Homicide in Canada, 2017

by Sara Beattie, Jean-Denis David and Joel Roy

Release date: November 21, 2018
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Highlights

  • In 2017, police reported 660 homicide victims in Canada, 48 more than in 2016. The national homicide rate in 2017 (1.80 victims per 100,000 population) was 7% higher than the previous year reaching the highest rate Canada has seen since 2009.
  • The most substantial year-over-year increases occurred in British Columbia (+30 victims) and Quebec (+26 victims).
  • Saskatchewan (-17 victims) and Ontario (-10 victims) reported the largest declines among the provinces.
  • Manitoba (3.51 per 100,000 population) and Saskatchewan (3.18 per 100,000 population) reported the highest provincial rates. There were no homicides reported in Prince Edward Island for the second year in a row.
  • The homicide rate in rural communities (2.43 per 100,000 population) increased 31% from the previous year compared to a 1% increase in the urban homicide rate (1.67 per 100,000 population).
  • When compared to the previous year, Vancouver (+11 victims) and Québec (+9 victims) reported the largest increases in the number of homicides among Canada’s census metropolitan areas (CMA). Despite a 4% decrease in the number of homicides from 2016, Toronto, the country’s most populated CMA, continued to report the highest number of homicides with 92 victims in 2017.
  • The national increase in homicides was driven by an increase in firearm-related and gang-related homicides.
  • The number of gang-related homicides rose to 163 in 2017 (25% of all homicides), 23 more than in 2016. The largest increases occurred in British Columbia (+15 victims) and Alberta (+12 victims). Almost 9 out of every 10 (87%) gang-related homicides were committed with a firearm, usually a handgun.
  • The gang-related homicide rate (0.44 per 100,000 population) increased 15% from the previous year. This marked the third consecutive increase and the highest rate recorded in Canada since comparable data was first collected in 2005.
  • Overall, there were 266 victims killed by a firearm in 2017, 43 more than in 2016. This was the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of firearm homicides. Handguns accounted for about six in ten firearm homicides.
  • The firearm-related homicide rate increased for the fourth consecutive year, rising 18% in 2017. At 0.72 per 100,000 population, this marked the highest rate of firearm-related homicides seen in Canada since 1992.
  • Compared with the previous year, in 2017, homicides committed by strangers (+18 victims) and those committed by individuals known to each other through illegal activities (+19 victims) increased more than any other relationship types.
  • In 2017, the majority of both homicide victims (74% or 485 victims) and those accused (87% or 459 accused) were male. These proportions have remained relatively stable over the past 13 years for victims of homicide and since the beginning of collection (1961) for accused of homicide.
  • Among Aboriginal females, there were 4.22 homicides per 100,000 population, an increase of 32% from the previous year. This rate was six times higher than that of non-Aboriginal females (0.75 per 100,000 population).
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Homicides account for a small proportion of all police-reported violent Criminal Code offences in Canada, representing less than 0.2% in 2017 (Allen 2018).Note 1 While homicide continues to be a relatively rare occurrence in Canada, homicide rates are considered benchmarks for levels of violent activity both in Canada and internationally (Ouimet and Montmagny-Grenier 2014).

Unlike other crimes, the definition of homicide tends to be fairly consistent across nations. It is also not subject to change or differences in reporting behaviour when compared to other crimes and there is more international consensus on the nature and meaning of homicide than any other criminal offence. Thus, homicide is important to examine, not only because of its severity, but also because it is considered as a comparable and reliable barometer of violence in society. Further, homicide rates may influence perceptions of safety within communities (Romer et al. 2003).

In Canada, homicide accounts for 0.2% of all deaths. According to data on vital statistics for 2016, the latest year for which mortality data are available, homicide ranked twenty-fifth among leading causes of death. Accidental deaths (e.g., motor vehicle accidents, falls, accidental drowning, etc.) and suicide outranked homicides, placing fourth and ninth, respectively (Statistics Canada 2018a). Although homicide was not among the leading causes of death for the total population, it was for young people aged 15 to 24 where it ranked fourth. This is comparable to the United States where homicide was the third leading cause of death for the same age group (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2016). Accidental deaths and suicides were ranked first and second, respectively, for this age group in both countries (Statistics Canada 2018a; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2016).

