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Police-reported crime increases in 2019

Released: 2020-10-29

Police-reported crime in Canada, as measured by the Crime Severity Index (CSI), increased 5% in the year prior to the pandemic—from 75.6 in 2018 to 79.5 in 2019. This is the fifth consecutive annual increase in the CSI. Nevertheless, the 2019 index remained 9% lower than a decade earlier. The CSI measures the volume and severity of police-reported crime in Canada, and has a base index value of 100 for 2006.

All measures of the CSI—the overall CSI, the Violent CSI and the Non-violent CSI—increased for the fifth consecutive year. The change in the overall CSI in 2019 was the result of higher police-reported rates for the following offences, ordered according to their relative impact on the CSI: fraud (+8%); child pornography (+46%); uttering threats (+20%); mischief (+8%); level 1 sexual assault—meaning without a weapon or evidence of bodily harm (+7%); and shoplifting of items worth $5,000 or under (+11%). This Daily article highlights most of these offences, as well as homicide, drug offences and impaired driving.

A detailed analysis of police-reported crime is provided in the new Juristat article released today, "Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2019" and the accompanying infographic "Police-reported crime in Canada, 2019."

Police reported over 2.2 million Criminal Code incidents (excluding traffic offences) in 2019, 164,748 more than in 2018. The police-reported crime rate, which measures the volume of crime, rose 7% in 2019 to 5,874 incidents per 100,000 Canadians. Even with this increase, the crime rate in 2019 was 9% lower than a decade earlier.

The police-reported CSI and crime rate include only those incidents that come to the attention of police, either through reporting by the public or pro-active policing. Results from the most recent General Social Survey on Victimization found that just under one-third (31%) of violent and non-violent incidents were reported to the police.

The police-reported crime statistics from 2019 do not reflect the large-scale societal impacts, both nationally and globally, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019 police-reported data are, however, a key reference point for 2020 police-reported data to identify possible changes in Canadian crime patterns as a result of the pandemic.

To address data gaps and provide insight into public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, a selection of police services in Canada are reporting information on specific types of crime and calls for service from March to December 2020. Initial results found that the selected police services reported 16% fewer criminal incidents during the first four months of the pandemic (March to June) compared with the same months in 2019. In contrast, calls to police for service were up 7%, particularly calls to conduct wellness checks and calls to attend domestic disturbances. For more information, see the "Police-reported crime incidents down during the early months of the pandemic, while domestic disturbance calls increase" report in The Daily.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Police-reported crime severity indexes, 1999 to 2019
Police-reported crime severity indexes, 1999 to 2019

Chart 2  Chart 2: Police-reported crime rates, 1962 to 2019
Police-reported crime rates, 1962 to 2019

Quebec reports only decline in Crime Severity Index, all other provinces and territories report an increase

In 2019, nine provinces and all three territories reported a higher CSI compared with a year earlier. Quebec was the only province to report a lower CSI (-1%), largely due to a decrease in breaking and entering. While the types of offences driving increases in the CSI across the provinces and territories varied, common contributing offences included fraud, child pornography, homicide, and breaking and entering.

Despite the national and provincial increases in the CSI, over half of Canada's largest cities (census metropolitan areas, or CMAs) reported declines in 2019, led by Brantford (-10%), Sherbrooke (-10%), Halifax (-10%) and Guelph (-9%).

The largest increases in the CSI were recorded in the CMAs of Kelowna (+20%), Victoria (+16%), Belleville (+13%) and Vancouver (+11%).

Homicide rate increases in the Prairie provinces

Police reported 678 homicides in 2019, 20 more than the year before. The homicide rate increased 2% from 1.78 homicides per 100,000 population in 2018 to 1.80 in 2019. This marked the third consecutive year where the rate exceeded the average for the previous decade (1.67 per 100,000 population).

The increase in homicides nationally was driven by Saskatchewan (+21), Alberta (+19, following a large decrease in 2018), and Manitoba (+17). The increases in Saskatchewan and Alberta were largely due to increases in non-CMA areas, while the majority of the change in Manitoba was due to the Winnipeg CMA. There were fewer homicides in Ontario (-26, following a large increase in 2018) and Quebec (-6). As has been the case with provincial comparisons historically, homicide rates were highest in Manitoba (5.26 homicides per 100,000 population) and Saskatchewan (4.68).

