A comprehensive portrait of police-reported crime in Canada, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact Canada's economy, health care system and society in general throughout 2021, changing how people interact, socialize, learn, work and consume. Overall, while police-reported crime in Canada, as measured by the Crime Severity Index (CSI), was virtually unchanged in the second year of the pandemic, there were notable shifts in the nature of reported crimes. For the first time since 2006, the year-over-year changes in the Violent and Non-Violent CSIs moved in opposite directions. These shifts provide important insight into the way in which crime in Canada changed following the onset of the pandemic.
The Violent CSI rose 5% in 2021, reaching a level higher than that before the beginning of the pandemic. The increase in violent crime compared with 2020 was attributable in part to higher rates of level 1 sexual assault, harassing and threatening behaviours, and homicide, among others. Additionally, the number of hate-motivated crimes reported by police increased by 27% to 3,360 incidents. Higher numbers of hate crimes targeting religion, sexual orientation and race or ethnicity accounted for the majority of the increase.
In contrast, the Non-Violent CSI—which includes, for example, property offences and drug offences—continued to decline (-3%), after a 9% drop in 2020. These two consecutive decreases follow five years of increases. Much of the decline in 2021 was because of lower rates of breaking and entering (-10%) and theft of $5,000 or under (-4%).
The overall CSI changed from 73.9 in 2020 to 73.7 in 2021. This follows a 7% drop in the CSI in 2020, the first decrease after five years of successive increases. 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 only the volume of crime, was 5,375 incidents per 100,000 population in 2021, up 1% from 2020.
Police-reported metrics include only those incidents that come to the attention of police, either through reporting by the public or proactive policing. As a complementary measure, results from the 2019 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) showed that just under one-third (29%) of violent and non-violent incidents were reported to police. Similarly, just over one-fifth (22%) of incidents perceived to be motivated by hate were reported to police.
A detailed analysis of police-reported crime is provided in the new Juristat article released today, "Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2021," and the accompanying infographic, "Police-reported crime in Canada, 2021."
Changes in the Crime Severity Index vary across Canada
Across the provinces and territories, there were contrasting annual changes in the CSI. From 2020 to 2021 in Canada, six provinces and Nunavut reported increases in their CSI, while the other provinces and territories reported decreases. Among census metropolitan areas (CMAs), or large cities, 22 of 35 reported increases, while the remainder reported decreases or no change in their CSI.
Among the provinces, Quebec (+5%) and Ontario (+1%) reported increases in their CSI in 2021 and therefore had the largest upward impact on the change in the national CSI. The rise in Canada's two largest provinces was because of relatively large increases in level 1 sexual assault, as well as growth in general fraud in Quebec and an increase in homicide in Ontario.
In contrast, the CSI in the provinces of Alberta (-7%) and British Columbia (-5%) had the largest relative downward impact on the national CSI. The violations driving these decreases were breaking and entering; theft of $5,000 or under; and, to a lesser extent, general fraud. As was the case at the national level, both provinces also reported relatively large increases in level 1 sexual assault.
Sharp rise in the rate of police-reported level 1 sexual assault
The rise in Canada's Violent CSI in 2021 was primarily driven by an 18% increase in the rate of level 1 sexual assault. This rise accounted for over one-third of the increase in the Violent CSI. In contrast, the rates of police-reported level 2 and 3 sexual assault decreased 5% and 13%, respectively. In total, level 1 sexual assault accounted for 98% of police-reported sexual assaults in 2021.
Sexual assault is classified in the Criminal Code in three separate categories, depending on the nature and severity of the incident: level 1 involves assault of a sexual nature that violates the sexual integrity of the victim; level 2, sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, involves sexual assault with a weapon, with threats to use a weapon or causing bodily harm; and level 3, aggravated sexual assault, involves sexual assault that wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the victim.
Overall, there were 34,242 police-reported sexual assaults (levels 1, 2 and 3) in 2021, representing 90 incidents per 100,000 population. This marks the highest rate since 1996. Before a decrease in 2020—the first year of the pandemic—the rate of sexual assault had risen steadily for five years. All provinces reported an increase in 2021, whereas all territories reported a decline. Similarly, of the 35 CMAs, 29 reported increases.
Despite considerable public discussion of issues around sexual violence in recent years, the number of sexual assaults reported by police is likely a significant underestimate of the true extent of sexual assault in Canada, since these types of offences often go unreported to police. For instance, the most recently available self-reported data from the 2019 GSS on 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, particularly in the first year of the pandemic, could have exacerbated the underreporting of sexual assaults. Inversely, the later easing of restrictions might have led to an increase in reporting to police, either by victims or by third-party individuals or services.
Continued increase in offences related to criminally harassing and threatening behaviours
In 2021, Canada saw continued increases in the rates of various criminally harassing and threatening behaviours. In particular, criminal harassment (+10% in the rate per 100,000 population; 27,055 incidents), non-consensual distribution of intimate images (+8%; 2,444 incidents), indecent or harassing communications (+4%; 27,370 incidents) and uttering threats (+3%; 87,701 incidents) all rose compared with 2020. These crimes have generally been increasing since around 2017 and have grown notably since the beginning of the pandemic.
