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The Daily

The Daily. Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Crime comparisons between Canada and the United States


Over the past 20 years, Canada recorded much lower rates of violent crime than the United States did. However, rates for property offences have generally been higher in Canada, according to a comparison of police-reported crime between the two nations.

Crime rates in both countries have followed similar trends during the past two decades. After peaking in 1991, rates for both violent and property crime generally declined throughout the 1990s.

Based on selected offences, the United States has had a much higher rate of reported violent crime than Canada. The homicide rate was three times higher in the United States than it was in Canada, while the American rate for aggravated assault was double the Canadian rate. For robbery, the rate was 65% higher in the United States.

On the other hand, since 1990, Canada has recorded slightly higher rates of property crime, although the rates have gradually been converging during the late 1990s. Canada has higher reported rates than the United States for breaking and entering, motor vehicle theft and arson.

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Rates for both violent and property offences also followed similar regional patterns in the two nations, rising from east to west.

Compared to American cities, Canadian cities had lower rates of homicides, aggravated assaults and robberies. However, property crime was more prevalent in Canadian urban centres.

Violent crime: U.S. rates higher for homicide, assault and robbery


Note to readers

This release is based on analysis in a new report, Juristat: Crime comparisons between Canada and the United States, which is available today from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. The data came from the Canadian and American Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) programs and the Canadian and American Homicide Surveys.

The different number of offences collected in the two UCR programs- 106 in Canada and 8 in the United States- prevents direct comparison of the American and Canadian total crime rates. However, it is possible to group comparable offences to indicate overall crime patterns.

This release compares violent crime in the two countries on the basis of homicide, aggravated assault and robbery. Property crime is compared on the basis of breaking and entering, motor vehicle theft, theft and arson. Minor modifications were made for aggravated assault and arson to allow comparisons to be made.

These crime comparisons are based on incidents that come to the attention of police and do not necessarily represent the total volume of crime. Police-reported crime rates are influenced by a number of factors, including the willingness of the public to report crimes to the police, enforcement practices and reporting by police to the UCR programs. As a result, caution must be taken any time comparisons are made.

According to the 2000 International Crime Victimization Survey, which collects comparable information on victimization across countries, the percentage of victims reporting crimes to the police is similar in Canada and the United States, and has been relatively stable in both countries over time.


In 2000, police in the United States reported 5.5 homicides for every 100,000 population-triple the Canadian rate of 1.8. The number of homicides has declined in both countries during the 1990s, particularly south of the border. Two decades ago, the American homicide rate was about four times that of Canada.

About two-thirds of homicides in the United States involved a firearm, compared with one-third in Canada.

To make the American and Canadian categories of aggravated assault comparable, three Canadian offences-attempted murder, assault with a weapon and aggravated assault-were collapsed into one.

In 2000, Americans were far more likely than Canadians to be victims of aggravated assault. The U.S. rate of 324 aggravated assaults for every 100,000 population was more than double the Canadian rate of 143. However, the U.S. rate has been falling since 1994, culminating with a 3% decline in 2000. In contrast, the Canadian rate has remained relatively stable since 1994, but was up 7% in 2000.

The American rate of reported robbery was 65% higher than in Canada in 2000, and the difference was much more pronounced with respect to robberies committed with a firearm. In 2000, firearms were involved in 41% of robberies south of the border, compared with only 16% in Canada. Since 1991, police-reported robbery rates have been declining in both countries. During this period, rates fell 47% in the United States-almost twice the 26% decline in Canada.

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Property crime: Canadian rates higher for break-ins, motor vehicle theft and arson

Reported rates for break-ins, motor vehicle theft and arson were all higher in Canada in 2000, whereas the United States reported 11% more thefts.

For most of the 1980s, the Canadian and American rates for breaking and entering were similar. However, between 1989 and 1991, the Canadian rate rose 21%, whereas the American fell 2%. Since 1991, both nations have reported declines. In 2000, Canada had a nationwide rate of 954 break-ins for every 100,000 population, compared with the American rate of 728.

In 2000, Canadian police reported 521 motor vehicle thefts for every 100,000 population, 26% higher than the rate of 414 in the United States. Canada's rate has surpassed the U.S. level for the past five years.

This difference was primarily due to the fact that Canadians were twice as likely as Americans to experience thefts of trucks, minivans or sports utility vehicles. The rate of stolen cars is virtually the same between the two countries.

While shoplifting and "other thefts," such as pick-pocketing, were greater in the United States, Canadian police reported higher rates of bicycle theft. Since 1991, both countries have experienced general declines in total thefts.

Canada's arson rate of 45 per 100,000 population in 2000 was 41% higher than the American rate.

Urban crime: U.S. cities lead in violent crime

On average, for metropolitan areas with populations over 500,000, American cities had higher rates of homicide, aggravated assault, and robbery than did Canadian cities. This is consistent with the overall national patterns.

Police-reported rates of breaking and entering and motor vehicle theft were higher among Canadian urban centres with populations over 500,000 than among American cities with populations exceeding 500,000.

Drug offences: U.S. arrest rate three times that of Canada

Two decades ago, the Canadian and American drug arrest rates were almost equal. In 2000, however, U.S. police arrested 561 persons with drug offences for every 100,000 population-three times higher than the Canadian rate of 177.

It should be noted that the difference in these arrest rates may be more a reflection of the level of police enforcement and resources rather than actual behavioural patterns.

Since 1980, the American arrest rate for drug possession, trafficking and production has doubled, whereas the Canadian rate has declined 29%. That large increase in the United States is due to increases in arrests for drug possession. In 2000, U.S. police arrested 454 people for every 100,000 population for drug possession-over four times the rate of 100 in Canada.

Crime rate comparisons between Canada and the United States


  Canada United States
  Real terms Rate(1) Real terms Rate(1)
Homicide 542 1.8 15,517 5.5
Aggravated assault(2) 43,933 143 910,744 324
Robbery 27,012 88 407,842 145
Break and enter 293,416 954 2,049,946 728
Motor vehicle theft 160,268 521 1,165,559 414
Other theft 683,997 2,224 6,965,957 2,475
Arson 13,724 45 78,280 32
1Rates are per 100,000 population.
2For comparison purposes, the Canadian category of aggravated assault includes attempted murder, assault with a weapon and aggravated assault.

The vol. 21, no. 11 issue of Juristat: Crime comparisons between Canada and the United States (85-002-XIE, $8/$70; 85-002-XPE, $10/$93) is now available.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Information and Client Services (613-951-9023 or 1 800 387-2231), Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

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Date Modified: 2001-12-18 Important Notices