Sharif, confirmed a suspected terrorist motive, and recovered an ISIS flag from the truck.
- On June 21, 2017, Amor Ftouhi, a Canadian citizen and resident of Montreal, attacked and stabbed a police officer at Bishop International Airport in Flint, Michigan. During the attack, Ftouhi referenced killings in Syria and Afghanistan. Officers subdued and arrested him, and he is pending trial in Detroit. An FBI spokesperson stated that “a hatred for the United States” had motivated Ftouhi.
- On June 3, 2017, Rehab Dughmosh, a Toronto-area woman, wearing clothing with ISIS symbols, entered a store in Ontario armed with a large knife and a golf club and threatened to harm employees and customers. Store employees restrained Dughmosh, and Toronto Police subsequently arrested her. At her court appearance, she pledged allegiance to the leader of ISIS. In July, the crown laid multiple charges against her, including attempted murder for the benefit of or in association with a terrorist group, assault, uttering threats, and carrying a concealed weapon.
- On January 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette, a Quebec resident and University of Laval student, killed six men and injured many others during a shooting at a Quebec City mosque. Bissonnette, who is facing up to 150 years in prison on six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder using a restricted firearm, pleaded guilty on March 28, 2018. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard both called the shooting a terrorist attack, but authorities did not charge Bissonnette with committing terrorism offences.
In 2018, a few deadly mass casualty attacks occurred that Canadian authorities determined were not terrorism; however, they used attack methodologies promoted by ISIS propaganda:
- On April 23, 2018, in Toronto, Ontario, 25-year old Canadian Alek Minassian drove a rented van and sped through the North York City Centre business district, deliberately targeting pedestrians, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others, some critically. Toronto Police arrested Minassian uninjured just south of the crime scene. The incident is the deadliest vehicle-ramming attack in Canadian history.
- On July 22, 2018, Canadian-born 29-year-old Faisal Hussain opened fire on numerous individuals on Danforth Avenue in the busy Greektown area of Toronto, Ontario, using a semi-automatic handgun, according to media reporting. Two individuals died and 13 others were injured; Hussain died of a self-inflicted gunshot. According to a statement released by Hussain’s parents, he suffered from “severe mental health challenges,” including psychosis and depression. Canadian authorities declared the event had no known nexus to terrorism, despite an ISIS claim that Hussain was a “soldier of the Islamic State.”
- On May 24, 2018, in Mississauga, Ontario, two subjects, still at large and unidentified, detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) inside the Hurontario Street Bombay Bhel Restaurant, a regional Indian restaurant chain, injuring 15 of the 40 people inside.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is minimal risk from political violence in Ottawa. Demonstrations and protests in Ottawa occur regularly, are mostly non-violent and orderly, and usually involve social activists, specific ethnic or national groups, or student associations. Authorities require permits for demonstrations. Municipal/federal law enforcement authorities are usually present at events to ensure public order.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change produces an hourly Air Quality Index report, with forecasts ranging from good to moderate air quality, similar to moderately sized U.S. cities.
Public Safety Canada identifies ten sectors of critical infrastructure (i.e. 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 in the private sector. Public Safety works with its partners to manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities across these sectors. Federal, provincial, and territorial governments, together with critical infrastructure owners/operators, share responsibility for critical infrastructure. 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 United States share cross border critical infrastructure that govern the movement of people and goods. With refineries, nuclear facilities, large manufacturing operations, and other infrastructure located in close proximity to the border, as well as energy, critical supply and transportation networks that cross the border, impacts from disruptions can and do cross international jurisdictions. The Canada-United States Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure promotes resilience and an integrated approach to critical infrastructure protection by enhancing coordination of activities and facilitating continuous dialogue among cross-border stakeholders.
Ontario is home to over one quarter of the farms and nearly half of food and beverage processing in Canada. The agriculture and food industries, including livestock farming, comprise a multi-billion dollar segment of the Ontario economy. Therefore, several federal acts that govern food products regulate food contamination (microbial, chemical, or physical).
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and other Canadian law enforcement agencies are responsible for undertaking coordinated action to counter the threats posed by intellectual property crime within Canada. While the RCMP is a partner agency at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, there were no known criminal prosecutions for counterfeiting in Canada in 2017. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) crime – copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting – is a growing international phenomenon that generates huge losses for legitimate industry, the economy, and the Government of Canada.
According to INTERPOL, this type of crime has confirmed links to organized crime and terrorism. In addition to the tremendous losses to government tax revenues and the legitimate Canadian economy, recent seizures of counterfeit goods (e.g. pharmaceuticals, electrical products, auto parts, contaminated shampoo/food products) show that unscrupulous counterfeiters can jeopardize the health and safety of consumers. Canada remains the only G7 country identified in the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) 2018 Special 301 Report; Canada’s downgrade to the Priority Watch List this year reflects a failure to resolve key longstanding deficiencies in protection and enforcement of Intellectual Property.
