Characteristics of firearm-related violent crime in Canada, 2009 to 2020
After increasing in recent years, the rate of firearm-related violent crime was unchanged in 2020. In 2020, violent Criminal Code offences accounted for about one in every five crimes that came to the attention of police, and a firearm was present in about 3% of these incidents.
In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, police reported 8,344 victims of violent crime where a firearm was present during the commission of the crime. This amounted to a rate of 29 victims per 100,000 population, which was unchanged from 2019. Prior to this, there had been an increase in rates of firearm-related violent crime that started in 2014 and saw the biggest jump in 2015.
The Juristat "Trends in firearm-related violent crime in Canada, 2009 to 2020," released today, provides a detailed examination of police-reported firearm-related violent crime in Canada, drawing on data from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey and the Homicide Survey. It also includes differences in firearm-related violent crime in urban areas compared with southern and northern rural regions of Canada. The article also examines these crimes in the time periods before and after the notable increase in 2015, meaning from 2009 to 2014 and then from 2015 to 2020. In this study, Quebec is excluded from the analysis of UCR data due to data quality issues.
Following several years of decline, firearm-related violent crime started an upward climb in 2014
From 2013 to 2019, firearm-related violent crime in Canada increased after having gradually declined in previous years. This resulted in identical rates in both 2009 and 2020 (29 victims per 100,000 population).
Much of the increase in firearm-related violent crime in the later period can be attributed to the increase in certain types of crime, most notably the offences of discharging a firearm with intent, pointing a firearm, and using a firearm in an indictable offence. On average, rates for these offences from 2015 to 2020 were nearly twice as high as those reported from 2009 to 2014.
During the first year of the pandemic, rates of firearm-related violent crime increased in some areas of the country and decreased in others
The national rate of firearm-related violent crime was unchanged in 2020 due to rates rising in some areas of the country and declining in others.
In 2020, notable increases in rates of firearm-related violent crime were reported in southern rural British Columbia (+34%), northern rural Ontario (+32%), rural Alberta (+32% in the North and +31% in the South), the Northwest Territories (+23%), and Nova Scotia (+22%).
At the same time, rates of firearm-related violent crime fell substantially from 2019 to 2020 in Nunavut (-49%), Newfoundland and Labrador (-20%), urban Saskatchewan (-19%) and Manitoba (-16%) where there were decreases in all regions.
Rates of firearm-related violent crime highest in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the territories
As with violent crime in general, rates of firearm-related violent crime in 2020 were highest in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the territories.
While the Northwest Territories and Nunavut had the highest rates of firearm-related violent crime, they also had the highest overall rates of violent crime in Canada in 2020. However, firearm-related violent crimes accounted for a relatively low proportion of all violent crime in these territories compared with other regions. Looking at the proportion of all violent crime that was firearm-related, the jurisdictions where firearms were more often used in violent crimes were Saskatchewan (3.9%), Alberta (3.4%) and Ontario (3.2%).
Rates of firearm-related violent crime higher in rural areas than in urban centres in most provinces
Rates of firearm-related violent crime were higher in rural areas than in urban centres in most provinces, and were notably high in northern rural regions. In 2020, the only provinces where rural areas had lower rates of firearm-related violent crime than urban areas were Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Ontario.
Firearm-related violent crimes in urban areas most often involve handguns, while rifles or shotguns are more often used in rural areas
In 2020, as in previous years, the majority (59%) of firearm-related violent crimes in Canada involved a handgun, but there were notable differences between urban and rural areas. For the majority of victims of firearm-related violent crime in urban areas (63%), the incident involved handguns. In contrast, handguns were less often present in rural areas (20%).
Instead, rifles and shotguns were more often present in the commission of firearm-related violent crime in rural areas (43% compared with 12% in urban areas). Other firearm-like weapons, such as a pellet gun or flare gun, or an unknown type of firearm, were also proportionally more present in firearm-related violent crimes in rural areas (30% compared with 20% in urban areas).
Crimes involving other firearms (i.e., sawed-off rifles or shotguns, or fully automatic firearms) were relatively rare, present in 5% of firearm-related violent crimes in urban areas and 7% in rural areas.
From 2019 to 2020, the rate of firearm-related homicides in Canada increased
In 2020, police reported a total of 743 homicide victims in Canada. For 277 of these victims, a firearm was used to commit the homicide, amounting to 0.73 firearm homicides per 100,000 population.
The province with the highest rate of firearm-related homicide in 2020 was Nova Scotia (2.45) due to the mass shooting in April 2020, which accounted for 22 homicide victims. This mass shooting had a significant impact on the firearm-related homicide number and rate in both Nova Scotia and nationally. Compared with other provinces, Saskatchewan (1.53) and Alberta (1.31) also reported high rates of firearm-related homicides in 2020.
From 2019 to 2020, the rate of firearm-related homicides in Canada increased 5% (with 15 additional victims). This increase was driven primarily by the increases in Nova Scotia and Alberta. In contrast, almost every other province saw decreases in the number of firearm-related homicides.
Gang activity was confirmed or suspected in 39% of all firearm-related homicides. Overall, gang-related homicides committed with a firearm represented 14% of all homicides in 2020, compared with 20% in 2019 and 19% in 2018.
Victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime, provinces and territories, rural and urban regions, 2020
Note to readers
This release is based on a Juristat that presents information on police-reported firearm-related violent crime in Canada. This report is based on data drawn from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey, an annual census of all crime reported to federal, provincial/territorial and municipal police services in Canada.
All results from the UCR in the current report exclude the province of Quebec due to a large proportion of incidents where the most serious weapon present was reported as unknown. Also excludes data for the Saint John Municipal Police Service due to data quality concerns. Information on homicides from the Homicide Survey are for all of Canada including Quebec.
In this study, firearm-related violent crime refers to victims of violent crimes where the most serious weapon present in the incident was a firearm and where police deemed the presence of the firearm relevant to the incident. Of note, for an incident to be considered firearm-related, a firearm need only be present during the commission of the offence, not necessarily used. This measure does not include non-violent Criminal Code offences where a firearm was present, including administrative offences such as unsafe storage, or firearm-specific violent offences such as discharging a firearm with intent where there was no victim identified.
Rural police services are those where the majority of the population lives outside of a census metropolitan area (CMA) or census agglomeration (CA). Urban police services are those where the majority of the population lives within a CMA or CA. A CMA or a CA is formed by one or more adjacent municipalities centred on a population centre (known as the core). A CMA requires a total population of at least 100,000 of which 50,000 or more must live in the core. A CA must have a core population of at least 10,000. To be included in the CMA or CA, other adjacent municipalities must have a high degree of integration with the core, as measured by commuting flows derived from previous census place of work data, where 50% or more of the population commutes into the core.
Rural North includes all rural police services in the territories or in the Provincial North. Provincial North encompasses the northern regions of Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia (North and South - Variant of Standard Geographical Classification 2016). Rural South refers to rural police services in the southern regions of these provinces as well as Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The article "Trends in firearm-related violent crime in Canada, 2009 to 2020" is now available as part of the publication Juristat (85-002-X).
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