Since 1961, police services have been reporting detailed information on homicides in Canada through Statistics Canada's Homicide Survey. In 1974, the survey was expanded beyond the collection of first and second degree murder incidents to include manslaughter and infanticide.

This Juristat article examines changes in the rates of homicide in Canada over time and examines the characteristics of homicides committed in 2017. It presents information on the age and sex of homicide victims, the methods used to commit homicides (including the use of firearms), whether the homicide was determined to be gang-related, the relationship of the accused to the victim, as well as other characteristics of the accused. In addition, information is presented on homicide victims and accused who were identified as Aboriginal.

National homicide rate highest since 2009

In 2017, police reported 660 homicide victims in Canada, 48 more than in 2016 (Table 1a).Note 2 The national homicide rate in 2017 (1.80 victims per 100,000 population) was 7% higher than the previous yearNote 3 reaching the highest rate Canada has seen since 2009 (Table 1b).

Despite year-to-year fluctuations in Canada’s homicide rate, it has generally been declining over the last few decades. The rate of homicides in 2017 was 41% lower than the peak recorded in 1975 (excludes 329 victims killed in the Air India incident that occurred in 1985) (Chart 1). More recently, however, the rate in 2017 was 7% higher than the previous ten year average.

Chart 1

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Reporting Year (appearing as row headers), Homicide and Attempted murder, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Reporting Year Homicide Attempted murder
rate per 100,000 population
1967 1.7 0.7
1968 1.8 0.9
1969 1.9 1.0
1970 2.2 1.2
1971 2.2 1.5
1972 2.3 1.9
1973 2.4 2.1
1974 2.6 2.3
1975 3.0 2.8
1976 2.8 3.0
1977 3.0 2.9
1978 2.8 3.1
1979 2.6 3.1
1980 2.4 3.2
1981 2.6 3.6
1982 2.7 3.8
1983 2.7 3.5
1984 2.6 3.6
1985 2.7 3.3
1986 2.2 3.4
1987 2.4 3.5
1988 2.1 3.1
1989 2.4 3.0
1990 2.4 3.3
1991 2.7 3.7
1992 2.6 3.7
1993 2.2 3.4
1994 2.1 3.2
1995 2.0 3.2
1996 2.1 3.0
1997 2.0 2.9
1998 1.9 2.5
1999 1.8 2.3
2000 1.8 2.5
2001 1.8 2.3
2002 1.9 2.2
2003 1.7 2.2
2004 2.0 2.1
2005 2.1 2.5
2006 1.9 2.6
2007 1.8 2.4
2008 1.8 2.2
2009 1.8 2.4
2010 1.6 2.0
2011 1.8 1.9
2012 1.6 1.9
2013 1.4 1.8
2014 1.5 1.8
2015 1.7 2.2
2016 1.7 2.2
2017 1.8 2.3

As in previous years, the homicide rate in Canada is about three times lower than in the United States but higher than the rates in many other countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Australia (Office for National Statistics 2018; Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018a; Police Service of Northern Ireland 2018; Ministerial Statistical Department for Internal Security 2018; Scottish Government 2017; United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation 2017a). Similar to Canada, the homicide rate in the United States has been on an upward trend since 2013 (Friedman et al. 2017). This trend is not, however, observed in the other countries mentioned above.

Homicide is not the only violent criminal offence in Canada to increase in recent years. Increases were observed in the rates of other serious violent offences in 2017, including attempted murder (+4%), sexual assaults (+13%), robbery (+2%) and aggravated assault (+1%). Statistics also show that firearm offences and the presence of firearms in violent crimes have increased in recent years (Allen 2018; Cotter 2018).

British Columbia and Quebec major contributors to national increase

The increase in the national number of homicides between 2016 and 2017 was largely due to increases in British Columbia and Quebec (Table 1a).

British Columbia reported 118 homicides in 2017, 30 more than in 2016. With 2.45 homicides per 100,000 population, British Columbia’s homicide rate increased by 32% and was the province’s highest rate since 2009 (Table 1b). This increase occurred in both urban and rural areas and can be partly explained by an increase in both gang- and firearm-related homicides.