The number of firearm-related (+10) and gang-related (+6) homicides increased in 2019. Handguns accounted for most firearm-related homicides (60%), which has been the case since 1995. Handguns also accounted for the majority (78%) of gang-related homicides committed with a firearm.

See the accompanying infographic, entitled "Infographic: Homicide in Canada, 2019." Detailed homicide statistics can be found in data tables available online.

Homicide rate for Indigenous peoples six and a half times higher than for non-Indigenous people

A history of colonization, including residential schools (the last of which closed in 1996), work camps and forced relocation, is recognized for having profoundly impacted Indigenous communities and families. Indigenous peoples often experience social and institutional marginalization, discrimination, and various forms of trauma and violence—including intergenerational trauma and gender-based violence. As a result, many Indigenous peoples experience challenging social and economic circumstances. These factors play a significant role in the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system and as victims of crime.

Police reported 174 Indigenous homicide victims in 2019, 33 more than in 2018. Almost two-thirds of the victims identified as Indigenous were First Nation (63%), while 3% were Métis and 11% were Inuk (Inuit). The Indigenous group was not identified for 22% of all Indigenous homicide victims.

There were five fewer female Indigenous homicide victims in 2019 (40) than a year earlier, and 20 more male Indigenous homicide victims (from 96 to 116).

The homicide rate for Indigenous peoples (First Nation, Métis and Inuit) was six and a half times higher (8.82 homicides per 100,000 population) than for Canada's non-Indigenous population (1.34 per 100,000 population). Indigenous peoples accounted for 5% of Canada's population, but 27% of all homicide victims nationally in 2019. Since 2014, when reporting of this information began, Indigenous victims have accounted for approximately one-quarter of all homicide victims each year.

The homicide rate for Indigenous males (11.89 homicides per 100,000 population) was nearly three times that for Indigenous females (4.01 per 100,000 population) and six times higher than for non-Indigenous males (2.04 per 100,000 population). Non-Indigenous females (0.55 per 100,000 population) had the lowest homicide rate in 2019.

Persons identified as belonging to a visible minority group account for almost one-third of victims

The need for disaggregated data to better understand the issues facing diverse populations in all aspects of society, including the area of crime and victimization, has never been greater. According to the 2016 Census, 22.3% of the population belonged to a group designated as a visible minority. In 2019, the Homicide Survey collected this information for the first time and found that 31% (206 victims) of homicide victims that year were identified as belonging to a visible minority group. Of these victims, 44% (89 victims) were identified as Black, 21% (42) as South Asian and 8% (16) as Arab.

Statistics Canada and the policing community have committed to expanding the collection of information on Indigenous and ethno-cultural identity in criminal incidents beyond only homicide.

Rate of police-reported sexual assault higher for the fifth consecutive year

There have been notable increases in police-reported sexual assaults over the past three years in the wake of growing public discussion surrounding sexual violence, characterized by the #MeToo movement. In 2017, there was also significant national media attention regarding the classification of sexual assault incidents reported to police as "unfounded," meaning that it was determined through police investigation that the offence reported did not occur, nor was it attempted.

In collaboration with the policing community, Statistics Canada updated the definitions of founded and unfounded incidents to take a more victim-centered approach and provide more options for police to appropriately classify criminal incidents. Part of these changes, which came into effect in January 2018, included a new definition of "founded" criminal incidents. Now, an incident is coded as "founded" unless there is credible evidence to confirm that the reported incident did not take place—potentially allowing police to classify more incidents as founded, and, therefore, include them in the official crime statistics.

In 2019, police-reported sexual assaults rose 7%, marking the fifth consecutive annual increase. At 98%, nearly all of the 30,935 police-reported sexual assaults were classified as "level 1," meaning these assaults did not involve a weapon or evidence of bodily harm.

