Is Canada Safe? Essential Travel Tips for Visitors

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Frequent comparisons to the United States have led many people to regard Canada as a blissful crime-free oasis.


Mounted Police Officer in Canada Photo © iStock/CarpathianPrince

Canada really is a puppy-dog compared to its southern cousin when it comes to crime, but you shouldn't let this lull you into complacency.

Crime rates in Canada

While violent crime against tourists is rare, petty and property crime is common in the country‘s bigger cities. Apply all your common sense rules and you‘ll find Canada to be a walk in the park.

Canada‘s crime hotspots are concentrated in the west and along the US border, with Halifax in Nova Scotia the only eastern coast city to be listed in the country‘s crime top 10.

Most areas travelers will visit are safe as houses. Violent crime in Canada is low and almost non-existent in popular holiday spots and ski resorts. However, while the threat to your person is minimal, Canada has its fair share of sticky fingers. Car break-ins are common in city areas and unwatched bags and gear can go walkabout.

Ski resorts and crime

As Canada‘s biggest ski resort, Whistler-Blackcomb is a must for many visitors. The huge population of ex-patriot workers and travelers can often make you feel like you never left home. Banff shares the same great slopes and après-party atmosphere.

With the bulk of their populations made up of travelers and transient workers looking to have a good time, both major resorts are largely free of serious crime.

Despite this, the abundance of expensive gear and clothing is too tempting for some. Skis, boards, boots and jackets are all easy to lift, so don‘t be too trusting or careless with yours.

As with any popular nightlife area, clashes and scuffles do occur but party-poopers are a tiny minority, and a network in Banff that puts police in direct radio contact with bouncers mean drunken violence is rare and quickly controlled.

Is Vancouver safe?

One area infamous for crime within the tourist trail is Vancouver‘s Downtown East Side (DTES). Congregations of drug users, dealers and sex workers have marked this as a place to avoid in many people‘s books.

But DTES lies between two of Vancouver‘s great tourist attractions, historic Gastown and Chinatown, and it would be a shame to miss out on both because of a misinformed fear.

While the blatant drug abuse and poverty mean a visit to DTES can be confronting, you will most likely encounter a number of eccentric but ultimately harmless characters. DTES can also provide great deals for the budget traveller, with some incredibly cheap food on offer.

During daytime, DTES is completely safe. At night, avoid the area if possible but give an especially wide berth to the four-block strip of Hastings from Cambie to Main Street. If you‘re walking to or from the night markets in Chinatown, avoid the temptation to cut across Hastings and definitely don‘t head down any alleyways. It‘s much safer to walk a few extra blocks.

As always, avoid displays of wealth and walk with purpose. Drug dealers and other shady figures generally want to avoid police attention and will leave you alone unless you appear to be loitering or show an interest in their product.

Property crime is the big worry here and is directly related to the drug problem. Avoid parking your car in the area as smash and grabs are common and keep a close eye on your belongings.

Safety in Edmonton

The booming oil sands industry in Alberta has seen more and more young workers flock to the area. Shift work and lots of disposable income resulted in a rise in alcohol-fuelled incidents, drug use and petty crime that accompanies it.

At the centre of this is Edmonton, which has a high population of oil sands workers and a reputation for crime. Like most Canadian cities, Edmonton is completely safe as long as you keep your wits about you.

Whyte Avenue is a nightlife hotspot with a positive vibe but things can get a little rowdy around the 2am closing time, when everyone is spilling onto the street.

After dark, it‘s best to avoid Coliseum, Abbottsfield and anything directly east of downtown 97 Street.

Is cannabis legal in Canada?

Canada is the leader of the industrialized world for cannabis use, toking at around four times the global average. “Don‘t smoke and drive“ ads are as common as anti-drink driving campaigns in many parts of the country. Canadians‘ relatively liberal attitude to cannabis use often leads to misunderstandings about the country‘s drug laws.

