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Homicide in Canada

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Police reported 611 homicides in Canada in 2008, 17 more than the previous year, resulting in a 2% rise in the national homicide rate. The 2008 increase was due almost entirely to increases in Alberta and British Columbia, much of which was gang-related.

After peaking in the mid-1970s, the homicide rate generally declined until 1999 and has been relatively stable since. Gang-related homicides, however, have been on the rise since the early 1990s and accounted for almost 1 in 4 homicides in 2008.


There were 200 homicides committed with a firearm in 2008, 12 more than in 2007. The rate of homicides committed with a firearm has increased 24% since 2002.

There were 146 female homicide victims, 17 fewer than in 2007. Women accounted for 24% of homicide victims in 2008, the lowest proportion since statistics were first collected.

Note to readers

A census metropolitan area (CMA) refers to an area with a population of at least 100,000, including an urban core with a population of at least 50,000 together with adjacent urban and rural areas that have a high degree of economic and social integration. The areas that police forces serve may differ in their mix of urban/suburban populations, making the comparability of crime rates among these forces difficult. This lack of comparability is addressed by analyzing crime rates by CMA.

In 2008, 55 youth aged 12 to 17 were accused of committing homicide, well below the peak of 85 in 2006. About 1 in 5 homicides committed by youth in 2008 was gang-related.

Rise in gang-related homicides

Police reported 138 homicides in 2008 as gang-related, 20 more than in 2007. These include homicides linked to organized crime groups or street gangs, as well as the death of any innocent bystanders during the incident.

Most gang-related homicides occurred within Canada's largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs). The 10 largest CMAs accounted for just over half of all homicides in the nation in 2008, but slightly more than two-thirds of all gang-related homicides.

Police in the metropolitan area of Toronto reported 24 gang-related homicides, the most of any CMA. However, accounting for population, Calgary's 16 gang-related homicides in 2008 gave it the highest rate among the 10 largest metropolitan areas.

Firearms were used more often in gang-related homicides than in other types of homicide. In 2008, about three-quarters of gang-related homicides in Canada were committed with a firearm, compared with about 20% of homicides unrelated to gangs.

Homicides committed with a firearm generally on the rise since 2002

The overall rate of homicides committed with a firearm gradually declined from the mid-1970s to 2002. Since then, this rate has generally been increasing.

Of the 200 firearm homicides in 2008, 121 or 61% were committed with a handgun, 34 with a rifle/shotgun and 17 with a sawed-off rifle/shotgun. Over the past 30 years, the use of handguns to commit homicide has generally been increasing, while the use of rifles or shotguns has generally declined.

Police in the Toronto metropolitan area reported 50 firearm homicides in 2008, the most of any CMA. Taking population into account, however, the 12 firearm homicides in Winnipeg and the 16 in Edmonton gave those metropolitan areas the highest rates among the 10 largest CMAs.

Lowest rate of female homicide victims

Both the rate of females killed (0.87 per 100,000 population), as well as the proportion (24%), were the lowest since 1961.

Two possible explanations for the declining proportion are, first, a drop in rates of spousal homicide over the past 30 years, which usually involves female victims. The second is the growth in gang-related homicides since the early 1990s, which typically involve male victims.

Of all solved homicides in 2008, 15% were committed by a spouse, 19% by a family member other than a spouse, 41% by an acquaintance and 9% by someone known to the victim through a criminal relationship. The remaining 17% of victims were killed by a stranger, consistent with previous years.

Police reported 62 spousal homicides, unchanged from 2007. In 2008, the spousal homicide rate was at its lowest point in over 40 years.

Women are about three times more likely to be a victim of a spousal homicide than men. In 2008, 45 women and 17 men were killed by a current or former spouse. In addition, 27 homicides were committed by a current or former boyfriend/girlfriend or intimate partner, 8 more than the previous year.

