After five years of increases, police-reported crime in Canada was down in 2020, but incidents of hate crime increased sharply
The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts on Canada's economy, health care system and society in general. Policies enacted to contain the spread of the virus have resulted in unprecedented disruptions in the social and economic lives of Canadians, changing how we interact, socialize, learn, work and consume.
Stay-at-home orders and other restrictions meant more people were at home for longer periods of time, while fewer people were out publicly, reducing opportunities for many types of crime. At the same time, the pandemic has resulted in Canadians increasingly turning to the Internet to stay connected with others and to facilitate work, school, shopping and health care, increasing the risk for different types of criminal offences related to the Internet. Circumstances of the pandemic also exposed and exacerbated issues related to safety and discrimination in Canada, including hate crime and family violence.
To moderate the public health risk associated with COVID-19, Canadian courts and correctional institutions took steps to reduce the volume of individuals in the criminal justice system while balancing public safety concerns.
Police-reported crime in Canada, as measured by the Crime Severity Index (CSI), decreased 8% in the first year of the pandemic—falling from 79.8 in 2019 to 73.4 in 2020. The CSI was 11% lower than a decade earlier in 2010. The CSI measures the volume and severity of police-reported crime in Canada, and has a base index value of 100 for 2006. The police-reported crime rate, which measures the volume of crime, also fell 10% in 2020 to 5,301 incidents per 100,000 Canadians. In 2020, police reported over 2 million Criminal Code incidents (excluding traffic offences), 195,015 less than in 2019.
All measures of the CSI—the overall CSI, the Violent CSI and the Non-violent CSI—decreased for the first time after five years of increases. Notably, the combined volume and severity of non-violent crime, as measured by the Non-violent CSI, decreased 10% in 2020. This was the largest year-over-year change in the Non-violent CSI dating back to 1998, the first year for which CSI data are available.
The change in the overall CSI in 2020 was the result of lower police-reported rates for the following offences, ordered according to their relative impact on the CSI: breaking and entering (-16%), theft of $5,000 or under (-20%), robbery (-18%), shoplifting of $5,000 or under (-36%), administration of justice violations (-17%) and sexual assault (level 1) (-9%). This Daily article highlights most of these offences, as well as homicide, family violence, hate crime, firearm-related offences and fraud.
In contrast, the number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada increased by 37% during the first year of the pandemic, rising from 1,951 incidents in 2019 to 2,669 in 2020. This marks the largest number of police-reported hate crimes since comparable data became available in 2009. Police-reported hate crimes targeting race or ethnicity almost doubled (+80%) compared with the previous year, accounting for the vast majority of the national increase in hate crimes.
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 proactive policing. Results from the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization found that just under one-third (29%) of violent and non-violent incidents were reported to the police. Additionally, the pandemic resulted in exceptional conditions that may have impacted crime reporting by the public, as well as police administration and priorities which could affect proactive policing in communities.
A detailed analysis of police-reported crime is provided in the new Juristat article released today, "Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2020" and the accompanying infographic "Police-reported crime in Canada, 2020."
Crime Severity Index declines in eight provinces
The CSI declined in eight provinces and one territory (Nunavut) in 2020 and rose in Nova Scotia (+8%), Northwest Territories (+6%), New Brunswick (+3%) and Yukon (+1%). Approximately 40% of the increase in Nova Scotia was due to the mass shooting that occurred in April 2020.
Common contributing offences to the changes in CSI included breaking and entering, theft and shoplifting of property valued at $5,000 or less, robbery, fraud and homicide.
Similar to the national and provincial trend, the CSI declined in 27 of the 35 census metropolitan areas (CMA) in 2020, led by Regina (-20%), Calgary (-17%), Ottawa (-16%), Barrie (-16%) and Toronto (-15%). The largest increases were in Peterborough (+14%), Greater Sudbury (+7%), Kingston (+4%), Victoria (+3%) and Halifax (+2%).
Significantly lower rates of breaking and entering, robbery, shoplifting and theft
Less property crime was largely the reason for the overall decline in police-reported crime in 2020. With stay-at-home orders and many individuals working remotely, most Canadians were not leaving their homes as often, which reduced opportunities for some property crimes. Violations such as breaking and entering, shoplifting of $5,000 or under and theft of $5,000 or under declined markedly from 2019 to 2020.
