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Study: A comparison of urban and rural crime rates

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The Daily

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Crime is not necessarily a big-city phenomenon in Canada, according to a new study of 2005 police-reported data. The study found that small urban areas had higher overall crime rates than both large urban areas and rural areas, and that homicide rates were highest in rural areas.

The overall crime rate in small urban areas was 43% higher than in large urban areas, defined as census metropolitan areas, and 58% higher than in rural areas. Rates of total violent crime, total property crime and break-ins were also highest in small urban areas.

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Of the 658 homicides in Canada in 2005 with a known location, 427 were committed in large urban areas, 95 in small urban areas and 135 in rural areas.

Taking population into account, the homicide rate of 2.5 homicides per 100,000 people in rural areas was actually higher than the rate of 2.0 in large urban areas and the rate of 1.7 in small urban areas. This pattern has held constant over the past decade.

Note to readers

Large urban areas are defined as Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs). A CMA represents one or more adjacent municipalities centered on an urban core of at least 100,000 persons. Based on police boundaries, large urban areas accounted for 65.5% of the Canadian population in 2005.

Small urban areas are defined as any urban area not part of a CMA that has a minimum population of 1,000 persons and a population density of at least 400 persons per square kilometer. Small urban areas accounted for 17.4% of the population in 2005.

Rural areas are defined as all areas of the country not falling into either the large urban or small urban categories. In 2005, rural areas accounted for 17.1% of the population.

However, robbery and motor vehicle theft were much more likely to occur in big cities than in small cities or rural areas. The robbery rate for large urban areas was more than double that for small urban areas and almost 10 times that for rural areas. The motor vehicle theft rate in large urban areas was about 25% higher than in small urban areas and 80% higher than in rural areas.

Handguns are the firearm of choice in big-city homicides

In 2005, just over one-third of all homicides in both large urban areas and rural areas were committed with a firearm, compared with less than one-quarter of homicides in small urban areas.

Handguns were the weapon of choice in large urban areas, used in 76% of all firearm homicides. In rural areas, rifles or shotguns were the most prevalent; they were used in 65% of firearm homicides.

Weapons more common in large urban areas in Quebec and Ontario

In Quebec and Ontario, the only provinces where data on weapon use in violent crimes were available for both urban and rural areas, about 1 in 6 violent incidents involved a weapon of some sort, most commonly a knife.

Weapons were present more frequently in large urban areas than in small urban areas and rural areas of these two provinces. About 1 in 5 violent incidents in large urban areas involved a weapon, compared with about 1 in 8 in small urban areas and rural areas.

The proportion of violent crimes involving a firearm was about two to three times higher in large urban areas. In 2005, 3.2% of violent crimes in the large urban areas of Quebec and Ontario involved a firearm, compared to 1.1% in small urban areas and 1.4% in rural areas.

When a firearm was present, handguns were more prevalent in large urban areas than in the other areas. Handguns were used in three-quarters of crimes committed with a firearm in big cities compared to about half in small cities and one-third in rural areas.

Most provinces reported highest crime rates in small urban areas

The highest overall crime rates were found in small urban areas, except in Quebec, where the rate was highest in large urban areas.

The lowest crime rates were found in the rural areas of all provinces, except in Alberta, where the rate was lowest in the large urban areas.

Among all urban and rural areas of the country, the highest overall crime rates were reported in the small urban areas of the four western provinces. The lowest overall crime rates were observed in the rural areas of Quebec, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick.

Although homicide rates were highest in rural areas at the national level, this was not the case in all provinces. In Ontario and British Columbia, the highest homicide rates reported were in large urban areas.

The highest homicide rates in the country were found in the rural areas of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey numbers, including related surveys, 3302, 3315 and 4504.

The Juristat: "A Comparison of Large Urban, Small Urban and Rural Crime Rates, 2005," Vol. 27, no. 3, (85-002-XIE, free) is now available from our website. From the Publications module, under Free Internet publications, choose Crime and justice, then Juristat. A paper version (85-002-XPE, $11/$100) is also available.

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

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