Marijuana is not legal here. There have been several bills put forward to decriminalise the drug but none have made it through parliament, in part because of pressure from the United States. Police will pursue and prosecute people caught in possession of the drug so don‘t expect to get away with it because you‘re on holiday.

Safety for female travelers

Canada is one of the most welcoming destinations in the world for women travelers. Liberal attitudes and safe surrounds mean you will have no problems in Canada‘s main cities or along tourist routes.

Yet one of Canada‘s darkest issues is the high number of missing and murdered First Nation, or indigenous women. According to government statistics, Canada‘s young indigenous women are five times more likely than other women of the same age to die as a result of violence.

Despite government condemnation of the violence and continued pledges to take action, there has been little visible progress in dealing with the patterns of marginalization, impoverishment and discrimination that put indigenous women at risk.

Issues of sexual discrimination and some cases of sexual assault also come into play in the male-dominated oil sands towns. However, these cases occur largely within the oil sands industry itself.

Discrimination and intimidation are in part the result of and reason for a huge gender imbalance in the workforce. More than 70 per cent of geoscientists employed in the industry are male, while men make up around 90 per cent of the trade workforce.

However distasteful, these issues shouldn‘t have too much impact on you as a woman traveler. Even so, if heading out to bars or nightclubs it is probably best if you take some friends or join a group of fellow partygoers.

Contact the police by calling 911 or 0 and ask the operator to connect you. There is no charge for emergency calls placed from a public pay phone.

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  • Eddie said

    The comments about discrimination and intimidation in this article are borderline insane. Neither exist in Canada on any level that could be categorized as remotely significant. I have lived here 46 years and the mere idea that someone might be discriminated against would cause a national upheaval. Petty crime happens, but I have never had anything stolen from me in 46 years. People will immediately stop and offer help, a phone, water etc if they see someone of any colour in trouble. THAT is Canada. Also, I have never seen a "Don't smoke and drive" ad in my life. People do smoke weed here, but not nearly as often as this article makes it seem. Ridiculously written.

  • director said

    I have to say there are some significant problems in visiting certain Canadian cities. Specifically, I would advise tourists to be very carefully in traveling to Ottawa, the nation's capital. While it has traditionally been know as a safe, picturesque and boring city, the streets of its core are now overrun with aggressive, even violent, street people. Many of them are mentally ill and/or drug addicts.

    If anyone is planning to come here for the 150th anniversary celebration this summer, I would exercise extreme care. Try not to lodge within a mile or two of Parliament, and don't spend any more time in the core than necessary.

    Remember, in a Canadian city, you have few rights to defend yourself from street criminals. So, be careful. The police are probably not going to help you, and the city administration is trying to make life easier for street drug users.

  • lol said

    Remember, in a Canadian city, you have few rights to defend yourself from street criminals. So, be careful. The police are probably not going to help you, and the city administration is trying to make life easier for street drug users.


  • Mike said

    The entire article is true.

    There are higher rates of crime in smaller port towns but those aren't tourist destinations.And even if you did visit a bad place just dont stare at people this may get you into a scrap. Bad things mostly happen to bad people.

    Eddie's comments above have a political and personal incentive. He obviously is a shut in...I my self have live all accross the country and there are places to keep your wits however i cant imagine why a tourist would visit these places as there's nothing to see.

    Enjoy your visit. Nothing to be afraid of. Just pay attention and do as you would normally do in America and you'll be fine.

  • Myra said

    Please, list all warnings for young female travelers? Thank you!

  • Rachel said

    It’s very safe. I’ve lived in Ottawa my whole life and never had a problem. I can walk around downtown at night on main streets and never had an issue. Police will absolutely help you if you need it. So will anyone around who sees you may need some assistance. Come visit. It’s a great place with so many friendly people.

  • Jamie said

    I was very surprised that this article didn't say one thing about Toronto! It's Canada's biggest city at over 2 million people.
    And despite what some may hear regarding crime in this city, it's actually quite safe! I've been here 4 years now. And I absolutely love Toronto! If u come to Canada u have to visit this city in southern Ontario. There's so much to do and see. Visit our famous CN Tower! And Canada's Wonderland!