The rate of breaking and entering declined 16% nationally to 362 incidents per 100,000 population in 2020. Since peaking in 1991, the police-reported rate of breaking and entering has generally been declining in Canada. Over the last decade, the rate of breaking and entering has fallen 38%. Despite this decrease, breaking and entering continued to be one of the more common forms of property crime. In 2020, just over 137,500 incidents were reported by police, accounting for 12% of property crime, the same proportion as the previous year. Rates of breaking and entering declined in every province and territory, and in 30 of the 35 CMAs.
Given the widespread restrictions put in place in 2020 to contain the pandemic, such as the temporary closures of many businesses or moves toward curbside pickup, the rates of shoplifting and theft of $5,000 or under fell in every province and territory and in almost all CMAs (theft of $5,000 or under increased in Peterborough and was unchanged in Barrie). Police reported just over 90,900 incidents of shoplifting of $5,000 or under, representing a rate of 239 per 100,000 population, 36% lower than in 2019. The rate of other theft of $5,000 or under declined by one-fifth (-20%), falling from 1,130 to 904.
Robbery, which is considered a violent offence because it involves the use or threat of violence during the commission of a theft, was also down sharply. National rates, which had remained fairly stable over the last five years, declined by almost one-fifth (-18%), from 62 incidents per 100,000 population a year earlier to 51 incidents per 100,000 population in 2020. Rates of robbery declined in every province and territory except Nova Scotia (+11%) and Yukon (+3%), and rates declined or were the same in 25 of the 35 CMAs.
Police-reported hate crime rises
The pandemic further exposed and exacerbated issues related to safety and discrimination in Canada, including hate crime. According to a crowdsourcing initiative conducted early in the pandemic, those belonging to visible minority groups were three times more likely to have perceived an increase in race-based harassment or attacks compared with the rest of the population (18% versus 6%). This difference was most pronounced among participants of Chinese (30%), Korean (27%), and Southeast Asian (19%) origin. While crowdsourcing initiatives can be conducted more quickly than traditional survey methods—and can provide more timely information—the data are not collected using probability-based sampling. As a result, the findings cannot be generalized to the overall Canadian population.
The number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada increased by 37% during the first year of the pandemic, rising from 1,951 incidents in 2019 to 2,669 in 2020. This marks the largest number of police-reported hate crimes since comparable data became available in 2009. Police-reported hate crimes targeting race or ethnicity almost doubled (+80%) compared with the previous year, accounting for the vast majority of the national increase in hate crimes. Ontario (+321 incidents targeting race or ethnicity), British Columbia (+196 incidents) and Alberta (+105 incidents) reported the largest increases.
Much of the rise in police-reported hate crimes targeting race or ethnicity was the result of crimes targeting the Black population (+318 incidents or +92%), the East or Southeast Asian population (+202 incidents or +301%), the Indigenous population (+44 incidents or +152%), and the South Asian population (+38 incidents or +47%). In 2020, police reported the highest number of hate crimes targeting each of these population groups since comparable data became available.
Police data on hate crimes reflect only those incidents that come to the attention of police and that are subsequently classified as hate crimes. As a result, fluctuations in the number of reported incidents may be attributable to a true change in the volume of hate crimes, but might also reflect changes in reporting by the public because of increased community outreach by police or heightened sensitivity after high-profile events.
Homicide rate increases for second consecutive year
Police reported 743 homicides in 2020, 56 more than the year before. The homicide rate increased 7%, from 1.83 homicides per 100,000 population in 2019 to 1.95 in 2020, and marked the fourth consecutive year where the rate exceeded the average for the previous decade (1.67 per 100,000 population).
The number of homicides in Nova Scotia was far higher in 2020 than in previous years. In April 2020, 22 people were killed and 3 others were injured in a mass shooting in Nova Scotia, marking the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.
Overall, the increase in homicides nationally was the result of more homicides in Alberta (+39, the second significant increase in a row and largely the result of 15 more homicides in both the Calgary and Edmonton CMAs), Nova Scotia (+29) and Quebec (+10). In contrast, with 19 fewer homicides in 2020, Ontario recorded another significant decrease following a drop in 2019. As has been the case with provincial comparisons historically, rates were highest in Saskatchewan (5.09 homicides per 100,000 population) and Manitoba (4.50), while the rate in Nova Scotia was 3.57.