Quebec, with 93 homicides in 2017, reported the second largest increase in the number of homicides among the provinces (+26 victims from 2016). The increase in Quebec was mostly the result of more homicides occurring in rural areas and an increase in firearm-related homicides in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Québec. The increase in firearm-related homicides is attributed to the mass shooting that occurred at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Québec in January of 2017. This incident accounted for 6 firearm-related homicides out of an increase of 8 province-wide. Despite this increase, Quebec’s homicide rate (1.11 per 100,000 population) ranked second lowest among provinces where at least one homicide occurred (there were no homicides reported in Prince Edward Island in 2017).

Homicide rates highest in western provinces

As historically reported, the four highest homicide rates among the provinces in 2017 were recorded in the western provinces (Chart 2). The highest rate was reported in Manitoba (3.51 per 100,000 population) following an increase of 10% from the previous year. Although Saskatchewan was the only western province to report a decline from 2016 (-17 victims), it still recorded the second highest rate among all provinces with 3.18 homicides per 100,000 population. Saskatchewan was followed by Alberta (2.75 per 100,000 population), where rates remained virtually unchanged from 2016 (2.74 per 100,000 population) and British Columbia (2.45 per 100,000 population) to round out the four. The decline in Saskatchewan follows a year of record high homicides that included the incident in La Loche where four people were killed.

Chart 2

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Province (appearing as row headers), 2017 and 2016, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province 2017 2016
rate per 100,000 population
Newfoundland and Labrador 0.76 1.32
Prince Edward Island 0.00 0.00
Nova Scotia 2.20 1.37
New Brunswick 1.32 1.45
Quebec 1.11 0.81
Ontario 1.38 1.47
Manitoba 3.51 3.19
Saskatchewan 3.18 4.70
Alberta 2.75 2.74
British Columbia 2.45 1.85
CanadaData table Note 1 1.80 1.69

In 2017, Nova Scotia's homicide rate (2.20 per 100,000 population) reached its highest point since 2011, increasing by 61% over the previous year and ranking fifth among the provinces. Of the additional eight homicides in Nova Scotia in 2017, three were victims of a single domestic homicide.

Among provinces reporting at least one homicide, Newfoundland and Labrador (0.76 per 100,000 population) had the lowest rate. For the second consecutive year, there were no homicides reported in Prince Edward Island in 2017.

Given their relatively small populations, the rates in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut tend to fluctuate considerably from year-to-year making year-over-year comparisons inconclusive. However, the 2017 homicide rate in the Yukon (20.80 per 100,000 population) was the second highest (22.24 per 100,000 population in 2004) recorded for that Territory since the Homicide Survey began collecting data in 1961 whereas the Northwest Territories’ reported their lowest rate since 2010 (4.49 per 100,000 population).

Homicide rates reported in rural areas increase 31% from previous year

Crime and policing in rural areas have been a recent focus of concern in Canada. Urban areas include police services in census metropolitan areas (CMAs) and census agglomerations (CAs). Rural refers to all areas outside of CMAs and CAs and includes rural areas and small towns. Recent reports suggest that rates of crime in general are higher in rural areas (Allen 2018), and the same is true for homicide.

In 2017, police services reported 148 victims of homicide in rural areas of Canada, 36 more than the previous year. This represented 22% of all homicides nationwide, even though people living in rural areas accounted for only 16% of the Canadian population.

The rate of homicides in rural areas (2.43 per 100,000 population) was 45% higher than the rate in urban areas of Canada (1.67 per 100,000 population). While rates of homicides in both urban and rural areas increased in 2017, the rate in rural areas saw a 31% increase from the previous year compared to a 1% increase in urban areas. This was the highest rural homicide rate since 2009, the earliest year for which urban/rural data are available.

The national increase in homicide in rural areas is a result of increases in seven provinces and one territory. Quebec, with 22 homicides in rural areas in 2017 recorded the largest increase among the provinces (+14 victims from 2016). The increase in the rate of homicides in rural areas of Quebec (+174%) was the result of an increase in stabbings (+6 victims), shootings (+4 victims) and beatings (+4 victims).

Notable increases in the number of homicide victims in rural areas were also observed in Nova Scotia (+6 victims), Alberta (+6 victims), Ontario (+5 victims), Manitoba (+5 victims), British Columbia (+4 victims), New Brunswick (+3 victims) and Nunavut (+5 victims). With the exception of Ontario, the increase in homicides in rural areas in these provinces are a result of an increase in gang-related and firearm-related homicides. The increase in Ontario was mostly the result of an increase in the number of stabbings (+3 victims).