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. For instance, in 2021, there were almost 15,500 cybercrime-related harassing and threatening behaviour violations, up 1% from 2020, and up 21% from 2019.
Additionally, the rate of police-reported extortion increased 32% from 2019 to 2020, and 19% from 2020 to 2021. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the nature of extortion has been shifting in the digital world, now including the use of hostage-taking scams, ransomware, sextortion, and various other digital and electronic scams.
Police-reported hate-motivated crime rises sharply for second year in a row
The pandemic further exposed and exacerbated issues related to safety and discrimination in Canada, including hate crime. For example, according to data from the 2020 GSS on Social Identity, racialized groups were more than twice as likely to report having experienced discrimination since the beginning of the pandemic, compared with the rest of the population. This difference was more pronounced than in the five years preceding the pandemic (for more detail on the concept of "racialized groups," please refer to the Note to readers).
The number of police-reported hate-motivated crimes in Canada increased by 27%, up from 2,646 incidents in 2020 to 3,360 in 2021. This follows a 36% increase in 2020. In total, the number of police-reported hate crimes rose 72% from 2019 to 2021. Higher numbers of hate-motivated crimes targeting religion (+67%; 884 incidents), sexual orientation (+64%; 423 incidents) and race or ethnicity (+6%; 1,723 incidents) accounted for the majority of the increase. All provinces and territories reported increases in the number of hate crimes in 2021, except for Yukon, where it remained the same.
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 they might also reflect changes in reporting by the public because of increased community outreach by police or heightened sensitivity after high-profile events. Reporting may also be influenced by language barriers, issues of trust or confidence in the police, or fear of further victimization or stigma.
Rates of violent and non-violent Criminal Code firearm offences up for seventh 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 seventh consecutive year, rising by 4% in 2021. Specifically, police-reported rates of discharging a firearm with intent (+8%) and using a firearm in the commission of an indictable offence (+3%) increased, while the rate remained stable for pointing a firearm.
The rate of non-violent weapons violations (such as possession of weapons and unsafe storage of firearms) also increased for the seventh consecutive year, up 2% from 51 incidents per 100,000 population in 2020 to 52 incidents in 2021. The vast majority (91%) of these violations were related to possession of weapons offences and breach offences for weapons possession contrary to an order.
In addition to offences involving the use of a firearm specified in the Criminal Code, other more serious crimes such as homicide, robbery, assault and sexual assault may have also involved a firearm. In 2021, overall, a firearm was present during the commission of an offence for 8,047 victims of violent crime, or 27 victims per 100,000 population. This rate was 5% lower compared with 2020.
With respect to specific violations involving the presence of a firearm, 41% of all homicides were firearm-related in 2021, similar to the proportion seen in 2020 (39%). Of the 297 firearm-related homicides, 57% were committed with a handgun and 26% were committed with a rifle or shotgun (the firearm type was unknown or another type of firearm was used for 17% of homicides). The actual firearm was recovered in 29% of homicides. In 2021, of the firearms that were recovered and subsequently sent for tracing, 57% had an unknown origin, meaning police had not yet received the results or the trace was unsuccessful. Another 27.8% originated from Canada, 11.1% from the United States and 3.7% from other countries (for details on exclusions, please refer to the Note to readers).
National homicide rate increases for third consecutive year
Police reported 788 homicides in 2021, 29 more than the year before. The homicide rate increased 3%, from 2.00 homicides per 100,000 population in 2020 to 2.06 in 2021. Overall, the increase in homicides nationally was the result of more homicides in Ontario (+37 homicides, following two years of decreases) and British Columbia (+25 homicides). In contrast, Alberta reported 23 fewer homicides, following two years of increases, and Nova Scotia reported 14 fewer homicides than in 2020, the year a mass shooting occurred in the province. As has been the case with provincial comparisons historically, rates were highest in Saskatchewan (5.93 homicides per 100,000 population) and Manitoba (4.41 homicides per 100,000 population).
The homicide rates in Yukon (9.31 homicides per 100,000 population) and Nunavut (5.08 homicides per 100,000 population) were also above the national average, while there was one homicide reported in the Northwest Territories in 2021. The relatively small population counts in the territories typically translate to higher and more variable rates.
Detailed homicide statistics can be found in data tables available online.
Rates of homicide are higher among Indigenous people and people designated as racialized
Violence against Indigenous people reflects the traumatic and destructive history of colonization that has impacted and continues to impact Indigenous families and communities, and Canadian society overall. Indigenous people are overrepresented as victims of violence in Canada. According to the 2019 GSS on Victimization, the rate of violent victimization among Indigenous people (177 per 1,000) was more than double that among non-Indigenous people (80 per 1,000).