The homicide rates in Northwest Territories (13.29 homicides per 100,000 population) and Nunavut (7.62) were also above the national average, while there were no homicides reported in Yukon in 2020. The relatively small population counts in the territories typically translate to higher and more unstable rates.
Detailed homicide statistics can be found in data tables available online.
Homicide rate for Indigenous peoples seven 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, 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 peoples in the criminal justice system and as victims of crime.
Police reported 201 Indigenous homicide victims in 2020, 22 more than in 2019. Almost two-thirds of Indigenous homicide victims were identified by police as First Nations (62%), while 4% were identified as Métis and 9% as Inuk (Inuit). The Indigenous group was not identified for 24% of all Indigenous homicide victims.
The homicide rate for Indigenous peoples was seven times higher (10.05 homicides per 100,000 population) than for Canada's non-Indigenous population (1.42 per 100,000 population).
There were 9 fewer female Indigenous homicide victims in 2020 (38 compared to 47 reported in 2019), and 32 more male Indigenous homicide victims (rising from 131 to 163). The homicide rate for Indigenous males (16.50 homicides per 100,000 population) was four times that for Indigenous females (3.76 per 100,000 population) and eight times higher than for non-Indigenous males (2.14 per 100,000 population). Non-Indigenous females (0.69 per 100,000 population) had the lowest homicide rate in 2020.
Police-reported opioid offences increase
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the ongoing public health crisis of opioid overdose deaths and hospitalizations. From January 2016 to December 2020, PHAC reported that 21,174 apparent opioid toxicity deaths occurred in Canada. In the first nine months following the implementation of COVID-19 prevention measures (April to December 2020), there were 5,148 opioid-related deaths, up 89% from the same period in 2019. Of all accidental apparent opioid toxicity deaths in 2020, 82% involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues. Opioid-related deaths and hospitalizations have also been linked to the use of stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
Police reported 5,142 opioid-related offences in Canada in 2020, 34% more than the previous year. All opioid-related drug violations increased, including more possession, trafficking, production and importation or exportation offences.
Among the provinces, the highest rates of opioid offences were in British Columbia (54 per 100,000 population), Alberta (12) and Ontario (10). Kelowna (208 per 100,000 population) and Lethbridge (97), followed by Vancouver (43), Guelph (32), Abbotsford–Mission (31), Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo (30) and St. Catharines–Niagara (29) had the highest rates of opioid offences among the CMAs.
Nationally, opioid-related offences were the only specific drug type to experience an increase in 2020 from a year earlier. Conversely, police-reported rates of cannabis (-25%), heroin (-15%), ecstasy (-7%), methamphetamine (-5%) and cocaine-related drug offences (-2%) all decreased. Overall, police-reported rates of cocaine (40 incidents per 100,000 population), methamphetamine (37), cannabis (33) and opioid-related offences (14) were highest among the specific drug types.
More offences related to criminally harassing and threatening behaviours
In contrast to the fairly widespread declines in many types of crime in 2020, Canada saw continued increases in the rates of various criminally harassing and threatening behaviours. In particular, the rates of incidents of non-consensual distribution of intimate images (+10%), indecent or harassing communications (+9%), criminal harassment (+4%), and uttering threats (+3%) all increased from a year earlier.
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. Moreover, these behaviours may be exacerbated by the increasing use of the Internet to socialize and interact during the pandemic. Recent data show that three-quarters (75%) of Canadians 15 years of age and older were more likely to engage in various Internet-related activities since the onset of the pandemic. Police reported 17% more cybercrime-related harassing and threatening behaviour violations in 2020 from a year earlier.
Rate of police-reported sexual assault declines for the first time in five years
There were 28,639 police-reported sexual assaults (level 1, 2 and 3) in 2020, or 75 incidents per 100,000 population. This rate was 9% lower than in 2019 and follows five consecutive years of increases. The rate of police-reported sexual assault (level 1, 2 and 3) decreased in every province and territory in 2020 except in Newfoundland and Labrador (+9%), Nunavut (+7%) and Quebec (+2%).