As with homicide rates in general, some of the highest homicide rates in the country were in rural areas of the Prairie provinces (Chart 3). Despite reporting 10 fewer victims than in 2016, Saskatchewan (4.95 per 100,000 population) recorded the highest rate of homicides in rural areas among the provinces. Manitoba (4.39 per 100,000 population) and Alberta (3.43 per 100,000 population) ranked second and third highest. Contrary to the Prairies, British Columbia was the only western province where the rate of homicides in urban areas was higher than in rural areas (2.49 and 2.17 per 100,000 population, respectively).

Chart 3

Data table for Chart 3 
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Province (appearing as row headers), Urban and Rural, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province Urban Rural
rate per 100,000 population
Newfoundland and Labrador 1.06 0.41
Prince Edward Island 0.00 0.00
Nova Scotia 2.23 2.15
New Brunswick 0.62 2.51
Quebec 1.03 1.50
Ontario 1.36 1.54
Manitoba 3.09 4.39
Saskatchewan 2.19 4.95
Alberta 2.60 3.43
British Columbia 2.49 2.17
CanadaData table Note 1 1.67 2.43

The rate of homicides in rural areas of Saskatchewan was 126% higher than the province's rate of homicides in urban areas. Manitoba’s was 42% higher and Alberta’s was 32% higher. The higher homicide rates in rural parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta align with higher rates of firearm-related homicides in these areas. In Manitoba, the higher rate of gang-related homicides was also a contributing factor.

Rates of homicides reported in rural areas of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were also notably higher than those reported in urban areas.

Vancouver and Québec record the largest homicide increases among Canada’s census metropolitan areas

In 2017, police reported 422 homicide victims in Canada’s census metropolitan areasNote 4 (CMAs),Note 5 4 more than in 2016 (Table 2). Despite the small increase, the CMA rate (1.63 per 100,000 population) in 2017 decreased 1% from the previous year due to an increase in population size.

While there was little change in the overall number of homicide victims in CMAs as a whole, there were variations within the CMAs themselves, with Vancouver (+11 victims) and Québec (+9 victims) reporting the largest increases in the number of homicides from the previous year.

For Vancouver, an increase in firearm-related homicides was a contributing factor to the 2017 increase. In 2017, 48% of Vancouver’s homicide victims were killed by a firearm compared to 44% in 2016, an increase of 7 victims. Most (68%) of the firearm-related homicide victims were killed with a handgun.

Vancouver reported 52 homicide victims in 2017, the highest number since 2009.

The increase in Québec, which resulted in the highest rate of homicides for that CMA since 2000, is due to the January 2017 mass shooting that occurred at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Québec. The attack resulted in six homicides and 40 attempted murders (Mathieu 2017).

The decline in the number of homicide victims in Ontario was due to decreases in the Ottawa CMA. Ottawa, with 14 homicides, reported the largest decline among the CMAs (10 fewer than in 2016). The decline in Ottawa followed a record high number of homicides recorded in 2016. Lower rates of firearm and gang-related homicide were an important driver of the overall homicide decline in Ottawa.

Toronto, Canada’s largest CMA in terms of population, reported 92 homicides in 2017, 4 fewer than the previous year. Despite the overall decline, the number of firearm-related (+7 victims) and gang-related (+4 victims) homicides in Toronto increased from the previous year.

With a 12% decrease in the rate from 2016, Thunder Bay, with 7 homicide victims, still maintained the highest homicide rate among the CMAs for the second year in a row (5.80 per 100,000 population). This CMA also reported the highest rates of violent crimes and second highest violent Crime Severity Index in the country (Allen 2018). Abbotsford–Mission (with 9 homicides) and Edmonton (with 49 homicides) had the second and third highest homicide rates among the CMAs (4.72 and 3.49 per 100,000 population, respectively).

Of the CMAs where at least one homicide occurred in 2017 (there were no homicides reported in Saguenay in 2017), Gatineau reported the lowest rate (0.30 per 100,000 population) as a result of a 67% decrease from the previous year.