The rate of police-reported sexual assault increased in every province and territory except Nova Scotia (-15%), and in 23 of 35 CMAs.

Despite the rise in police-reported sexual assaults, the number of sexual assaults reported by police is likely a significant underestimation of the extent of sexual assault in Canada, as these types of offences often go unreported to police. For instance, the most recently available self-reported data from the General Social Survey on Victimization show that, in 2014, 5% of sexual assault incidents experienced by Canadians aged 15 and older in the previous 12 months were brought to the attention of police.

Fewer police-reported sexual assaults deemed "unfounded"

Following updates to the classification standards for police-reported incidents, fewer incidents of sexual assault were classified as "unfounded" in 2019 compared with 2017, the year before implementation of the new standards began. In 2019, 10% of level 1 sexual assaults reported to police were classified as unfounded, down from 14% in 2017. In comparison, 10% of common physical assault incidents were classified as unfounded in 2019, down from 11% in 2017.

If reporting standards and practices had not changed, it is estimated that the rate of police-reported level 1 sexual assault in 2019 may have risen by approximately 3% compared with the reported increase of 7%.

Significant increase in police-reported child pornography

The national rate of police-reported child pornography increased by 46%, the largest annual increase dating back to 2008. Police reported 8,815 incidents in 2019, 2,881 more than in the previous year. The sharp rise and severity of incidents of child pornography made child pornography the second leading offence driving the national increase in the CSI in 2019.

Police-reported child pornography rose primarily in British Columbia (+1,320 incidents, +67% rate), Ontario (+947 incidents, +61% rate) and Quebec (+310 incidents, +28% rate). Most (26 of 35) CMAs also reported increases.

The increase in child pornography may be attributed in part to more cases being forwarded to local police services by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, which serves as the national law enforcement arm of the National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet. In 2019, Public Safety Canada announced the expansion of the National Strategy with increased funding over three years to support awareness of online child sexual exploitation, reduce stigma of reporting, and increase Canada's ability to pursue and prosecute offenders of sexual exploitation of children online.

In British Columbia, a pilot project to identify computers used to access or share child pornography on the Internet may explain some of the increase in child pornography incidents in that province.

Rate of Criminal Code firearm offences up for fifth consecutive year

The Criminal Code specifies a number of violent firearm-related offences, including discharging a firearm with intent, pointing a firearm and using a firearm in the commission of an indictable offence.

The rate of these violent firearm-related offences increased for the fifth consecutive year, rising by 21% in 2019. Much of this increase occurred in Ontario (+268 incidents) and British Columbia (+162 incidents). In particular, the CMAs of Toronto (+172 incidents), Vancouver (+80) and Calgary (+44) reported the largest increases in incidents, while Edmonton (-21 incidents) and Montréal (-21) reported the largest decreases.

Police reported an increase in the rate of all three violent firearm violations: discharging a firearm with intent (+28%, +341 incidents), pointing of a firearm (+17%, +223 incidents) and using a firearm in the commission of an indictable offence (+14%, +78 incidents).

The rate of non-violent weapons violations (such as possession of weapons and unsafe storage of firearms) also increased for the fifth consecutive year, rising 11% to 50 incidents per 100,000 population. The vast majority (91%) of these violations were related to possession of weapons offences and breach offences for weapons possession contrary to an order.

More offences related to harassing and threatening behaviours

The rates of many types of criminally harassing and threatening behaviours rose sharply in 2019. In particular, criminal harassment (+17% in the rate per 100,000 population, +3,634 incidents), uttering threats (+20% rate, +14,555 incidents), indecent or harassing communications (+29% rate, +5,517 incidents), and the non-consensual distribution of intimate images (+31% rate, +489 incidents) all increased from a year earlier. Uttering threats was the largest contributor to the national increase in the Violent Crime Severity Index in 2019. These offences had generally been rising over the last four years, with the exception of criminal harassment, which had been fairly stable until 2019.

Amendments and new offences introduced in 2015 by the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, including the creation of the offence of non-consensual distribution of intimate images, codified an increased focus by the police and the public on issues surrounding cyberbullying. Increased focus on the enforcement and reporting accuracy of cybercrime, and heightened awareness of cybercrime by the public and police could also be factors underlying the increase in these offences.