Despite considerable public discussion of issues around sexual violence in recent years, the number of sexual assaults reported by police is likely a significant underestimation of the true 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 2019 General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) show that 6% of sexual assault incidents experienced by Canadians aged 15 and older in the previous 12 months were brought to the attention of police.
Pandemic-related lockdown conditions could have exacerbated the underreporting of sexual assaults. With widespread stay-at-home orders and overburdened hospital and medical care resources, it may have been more difficult for victims to come forward to report instances of sexual assault, and less likely that a third party (for example, a doctor or teacher) would identify signs of abuse, particularly for children and youth.
Police-reported family violence unchanged while non-family violence decreases
At the onset of the pandemic, many organizations within Canada and around the world raised concerns about increased domestic violence under lockdown restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some victim services, such as crisis lines or shelters, reported experiencing increased call volumes and demand, while others suggested it may have been difficult for some individuals to contact their services, especially during lockdown periods. According to a web panel survey conducted in March 2020, 10% of women and 6% of men reported that they were concerned about the possibility of violence in the home during the pandemic.
The overall rate of police-reported family violence was unchanged in 2020 from the previous year, while the rate of victims of non-family violence decreased 4%. However, changes in the rates of family violence differed by age group, as the rate increased for seniors for the fifth year in a row (+5%), and the rate also rose for adults aged 18 to 64 (+2%), continuing the four-year upward trend. In contrast, after four years of increases, the police-reported rate of family violence among children decreased 5%. As with sexual assaults, pandemic-related lockdown conditions could have impacted the reporting of family violence incidents, especially for children. With schools, daycares and doctors' offices generally either closed or operating remotely, it may have been less likely that a third party would identify signs of abuse.
See data table 35-10-0169-01 for more information.
Police-reported total fraud stable after nine years of steady increases
A web panel survey on cyber security during the early months of the pandemic showed that just over 4 in 10 Canadians (42%) experienced at least one type of cyber security incident since the beginning of the pandemic, including phishing attacks, malware, fraud, and hacked accounts. Of those who experienced a cyber security incident, 5% reported the incident to an authority such as the police. According to the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre, there were 19,610 victims and $7.4 million lost due to COVID-related fraud alone from March 2020 to May 2021.
After nine years of steady increases, the national rate of police-reported total fraud (including general fraud, identity theft and identify fraud) remained stable, changing by less than 1%. The overall stability was the result of general fraud, the most common type of fraud, declining by 4% from 2019 to 2020, while rates for identity fraud (+12%) and identity theft (+52%) increased.
Rate of Criminal Code firearm offences up for sixth consecutive year
The Criminal Code specifies a number of violent offences involving the use of a firearm, including discharging a firearm with intent, pointing a firearm or using a firearm in the commission of an indictable offence. The rate of these violent firearm-related offences increased for the sixth consecutive year, rising by 15% in 2020. Much of this increase occurred in Alberta (+185 incidents), Quebec (+148) and Ontario (+132).
Police reported higher rates of all three violent firearm violations: discharging a firearm with intent (+21%, 1,850 incidents in 2020), pointing of a firearm (+14%, 1,670 incidents), and using a firearm in the commission of an indictable offence (+3%, 617 incidents).
The rate of non-violent weapons violations (such as possession of weapons and unsafe storage of firearms) also increased for the sixth consecutive year, rising 3% to 51 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.
Crimes that are more serious but not specifically related to firearms, such as homicide, robbery, assault and sexual assault, may also involve the use or presence of a firearm. In 2020, there were 8,344 victims of violent crime where a firearm was present during the commission of the offence, or a rate of 29 per 100,000 population. This rate was unchanged compared with 2019.
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" (). 85-004-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.
Homicide statistics: 35-10-0060, 35-10-0068 to 35-10-0075; 35-10-0119, 35-10-0156 and 35-10-0157.
Police-reported crime statistics and crime severity index: 35-10-0001-01, 35-10-0002-01, 35-10-0026-01, 35-10-0061-01 to 35-10-0064-01, 35-10-0066-01, 35-10-0067-01 and 35-10-0177-01 to 35-10-0191-01.
The article "Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2020" is now available as part of the publication Juristat (85-002-X). The infographic "Police-reported crime in Canada, 2020" ( 11-627-M) is also released today.
Additional data are available upon request.
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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