Third consecutive annual increase in gang-related homicides

Gang-related homicides are those reported by police as having occurred as a consequence of activities involving an organized crime group or street gang.Note 6 Examples include killing a rival gang member over a ‘turf war’ or a drug debt.

After declining from 2009 to 2014 (-37%), the gang-related homicide rate has increased for three consecutive years. In 2017, there were 0.44 gang-related homicides per 100,000 population which is the highest rate of gang-related homicide since comparable data was available in 2005.

In 2017, police reported 163 gang-related homicides in 2017, 23 more than in 2016 (Chart 4). These represented one-quarter (25%) of all homicides, compared to 24% in 2016.Note 7 Between 2010 and 2015, gang-related homicides accounted for between 16% and 17% of homicides each year.

Chart 4

Data table for Chart 4 
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Homicide, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Homicide
rate per 100,000 population
1997 0.09
1998 0.17
1999 0.15
2000 0.24
2001 0.20
2002 0.15
2003 0.28
2004 0.23
2005 0.33
2006 0.32
2007 0.36
2008 0.42
2009 0.37
2010 0.28
2011 0.28
2012 0.27
2013 0.24
2014 0.23
2015 0.27
2016 0.39
2017 0.44

Compared to other types of homicide, gang-related homicides more often involve guns. Almost nine in ten (87%) of gang-related homicides in Canada were committed with a firearm (137 victims),Note 8 usually a handgun, compared to 27% for homicides that were not related to gang activityNote 9 (129 victims).

National increase in gang-related homicides driven by British Columbia and Alberta

The overall increase in gang-related homicides between 2016 and 2017 was mainly due to large increases in British Columbia (+15 victims) and Alberta (+12 victims) (Table 3a). Together, these provinces accounted for almost half (47%) of all gang-related homicides in Canada.

The spike in gang-related homicides in British Columbia was mainly the result of increases outside the census metropolitan areas (CMAs of Vancouver, Victoria, Abbotsford–Mission and Kelowna), mostly along the southern border of the province. In 2017, of the 44 gang-related homicides that occurred in British Columbia, 34% occurred outside the CMAs compared to 17% in 2016.Note 10

The increase in gang-related homicides in Alberta (+12 victims) was mostly the result of increases in Calgary (+6 victims) and Edmonton (+4 victims). Calgary, where the number of gang-related homicides doubled from 6 in 2016 to 12 in 2017, recorded the largest increase in gang-related homicides among all CMAs. Together these two CMAs accounted for 84% of Alberta’s gang-related homicides.

The decline in Saskatchewan’s total number of homicides was partly the result of a decline in gang-related homicides (-8 victims). Of the 37 total homicides in Saskatchewan in 2017, 14% (or 5 homicides) were gang-related, compared with 24% (or 13 homicides) in 2016.Note 11

As expected, the largest 3 CMAs (Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal) accounted for over half (53%) of all gang-related homicides that occurred in all of Canada’s CMAs in 2017 homicides. (Table 3b).

Overall, gang-related homicides accounted for 31% of all homicides that occurred in Canada’s CMAs, up slightly from the previous year where they accounted for 29%.Note 12 The proportion of gang-related homicides was highest in Abbotsford–Mission, Kelowna, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, where they accounted for 40% or more of all homicides in that CMA.

Homicide committed with a firearm reaches highest rate in 25 years

In 2017, there were 266 firearm-related homicides reported in Canada, 43 more than in 2016 (Table 4a). The firearm-related homicide rate (0.72 per 100,000 population) increased 18% from the previous year. This is the highest rate of firearm-related homicides in Canada since 1992. Firearm-related homicides have been increasing since 2014 and gang-related violence has been the primary driver. In 2017, 52% of firearm-related homicides were related to gang activity. The proportion of gang-related homicides where a firearm is the primary weapon used to commit the homicide has been steadily increasing since 2015. In 2015, gang-related homicides committed with a firearm represented 12% of all homicides.Note 13 In 2017, these accounted for 21%.Note 14

While the most common method used to commit homicide has varied between stabbings and shootings over the years, shootings have accounted for the greatest portion of homicides in Canada for the last 2 years (Chart 5). Of those in which the cause of death was identified in 2017, 41% of homicide victims were shot to death, 31% were stabbed, 17% were beaten, and 4% were strangled or suffocated.Note 15 Other causes of death—which includes Shaken Baby Syndrome, fire (e.g., smoke inhalation or burns), and by motor vehicle—were less common.