Increased access to, and use of, the Internet and social media and the perceived anonymity they offer can facilitate criminal harassment, uttering threats and indecent and harassing behaviours. Advancements in cell phone technology and the availability of cloud-based sharing platforms may contribute to increased non-consensual distribution of intimate images. According to the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces, 18.4% of women and 13.6% of men reported having experienced unwanted behaviours online in the 12 months prior to the survey (for example, receiving threatening or aggressive emails or messages, and non-consensual distribution of intimate images).

Police-reported fraud increases for the eighth year in a row

The prevalence of certain types of fraud has recently been highlighted by the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre (CAFC), particularly general online, telephone or text message scams, such as the "Canada Revenue Agency scam" and pre-paid gift card scams. According to some police services, increases in the reporting of fraud were connected to greater use and availability of online options for reporting fraud. According to the CAFC, there were 19,285 victims of fraud in 2019 and over $98 million lost due to fraud.

Nationally, the rate of police-reported fraud (including identity theft and identity fraud) increased for the eighth year in a row, up 10% from 2018 and 64% higher than the rate recorded a decade earlier. Just under 166,500 incidents of fraud were reported by police in 2019, resulting in a rate of 443 per 100,000 population. For the second year in a row, the high volume of fraud offences made it the primary driver behind the increase in the national CSI.

Large increase in shoplifting of items worth $5,000 or under for the second year in a row

While shoplifting may be viewed as a relatively minor offence, these offences result in notable losses to businesses and a rise in shoplifting may be tied to other more serious community safety and well-being issues, such as illicit drug use or sudden financial crises.

Police reported over 140,200 incidents of shoplifting (373 incidents per 100,000 population) in 2019, up 11% from 2018. Since 2009, the rate of shoplifting of items worth $5,000 or under has increased by 35%, while theft of property worth $5,000 or under by methods other than shoplifting decreased by almost one-fifth (-19%).

Relatively large increases in the rate of shoplifting in Manitoba (+48%), Alberta (+37%) and British Columbia (+18%) were the primary drivers of the national increase. As in 2018, certain CMAs were responsible for the national increase, including Edmonton (+57%), Winnipeg (+54%), Ottawa (+39%), Vancouver (+20%) and Calgary (+18%).

Rates of police-reported cannabis offences decline for the eighth year in a row

The Cannabis Act, which came into effect October 17, 2018, provides a legal framework for the regulation of the production, distribution, sale, possession, importation and exportation of cannabis in Canada. Prior to legalization, cannabis drug offences were under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

After more than 14 months since the new Cannabis Act came into effect, police have reported 18,097 incidents. The most commonly reported offences were related to importation or exportation (64% of all Cannabis Act offences), followed by possession (13%) and sale (7%). In comparison, prior to the legalization of cannabis, possession accounted for about 75% of cannabis offences.

The Montréal CMA accounted for 56%, or 6,323, of importation or exportation offences reported under the Cannabis Act. This high volume is due in part to cannabis seizures conducted by the Canada Border Services Agency in Montréal that were thought to be related to the possible misunderstanding by the public about the legality under the new legislation of purchasing cannabis from outside of Canada and having it delivered into the country.

For more information on cannabis, see Statistics Canada's Cannabis Hub.

Opioid-related drug offences continue to be highest in British Columbia

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, over a three-year period from 2016 to 2019, more than 15,000 people in Canada lost their lives as a result of opioid overdoses, a continuing crisis in many Canadian communities. Just over three-quarters (77%) of the apparent opioid-related deaths in 2019 involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues.

Police reported 3,766 opioid-related offences in Canada in 2019, up by almost half (+48%) from a year earlier. The vast majority of this increase was due to possession and trafficking offences, while offences related to the importation or exportation of opioids decreased slightly.

Among the provinces, the highest rates were in British Columbia (38 per 100,000 population), Alberta (12) and Ontario (8). Kelowna (124) and Lethbridge (95), followed by Vancouver (35), Abbotsford–Mission (31) and Brantford (29), had the highest rates of opioid offences among the CMAs.