Police reported 190 Indigenous homicide victims in 2021, 18 fewer than in 2020. Almost two-thirds (65%) of Indigenous homicide victims were identified by police as First Nations, while 6% were identified as Métis and 5% as Inuk (Inuit). The Indigenous group was not identified for 24% of Indigenous homicide victims. Despite the decline, the homicide rate for Indigenous people was nearly six times higher than for the non-Indigenous population in Canada (9.17 versus 1.55 homicides per 100,000 population).
There were 247 victims of homicide identified by police as belonging to a group designated as racialized, accounting for almost one-third (32%) of homicide victims in 2021. The rate of homicide for racialized groups was higher than in the previous year, up 34% from 1.87 homicides per 100,000 population in 2020 to 2.51 homicides in 2021. This rate was higher than the rate in 2021 for victims in the rest of the population (1.81 homicides per 100,000 population). Almost half (49%) of racialized victims were identified by police as Black, and another 19% were identified as South Asian.
Police-reported opioid offences continue to increase during the pandemic
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. During the first year of the pandemic (April 2020 to March 2021), there were 7,362 opioid-related deaths, a 96% increase from the previous year, according to PHAC.
Police reported 5,996 opioid-related offences in Canada in 2021, a rate 13% higher than in the previous year. All opioid-related drug violations increased, including possession, trafficking, production and importation or exportation offences.
Among the provinces, the highest rates of opioid offences were in British Columbia (57 per 100,000 population), Ontario (13) and Alberta (13), with notable increases in Quebec, Ontario and the Prairie provinces. Among the CMAs, Lethbridge (124 per 100,000 population) and Kelowna (116) had the highest rates of opioid offences, followed by Vancouver (45), Hamilton (37), Abbotsford–Mission (35), Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo (30) and St. Catharines–Niagara (30).
Nationally, opioid-related offences were the only type of offence related to a specific drug to experience an increase over the last two years.
Continued decrease in rates of breaking and entering, theft of $5,000 or under, and robbery
Non-violent crime, including property crime, and some violent crimes (notably robbery) continued to decline after experiencing large decreases in 2020. Breaking and entering and, to a lesser extent, theft of $5,000 or under and robbery were primary contributors to declines in the CSI in 2021.
The rate of breaking and entering declined 10% nationally to 328 incidents per 100,000 population in 2021. 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 2021, just over 125,500 incidents were reported by police, accounting for 11% of property crime. Rates of breaking and entering declined or remained stable in every province except for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In contrast, all three territories reported increases in 2021. Of the 35 CMAs, 20 reported declines or no change.
In 2021, rates of theft of $5,000 or under fell 4%, following a 19% drop in 2020. The decline in theft of $5,000 or under was the second-largest contributor to the decrease in the 2021 CSI, though its impact was small relative to breaking and entering. The drop was fairly localized; among the provinces, Alberta (-15%), British Columbia (-12%) and Prince Edward Island (-10%) reported large decreases in theft of $5,000 or under, while the other provinces reported an increase or no change from the previous year.
Robbery, which is a violent offence because it involves the use or threat of violence during the commission of a theft, was also down for the second year in a row. National rates, which had remained fairly stable over the five preceding years, declined by 18% in 2020 and another 5% in 2021, to 48 incidents per 100,000 population. Rates of robbery declined or remained unchanged throughout most of Canada in 2021, with the exception of Atlantic Canada (excluding New Brunswick) and Nunavut. Rates of robbery also declined or remained the same in 19 of 35 CMAs. However, for those that reported an increase, rates rose fairly substantially, with 13 CMAs reporting increases of at least 10%. These were typically a rebound from decreases reported in 2020.
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 crime 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 report "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.
The number of firearm-related homicides excludes 8% of homicides in 2021 and 5% of homicides in 2020 where the primary weapon used to cause death was unknown. The number of homicides where the firearm was recovered excludes 3% of homicides where it was unknown whether the firearm used to cause death was recovered. The number of recovered firearms sent for tracing excludes 7% of homicides where it was unknown whether the recovered firearm was sent for tracing.
The concept of "racialized group" is measured with the "visible minority" variable in this release. There is currently no definition or standard for racialized groups. Until further notice, derivation and dissemination of data for racialized groups follow the visible minority of person standard. Visible minority refers to whether or not a person belongs to one of the visible minority groups defined by the Employment Equity Act. The Employment Equity Act defines visible minorities as "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour." The visible minority population consists mainly of the following groups: South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean and Japanese.
Homicide statistics: 35-10-0060-01, 35-10-0068-01, 35-10-0069-01, 35-10-0071-01, 35-10-0073-01 to 35-10-0075-01, 35-10-0119-01, 35-10-0156-01, 35-10-0157-01, 35-10-0170-01 and 35-10-0206-01 to 35-10-0208-01.
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, 2021" is now available as part of the publication Juristat (85-002-X).
The infographic "Police-reported crime in Canada, 2021" (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; email@example.com) or Media Relations (firstname.lastname@example.org).