Chart 5

Data table for Chart 5 
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Shooting, Stabbing and Beating, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Shooting Stabbing Beating
rate per 100,000 population
1987 0.76 0.70 0.51
1988 0.63 0.63 0.52
1989 0.79 0.62 0.47
1990 0.70 0.77 0.47
1991 0.97 0.80 0.51
1992 0.87 0.74 0.53
1993 0.68 0.67 0.40
1994 0.68 0.53 0.37
1995 0.59 0.62 0.41
1996 0.72 0.66 0.44
1997 0.65 0.56 0.38
1998 0.50 0.62 0.41
1999 0.55 0.47 0.41
2000 0.60 0.49 0.42
2001 0.55 0.55 0.39
2002 0.48 0.58 0.40
2003 0.52 0.45 0.39
2004 0.54 0.64 0.43
2005 0.69 0.61 0.44
2006 0.59 0.64 0.37
2007 0.57 0.57 0.36
2008 0.60 0.61 0.37
2009 0.54 0.62 0.35
2010 0.51 0.49 0.34
2011 0.46 0.60 0.38
2012 0.49 0.47 0.33
2013 0.38 0.55 0.29
2014 0.44 0.53 0.28
2015 0.50 0.60 0.38
2016 0.61 0.48 0.32
2017 0.72 0.55 0.29

In comparison, most recent statistics suggest firearms account for 5% of homicides in England and Wales, 12% in Australia and a staggering 73% in the United States (Office for National Statistics 2018; Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018a; United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation 2017b; Police Service of Northern Ireland 2018; Scottish Government 2017).

Nationally, firearm-related homicides account for about one in five fatalities involving firearms. According to 2016 vital statistics (the latest year for which figures are available), there were a total of 723 deaths in Canada from firearm injuries. Among these, 79% were suicides, 19% were homicides and 2% were classified as accidental (Statistics Canada 2018b).

Largest increase in firearm-related homicide occurred in British Columbia

The use of firearms to commit homicide varies from one province to another. In 2017, none of Newfoundland and Labrador’s 4 homicides were committed with a firearm. In comparison, 56% of New Brunswick’s homicides were firearm-related,Note 16 as were 53% of British Columbia’sNote 17 (Table 4a).

Among the provinces, the largest increase in the number of homicides committed with a firearm was in British Columbia (+22 victims). In 2017, more than half (53%) of British Columbia’s homicides involved firearms, 68% of which were known or suspected to be gang-related.

The increase in firearm-related homicides in British Columbia was the result of increases in Vancouver (+7 victims), Abbotsford–Mission (+4 victims) and non-CMAs (+10 victims). The number of homicides involving firearms in non-CMAs almost doubled in British Columbia from 12 in 2016 to 22 in 2017. Thirty-nine percent of the 57 total firearm-related homicides reported in British Columbia in 2017 occurred outside the CMAs compared to 34% in 2016.

Notable increases in firearm-related homicides were also reported in Quebec (+8 victims), Manitoba (+8 victims), and Alberta (+7 victims). As with British Columbia, higher rates of firearm-related homicides reported outside CMAs contributed to the increases observed in these provinces.

As with homicide rates in general, the highest rates of homicides involving a firearm were reported in the western provinces. Alberta (1.19 per 100,000 population) and British Columbia (1.18 per 100,000 population) recorded the highest rates among the provinces, and were the highest recorded for these provinces in more than two decades (Chart 6). In Manitoba, the rate of firearm-related homicides (0.97 per 100,000 population) increased 156% from 2016, ranking it third highest. Although Saskatchewan reported the largest decline among the provinces (-7 victims from 2016), it ranked fourth highest in the country with 0.86 firearm-related homicides per 100,000 population.