Western Canada remains the most impacted region of the country, but rates have begun to rise in other areas as well—the Atlantic provinces all reported increases in the rate of opioid-related offences and Ontario reported a 45% increase in 2019.

Police-reported methamphetamine offences continue to increase

A number of police services have indicated that the illicit use of methamphetamine (crystal meth) is a growing issue in their communities and may be contributing to increases in other types of crime, including property and violent crimes.

There were 14,446 methamphetamine offences in Canada in 2019, up 3% from the previous year and continuing the upward trend that started in 2008. Among all drugs, possession of methamphetamine had the second highest incident rate (29 per 100,000 population), after the importation and exportation of cannabis. While the rate of methamphetamine possession rose 1% in 2019, the rate of trafficking rose 17%. Methamphetamine offences accounted for 21% of all police-reported drug crime in 2019.

Largest increase in police-reported impaired driving in over three decades while drug-impaired driving up for sixth year in a row

Following changes to Canada's impaired driving laws in 2018 with the coming into force of An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, 2019 saw the largest increase in the rate of police-reported impaired driving in over three decades (+19%).

Police reported 85,673 impaired driving incidents in 2019, up 14,841 from a year earlier. After declining for six consecutive years, the rate of impaired driving (alcohol, drugs and unspecified) has risen for two consecutive years to 228 incidents per 100,000 population.

The majority (85%) of police-reported impaired driving incidents continued to involve alcohol in 2019, while a growing proportion (8%) involved drugs. The rate for all drug-impaired driving violations increased 43% from 2018. There were 6,453 drug-impaired driving offences in 2019, up 2,009 from the previous year.

Increases in impaired driving offences, particularly drug-impaired driving offences, may be due in part to several contributing factors, including: greater legislative powers by police to conduct drug and alcohol screening tests, more police officers trained to detect impaired driving through standardized field sobriety tests, an increased number of drug recognition experts leading to more confirmed instances of impairment, as well as more oral fluid screening devices to detect drug impairment.




  Note to readers

The crime rate and the Crime Severity Index (CSI) 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 CSI measures both the volume and severity of crimes reported to the police.

For more information on the concepts and use of the severity indexes, see the video "Measuring crime in Canada: A detailed look at the Crime Severity Index." Also, see the document "Measuring Crime in Canada: Introducing the Crime Severity Index and Improvements to the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey" (Catalogue number85-004-X).

Data are drawn from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, a census of all crime known to police services. Police-reported crime statistics conform to a nationally approved set of common crime categories and definitions. They have been systematically reported by police services and submitted to Statistics Canada every year since 1962. Differences in local police service policies, procedures and enforcement practices can affect the comparability of crime statistics at the municipal level.

The change of definition of 'founded' criminal incidents had a measurable impact on the rate of specific offences reported to the police, notably violent offences. See the full Juristat article released today for more details. While the effective date for the changes in definition and new coding options was January 2018, police services transitioned to the new standards at different points throughout the year. Some police services, including all of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachments across Canada and municipal police services in British Columbia, transitioned to the new standards on January 1, 2019.

Additional details on the new standards for the classification of founded and unfounded criminal incidents by police are available in the Juristat article "Revising the classification of founded and unfounded criminal incidents in the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey" and the accompanying infographic "Unfounded criminal incidents: Statistics Canada's path to new data collection."

For additional information on cannabis and its legalization, see the National Cannabis Survey.

For more information on opioids and illicit drug overdose deaths, see the Juristat Bulletin—Quick Fact "Illicit drug overdose deaths, 2011 to 2016, British Columbia and Surrey."

Products

The article "Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2019" is now available as part of the publication Juristat (Catalogue number85-002-X). The infographics "Police-reported crime in Canada, 2019" and "Infographic: Homicide in Canada, 2019" (Catalogue number11-627-M) are also released today. Updated data can also be found in the Cannabis Stats Hub (Catalogue number13-610-X).

Additional data are available upon request.

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; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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