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Canada really is a puppy-dog compared to its southern cousin, but you shouldn't let the myth of a country without crime lull you into complacency.
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 tourists 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.
As Canada‘s biggest ski resort and the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler-Blackcomb is a must for many tourists. The huge population of ex-patriot workers and visitors 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 tourists 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.
One area infamous for crime within the tourist trail is Vancouver‘s Downtown East Side (DTES). Congregations of drug users, dealers and prostitutes 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, especially with an increase in police presence that accompanied the 2010 Winter Olympics. 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.
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.
Canada is the leader of the industrialised 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.
Canada is one of the most welcoming destinations in the world for women travellers. 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. Over 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 female traveller. 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.
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