Chart 6

Data table for Chart 6 
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6. The information is grouped by Province (appearing as row headers), 2016 and 2017, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province 2016 2017
rate per 100,000 population
Newfoundland and Labrador 0.00 0.00
Prince Edward Island 0.00 0.00
Nova Scotia 0.95 0.84
New Brunswick 0.40 0.66
Quebec 0.32 0.42
Ontario 0.59 0.59
Manitoba 0.38 0.97
Saskatchewan 1.48 0.86
Alberta 1.04 1.19
British Columbia 0.74 1.18
CanadaData table Note 1 0.61 0.72

Among the CMAs, firearm-related homicides predominantly occurred in the five largest CMAs of Toronto (58 victims), Vancouver (25 victims), Edmonton (19 victims), Montréal (17 victims) and Calgary (15 victims) (Table 4b). Together, the number of firearm-related homicides in the top five largest CMAs in Canada accounted for half (50%) of all firearm-related homicides in 2017.

With a total of 58, there were 7 more homicides committed with a firearm in Toronto in 2017 than in 2016. Vancouver's count increased from 18 in 2016 to 25 in 2017.

The largest declines in firearm-related homicides among the CMAs occurred in Halifax (-7 victims), Ottawa (-5 victims) and Montréal (-5 victims).

In 2017, the Government of Canada announced a major new federal funding initiative to help combat gun and gang violence, committing up to $327.6 million over five years, and $100 million annually thereafter. The funds are intended to help support a variety of initiatives to reduce criminal gun and gang crime. Statistics on homicides that are firearm and/or gang related will continue to be monitored in the context of these efforts.

Rate of firearm-related homicides higher in rural areas than urban areas

The national increase in homicides committed with a firearm was also reflected in rural areasNote 18 where it increased 60% from the previous year.

Canada’s firearm-related homicide rate was 16% higher in rural areas compared to urban areas (Chart 7). This difference was the greatest in Alberta where the homicide rate in rural areas was 94% higher than the province's urban rate; Manitoba’s was 81% higher and Saskatchewan’s was 71% higher. More than half (52%) of Canada’s firearm-related homicide victims were killed in these three provinces.

Chart 7

Data table for Chart 7 
Data table for Chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 7. The information is grouped by Province (appearing as row headers), Urban and Rural, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province Urban Rural
rate per 100,000 population
Newfoundland and Labrador 0.00 0.00
Prince Edward Island 0.00 0.00
Nova Scotia 0.64 1.23
New Brunswick 0.42 1.08
Quebec 0.42 0.41
Ontario 0.63 0.27
Manitoba 0.77 1.39
Saskatchewan 0.69 1.18
Alberta 1.02 1.98
British Columbia 1.20 1.09
CanadaData table Note 1 0.71 0.82

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia’s firearm-related homicide rates were also notably higher in rural areas compared to urban areas.

Handguns used in urban area homicides, rifles/shotguns used in rural areas

The type of firearm used during the commission of homicides has changed over the past three decades (Chart 8). Prior to 1990, rifles or shotguns were used far more frequently than handguns. However, a shift towards the increased use of handguns in homicides in Canada can be observed as of the early 1990s.

Chart 8

Data table for Chart 8 
Data table for Chart 8
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 8. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Sawed-off rifle / shotgun, Handgun and Rifle / shotgun, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Sawed-off rifle / shotgun Handgun Rifle / shotgun
percent
1961 7.1 16.5 75.3
1962 0.0 22.5 77.5
1963 2.0 22.2 71.7
1964 0.0 26.7 72.4
1965 0.0 29.2 70.8
1966 1.1 20.7 78.3
1967 0.7 25.5 73.0
1968 3.0 26.7 65.9
1969 3.9 28.6 60.4
1970 2.3 22.0 73.4
1971 3.7 25.1 67.0
1972 7.5 27.9 59.7
1973 1.4 27.1 61.9
1974 4.2 26.9 63.6
1975 3.4 30.1 62.7
1976 1.9 26.4 64.0
1977 5.4 23.5 61.9
1978 0.8 25.2 70.8
1979 1.9 26.1 65.2
1980 2.1 32.0 61.3
1981 1.0 29.6 61.8
1982 3.6 35.7 58.6
1983 1.8 34.8 56.7
1984 0.9 29.3 62.0
1985 4.1 32.9 59.0
1986 0.6 21.7 65.1
1987 3.5 28.7 53.5
1988 4.1 27.8 55.6
1989 1.4 25.0 60.2
1990 0.5 34.9 50.8
1991 9.2 49.8 38.0
1992 6.1 52.2 36.8
1993 8.7 46.7 38.5
1994 13.3 45.9 33.7
1995 8.6 54.6 35.6
1996 7.5 50.7 38.0
1997 5.2 51.5 39.7
1998 9.2 46.7 33.6
1999 3.6 54.2 34.9
2000 5.5 59.0 31.1
2001 4.1 64.5 26.7
2002 3.9 64.5 26.3
2003 8.0 68.1 20.2
2004 8.7 64.7 21.4
2005 4.9 58.5 26.3
2006 13.5 58.3 19.8
2007 9.6 66.5 17.0
2008 8.5 63.2 17.4
2009 8.2 61.0 17.6
2010 8.0 59.4 21.1
2011 10.1 59.7 18.9
2012 5.3 62.0 22.8
2013 6.0 67.2 22.4
2014 3.9 66.5 21.9
2015 12.8 57.0 20.7
2016 5.8 58.3 22.4
2017 8.3 54.5 23.3