  • Brandi-Dawn Abele said

    Someone mentioned warnings for young female travellers- I would say none beyond what is normal anywhere in the developed world: eg don’t necessarily trust and go off alone with strange men, date rape drugs in alcohol have been reported to exist in some major cities and college towns. Marijuana is fully legal now, beginning in October 2018. Driving while high is a crime, and driving while using cell phones is a crime in most provinces. I would estimate the level of threat of property crime and violent crime is the same or less than the risks in the Western European cities of UK, Ireland, Germany, and Holland and somewhat lower generally than those risks in South Western Europe, while being much lower than the same stats in the USA or Mexico. The people will help you; nature will kill you. Seriously, I can’t over state the number of times visitors have shocked locals with their disregard for safety with wild animals and weather.

  • Naftali Tukondyeni Hamalwa said

    It isn't sound bad at all, it seems like safety and security is well enforced. Safety is the second level of Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, it is very much needed.
    If I want to migrate from Namibia to go work or stay in a foreign country then Canada will be my target.

  • Curtis said

    Uh I have lived in supposedly the crime rate capital of Canada for my entire life for over 4 decades and there is only ONE time in the entire time I have lived here that anything happened to me. That is including walking right across the city at midnight. Just use common sense and the cops absolutely will help you when called, and so will people try to render assistance. Again this is my experience of living my entire life in supposedly the CRIME RATE CAPITAL of Canada and also travelling from coast to coast on vacations in Canada. I suspect the person that wrote this article is slightly biased as if you take a look at his profile picture you see him standing by a wall with graffiti, so I suspect he tends to put himself in higher risk situation than normal people do.

  • John said

    Canada is safe, one thing that is glaringly left out from the article is we as citizens are not allowed to carry handguns. That is not to say we do not suffer from what other larger cities have. I live in Winnipeg and the Downtown , North End areas are not to be traveled at night, use common sense. We have a large indigenous population and there is a high rate of Meth and Fetenyl use in this city which can lead to violence and petty theft. As said in previous comments use common sense and travel with a group of people. I work downtown during the day and in summer the homeless people can be a serious problem (Panhadling, drunk, drug addiction) and it is a blight on our fair and welcoming city. There is not a day goes by that paramedics are not working to help somebody recover from an alcohol, fetenyl or meth overdose near the building i work. Stay away from Portage Place mall as this is where the addicts and drunks congregate.

  • Gerry said

    Canada is a huge country and would take about a week to drive from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.
    Most of it is covered by forests, farmland, fresh water lakes and rivers. The north is permafrost, with very small vegetation. Wildlife is abundant but mostly harmless with a few exceptions. There are no dangers from snakes or poisonous animals . There are a few plants that can cause skin irritation but will not exist in tourist regions. The cold of winter could kill you if you do something stupid.
    Pretty much every large city in the world has some crime but Canada is one of the safest.
    I've lived here for 70 years and never has anyone tried to rob or harm me.
    The police will protect you and are not corrupt but if you break the law you will be charged. Handguns and assault weapons are illegal so don't try to bring them here. Hunting guns are aloud but don't walk down a city street with one as there are strict rules about their use.
    Don't drink alcohol or smoke weed and drive. Yes cannabis is legal but certain jurisdictions prohibit smoking in public places and it is restricted as to how much you can grow or possess in different jurisdictions. Also alcohol has restrictions as to where it can be consumed.
    The food is safe in restaurants and grocery stores as it is regulated and inspected.
    The highways are safe and patrolled regularly by police and are well maintained.
    People will stop to help you if you are in trouble.
    It's a "rule of law country" so everyone has the same rights regardless of skin colour, sex, or whatever. There is very little discrimination and less all the time.
    The laws are there to protect you so you can have fun in a safe healthy environment.

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