Significant concerns include poor border and law enforcement with respect to counterfeit or pirated goods, weak patent and pricing environment for innovative pharmaceuticals, deficient copyright protection, and inadequate transparency and due process regarding geographical indicators.
There is relatively low risk to privacy concerns in Canada. Canada has two federal privacy laws:
The Privacy Act governs the personal information handling practices on some 250 federal institutions. It limits the collection, use, sharing, and disclosure of individuals’ personal information. It also gives individuals the right to access and request correction of personal information about themselves held by the federal government.
The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) applies to the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information (e.g. age, name, ID numbers, and ethnic origin) in the course of commercial activity. Organizations and businesses must obtain an individual’s consent before collection, and individuals have the right to access and challenge the accuracy of their personal information held by an organization. PIPEDA is exempt in provinces that have privacy legislations similar to it; Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta have adopted private-sector legislation deemed substantially similar to the federal law.
Oversight of both federal Acts rests with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who receives and investigates complaints.
Personal Identity Concerns
There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Canada.
Although Canada has effectively implemented laws mandating access to buildings for persons with disabilities, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States.
Drug use (cannabis, methamphetamine) occurs in parks in the Ottawa area and around the downtown homeless shelters. OPP, OPS, and RCMP continue to investigate and arrest those involved in drug operations. As of October 17, 2018, it is legal to produce, sell, possess, consume, and distribute recreational cannabis throughout Canada.
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. Organized crime and local street gangs are mostly involved in the distribution of illegal narcotics and prostitution.
Kidnapping for ransom is rare. However, dozens of international parental child abductions occur each year between the United States and Canada, with courts in both countries applying the Hague Abduction Convention. All provinces have their own central authority, which have strong relationships with the United States. They generally coordinate directly with the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues on international child abduction cases, so the Embassy rarely becomes involved.
The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains is an RCMP unit that maintains a national database for finding missing people and identifying human remains that links investigators nationwide when their cases match. The database provides support to police, coroners, and medical examiners and lets them compare their findings.
OPS is proactive and responsive when dealing with all types of criminal activity in Ottawa, and is typically the primary first law enforcement responder in the case of any emergency.
The capabilities of city and federal law enforcement agencies alike are on par with their U.S. counterparts. Except for minor non-violent crimes and incidents (e.g. larceny from vehicles, traffic accidents without injuries), police 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
Direct reports of police detention of U.S. citizen to American Citizens Services during normal working hours (613-238-5301). After business hours, call 613-688-5249 to reach the duty officer.
Crime Victim Assistance
Dial 911 for emergencies and life-threatening situations.
Federal Police: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is the national police service and an agency of the Ministry of Public Safety Canada. RCMP is unique in that it is a national, federal, provincial, and municipal policing body. RCMP provides a federal policing service to all Canadians and policing services under contract to the three territories, eight provinces (all except Ontario and Quebec), more than 190 municipalities, 184 Aboriginal communities, and three international airports.
Ontario Provincial Police: OPP 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 City Police: OPS is the police of jurisdiction in Ottawa and is sub-divided into six police districts. OPS responds to emergency 911 calls.
A high level of medical care (comparable to that in other industrialized countries) is available throughout the country, although medical care in remote areas may be inadequate or not meet international standards. Adequate medical care for routine minor-care medical situations and stabilization prior to evacuation is available in remote areas.
Hyperbaric chambers for diving injuries are located in, but not limited to, Calgary, Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, and Vancouver.
The national emergency number is 911.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance webpage.
Available Air Ambulance Services
Air Ambulance Services are available in Ottawa and elsewhere in Ontario.
Hospitals generally require up-front payment by cash or credit card, up to the total of all anticipated charges, from foreigners prior to services or treatment. Hospitals may waive up-front payment of other than a modest deposit if they have existing cashless agreements with at least some major international insurance providers. All hospitals provide some services free to Canadian citizens. All hospitals are required to provide emergency stabilization without regard to ability to pay.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Canada.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is no Country Council in Ottawa. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy: 490 Sussex Drive Ottawa, ON K1N 1G8
Embassy Contact Numbers
Embassy Operator: (613) 688-5335
After hours contact: (613) 688-5249
Nearby Posts: Consulate Calgary,Consulate Halifax, Consulate Montreal, Consulate Quebec, Consulate Toronto, Consulate Vancouver, Consulate Winnipeg
Additional Resource: Canada Country Information Sheet