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Crime and justice

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Led by a decline in non-violent incidents, Canada’s crime rate fell to a 25-year low in 2006, with every province and territory reporting a drop. However, youth crime rates were up 3%, the first increase since 2003.

In 2006, the national crime rate was 7.5 incidents per 100 people, the lowest since 1978 and 27% below its 1991 peak of 10.3 crimes per 100 people.

Non-violent crime accounted for approximately 9 in 10 of the 2.5 million Criminal Code incidents reported in 2006. About 60,000 fewer non-violent crimes were reported than in 2005: counterfeiting incidents fell 29%, break-ins, 5%, and thefts under $5,000, 4%.

Violent crimes made up 13% of the Criminal Code incidents in 2006. While the rate remained steady from 2005, Canada’s homicide rate dropped by 10%, whereas incidents of kidnapping and forcible confinement rose 12% in 2006.

Crime prevention

There may be many reasons for the drop in crime: changes in legislation, shifts in police enforcement or changes in the willingness of victims to report crime. As well, our population is aging and older people are less likely to engage in crime.

Canadians may also have taken action to protect themselves and their property. According to the 2004 General Social Survey on victimization, people who perceive crime as higher in their neighbourhood are most likely to use crime prevention measures, as are those who believe crime has increased in their community.

During their lifetime, some Canadians have taken preventive steps such as: changing their routine or avoiding certain places, 35%; installing burglar alarms or motion detectors, 34%; or installing new locks or security bars, 31%.

Many Canadians routinely use precautionary measures. For example, when alone in a car, almost 60% of us routinely lock car doors; 43% report planning the route of a trip on the basis of safety.

Crime rates vary

Crime rates declined in every province and territory from 2005 to 2006. Prince Edward Island and Nunavut had the largest declines, 11%.

Saskatchewan’s rate fell 4% but, at 13.7 incidents per 100 people, was still the highest provincial crime rate for a ninth consecutive year. The lowest crime rate was in Ontario at 5.7 crimes per 100 people.

In cities, the most sizable declines were in Western Canada. Saskatoon led with a 9% drop; Abbotsford and Regina both reported 8% declines. Even with declines, crime rates in large Western cities remained high relative to other large cities. For instance, Regina had the highest homicide rate of all Canadian cities at 4.5 per 100,000 people, followed by Edmonton at 3.7 per 100,000 people.

Homicide rate falls

In 2006, police reported 605 homicides in Canada—a rate of 1.9 per 100,000 people. Of these deaths, 210 people were fatally stabbed and 190 people were shot. Handguns remain the most commonly used firearm, accounting for over half of all firearm-related homicides that year.

Seventy-eight spousal homicides were reported in 2006. The rate of spousal homicide has declined by more than half since 1975, possibly related to heightened awareness of spousal violence, changes in police procedures, and increased services for family violence victims . The annual rate of spousal homicide against women is three to five times higher than against men.

Gang-related homicides accounted for one in six homicides in 2006. In Quebec, just over one in four murders were gang-related, the highest proportion in the country. Also, in 2006, police solved 45% of gang-related killings, compared with 80% of other types of homicides.

Youth crime increases

Among young Canadians aged 12 to 17, the crime rate rose 3% from 2005 to 2006, the first increase since 2003. All provinces except Quebec (-4%) reported rising youth crime rates in 2006.

In 2006, the youth homicide rate reached its highest level since 1961. Eighty-four youths—72 males and 12 females—were charged with homicides involving 54 different victims in 2006. Youth homicide accounts for 15% of all persons accused of homicides in Canada.

Among Canada’s 2.6 million young people, only a small proportion is involved in crime. Approximately 74,000 youths were charged with a criminal offence in 2006. Another 104,000 came into contact with the police—for committing non-violent and minor crimes—and were cleared by other non-court measures, such as informal police warnings, referrals to community programs, formal police cautions, Crown cautions, and extrajudicial sanction programs.

Of 31,700 young persons admitted to correctional services in 2004/2005, half were placed in custody and the other half were placed under community supervision, in most cases probation.

Longer delays in court cases

Recently, cases appearing in adult criminal court have become more complex and they have taken longer to get through the system. In 2006/2007, 61% of cases involved multiple charges, compared with 53% in 1996/1997. The average time required to complete cases in adult court increased to eight months from an average of six months five years earlier.

Canada’s courts completed 372,000 cases, down 7% from five years earlier. Of those cases, 25% involved crimes against the person, 24% involved crimes against property, 17% were administration of justice offences and 14% were Criminal Code traffic offences. The remaining 20% involved other Criminal Code and federal statute offences.

The proportion of impaired driving cases has declined over the years. Property crimes, such as fraud or breaking and entering, have also declined. However, administration of justice offences, including breach of probation and failure to comply with a court order, doubled as a proportion of cases.

Two out of three adult cases received a guilty disposition in 2006/2007. In those cases, 89% of the accused had pleaded guilty. Criminal Code traffic violations were most likely to lead to a guilty finding (79%). Crimes against the person had the lowest percentage of guilty findings (53%).

After a finding of guilt, probation was imposed in 43% of cases, prison terms in 34% and fines in 30%.