Homicide rates highest in the West and North

The highest homicide rates per 100,000 population continue to be reported in the western provinces and territories. Manitoba reported the highest rate among the provinces in 2008, followed by Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec reported the lowest rates. Homicide rates in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario were at or near their lowest level in 40 years.

Among the largest centres, rates were highest in the western metropolitan areas of Abbotsford–Mission, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Kelowna, Calgary and Vancouver.

Police in Toronto reported 103 homicides, the most of all CMAs. However, Toronto's rate of 1.9 homicides per 100,000 population was slightly higher than the national average of 1.8.

Montréal and Hamilton each reported their lowest homicide rates since 1981, when data first became available at the CMA level.

Residents of largest cities not at highest risk of being a victim

Residents of large urban areas tend to be at slightly less risk of being a victim of a homicide than those living in smaller urban or rural areas. In 2008, the 22.9 million Canadians living in 1 of the 34 CMAs had a lower homicide rate (1.8) than the 10.4 million Canadians living outside a CMA (2.0).

Homicide rates in CMAs declined 7% in 2008, while rates in areas outside CMAs increased 25%. The increase in small urban and rural areas occurred mainly in Alberta and British Columbia.

Available on CANSIM: tables 253-0001 to 253-0006.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3315.

The Juristat article "Homicide in Canada, 2008," Vol. 29, no. 4 (85-002-X, free), is now available. From the Publications module of our website, under All subjects, choose Crime and Justice, then Juristat.

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

Table 1

Homicides by province and territory
  number rate1
Canada 611 1.83
Newfoundland and Labrador 5 0.98
Prince Edward Island 2 1.43
Nova Scotia 12 1.28
New Brunswick 3 0.40
Quebec 92 1.19
Ontario 176 1.36
Manitoba 54 4.47
Saskatchewan 30 2.95
Alberta 110 3.07
British Columbia 117 2.67
Yukon 3 9.05
Northwest Territories 3 6.93
Nunavut 4 12.72
Rates are calculated per 100,000 population.

Table 2

Homicides by census metropolitan area
  number rate1
500,000 and over population    
Winnipeg 31 4.07
Edmonton 39 3.44
Calgary 34 2.87
Vancouver 54 2.37
Toronto 103 1.86
Montréal 48 1.27
Ottawa2 11 1.20
Québec 8 1.09
Hamilton 6 0.85
Kitchener 4 0.78
100,000 to less than 500,000 population    
Abbotsford–Mission 8 4.71
Regina 8 3.82
Kelowna 6 3.43
Windsor 7 2.10
Halifax 7 1.77
Saskatoon 4 1.55
Brantford 2 1.46
Victoria 5 1.44
St. Catharines–Niagara 6 1.36
Gatineau3 4 1.35
Greater Sudbury 2 1.22
Oshawa 4 1.12
Saint John 1 0.98
Peterborough 1 0.83
Trois-Rivières 1 0.68
Kingston 1 0.64
St. John's 1 0.55
London 2 0.41
Barrie 0 0.00
Guelph 0 0.00
Moncton 0 0.00
Saguenay 0 0.00
Sherbrooke 0 0.00
Thunder Bay 0 0.00
Rates are calculated per 100,000 population.
Ottawa refers to the Ontario part of the Ottawa–Gatineau census metropolitan area.
Gatineau refers to the Quebec part of the Ottawa–Gatineau census metropolitan area.

Table 3

Gang-related and firearm homicides, census metropolitan areas over 500,000 population
  Firearm homicides Gang-related homicides
  number rate1 number rate1
500,000 and over population        
Winnipeg 12 1.58 6 0.79
Edmonton 16 1.41 9 0.79
Vancouver 29 1.27 19 0.83
Calgary 13 1.10 16 1.35
Toronto 50 0.90 24 0.43
Montréal 14 0.37 17 0.45
Ottawa 3 0.33 3 0.33
Québec 0 0.00 1 0.34
Hamilton 0 0.00 0 0.00
Kitchener 0 0.00 0 0.00
Rates are calculated per 100,000 population.