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Police-reported crime in rural and urban areas in the Canadian provinces, 2017

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Released: 2019-05-07

In 2017, 16% of the provincial population lived in rural areas, where 23% of police-reported violent offences occurred. Further, 17% of property crimes, 27% of Criminal Code traffic offences and 23% of other Criminal Code violations also occurred in rural areas.

A comparative analysis of crime reported by police services that serve rural and urban areas is presented in the Juristat article, "Police-reported crime in rural and urban areas in the Canadian provinces, 2017," released today. The study found that the rural crime rate was higher than the urban rate, driven by higher rural rates in the Prairies and northern regions of the provinces.

Crime rate, Crime Severity Index higher in rural areas

Rural police services reported 6,210 Criminal Code incidents (excluding traffic) per 100,000 population in 2017. This rate was 23% higher than the rate reported by urban police services (5,051).

In addition to a higher crime rate, the Crime Severity Index (CSI) was also higher in rural areas. The CSI—a measure of the volume and severity of police-reported crime—was 82.1 in rural areas, 17% higher than in urban areas (70.1).

Chart 1  Chart 1: Police-reported crime rate in rural and urban areas, by province, 2017
Police-reported crime rate in rural and urban areas, by province, 2017

Southern rural areas report lower crime rates

The overall rural-urban difference in crime rates is mostly due to high rural rates in the Prairies and in the Provincial North, which is defined as the northern regions of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Overall, the crime rate in the rural Provincial North (14,512 incidents per 100,000 population) was three times higher than in the rural provincial South (4,706). Crime rates in the Provincial North were particularly high in the northern regions of Saskatchewan and, to a lesser extent, in Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec. In the southern part of the provinces, the rural crime rate was generally lower than the urban rate. This trend was observed in all provinces except Alberta.

Rural crime rates were especially higher than urban crime rates in the Prairies. The rural crime rate was 42% higher in Manitoba, 38% higher in Alberta and 36% higher in Saskatchewan than the urban crime rate in each of these provinces.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Police-reported crime rate in rural areas in the south and the north, by province, 2017
Police-reported crime rate in rural areas in the south and the north, by province, 2017

Both rural and urban crime lower than a decade ago

In both rural and urban areas, the crime rate and the CSI were lower overall in 2017 than they were in 2009. In rural areas, the crime rate decreased 13% and the CSI was down 7%. Urban areas saw an even greater decline, as both the crime rate and the CSI decreased 19% during the same time period.

Mischief most common crime in rural areas

In 2017, mischief—an offence that covers a range of criminal behaviours including various sorts of vandalism, such as graffiti, and destructive or reckless behaviour—was the offence most often reported by police services in rural areas. The relatively high number of mischief incidents accounted for the higher crime rate in rural areas. Mischief represented 20% of rural crime compared with 11% in urban areas. In addition to mischief, break and enter, motor vehicle theft, theft over $5,000, possession of stolen property and arson were some other property crimes that had higher rates in rural areas than in urban areas. In contrast, the rate for theft of $5,000 or under was much higher in urban areas, which was largely due to a high number of shoplifting incidents and thefts from motor vehicles.

Homicide rate higher in rural areas than in urban areas

From 2009 to 2017, rural police services reported 1,078 homicides, representing an average annual rate of 2.02 homicides per 100,000 population. Meanwhile, the rate in urban areas was 1.55 (4,068 homicides).

Despite a higher homicide rate in rural areas than in urban areas, the rate of attempted murder was lower. From 2009 to 2017, there were, on average, 1.7 attempted murders per 100,000 population in rural areas, compared with 2.1 in urban areas. If the prevalence of homicide and of attempted murder are considered together, differences between rural and urban rates mostly disappear.

In addition to homicides, the rates for several other violent offences were much higher in rural than in urban areas, particularly violent firearms offences—such as discharging or pointing a firearm—aggravated assault and sexual violations against children. In contrast, higher rates of robbery and offences related to human trafficking or the commodification of sexual activity were reported in urban areas.

  Note to readers

This analysis is based on police-reported data from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. A number of factors can influence police-reported statistics. For example, an incident must come to the attention of the police. Also, differences between individual police services, such as available resources or departmental priorities, policies and procedures, can also have an effect on police-reported crime. For instance, some police services may rely on municipal by-laws to deal with minor offences. The territories are excluded from this analysis on rural crime since they differ from the provinces and among themselves in many respects.

Urban areas are those where the majority of the population lives within a census metropolitan area (CMA) or census agglomeration (CA). Rural areas are where the majority of the population lives outside a CMA or CA. A CMA or CA is formed by one or more adjacent municipalities centred on a population centre (known as the core). A CMA must have a total population of at least 100,000, of which 50,000 or more live in the core. A CA must have a core population of at least 10,000. To be included in the CMA or CA, adjacent municipalities must have a high degree of integration with the core, as measured by daily commuting flows derived from census data. A CMA or CA may have more than one police service.

The Provincial North includes the northern regions of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador. For more information, consult the "North and South - Variant of SGC 2016" section on the Statistics Canada website.

The crime rate and the Crime Severity Index are complementary measures of police-reported crime. The crime rate measures the volume of crime reported to the police per 100,000 population, while the Crime Severity Index measures both the volume and severity of crime reported to the police.


The article "Police-reported crime in rural and urban areas in the Canadian provinces, 2017" is now available as part of the publication Juristat (Catalogue number85-002-X).

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;

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