More than half (55%) of firearm-related homicides in 2017 were committed using a handguns (Table 5). Rifles or shotguns were used in 23% and other types of firearms, such as fully automatic firearms or sawed off rifles or shotguns were the primary weapon in 9% of all firearm-related homicides. A firearm-like weapon (such as a pellet gun or a flare gun) or an unknown type of firearm was used in the remaining 13%.

In 2017, while a handgun was the most common weapon used in urban areas (63% of firearm homicides), a rifle or shotgun was most commonly used in rural areas (66%). Conversely, rifles or shotguns accounted for only 13% of firearm-related homicides reported in urban areas, while handguns represented about 18% of those reported in rural area.

Text box 1
A look at solve rates from the Homicide Survey

A homicide incident is considered solved (or ‘cleared’Text box 1 Note 1) when police either report laying or recommending a charge of homicide against at least one accused person or they report solving homicides by other means (e.g., the suicide of the accused person).Text box 1 Note 2 Where there are multiple victims involved in a single homicide incident, the solved status of the incident applies to each victim. In incidents where there are multiple accused persons involved, a homicide is considered solved on the date when the first accused person in the case is identified by police.

Homicides may be solved months or years after they occur. The Homicide Survey collects updates for previously reported homicides to revise the solved status and to allow for the collection of additional details gathered throughout homicide investigations, if applicable. In all cases, the number of solved homicides are always reported according to the year in which they were reported by the police to the Homicide Survey (which also corresponds to the year in which the incident was deemed a homicide by the police and began being investigated as such). For instance, as of December 31st, 2017, 441 of the 660 homicides that occurred in 2017 had been solved, resulting in a solve rate of 67%, the same rate as that of 2016 at the end of the year but lower than the average over the previous 10 years (70%). During the 2018 data collection cycle, some of the outstanding unsolved homicides may become solved, which would then increase the solve rate for 2017 homicides.

Note 1

The terms ‘solved’ and ‘cleared’ are used synonymously in this article to describe homicide incidents where police investigation has led to the identification of an accused person (charged/suspect-chargeable) and whether a charge has been laid or recommended, or cleared by other means. The term ‘cleared’ is widely recognized by North American and international law enforcement agencies. For further information regarding police-reported clearance rates refer to the Juristat article, “Police-reported clearance rates in Canada, 2010” (Hotton Mahony and Turner 2012).

Return to note 1 referrer

Note 2

The Homicide Survey is a police-reported source of data, therefore it does not track court-related outcomes for homicide incidents such as decisions put forth by Crown attorneys, convictions, or sentencing-related information. For further information related to court decisions for homicide charges brought before the adult criminal court system in Canada, refer to the Juristat article, “Adult criminal court statistics in Canada, 2015/2016” (Maxwell 2017) or Table 35-10-0027-01.

Return to note 2 referrer

End of text box

Solve rates lower for gang-related and firearm-related homicides

The recent growth in gang-related homicides involving firearms appears to be a factor in the declining rate of solved homicides in Canada. Between 1991 and 2017, 44% of gang-related homicides were solved compared to 90% of non-gang-related homicides.Note 19 During this same period, 65% of firearm-related homicides were solved compared to 90% of homicides committed without the use of a firearm.Note 20 When comparing gang-related homicides committed with a firearm compared to other methods used, 37% of those committed with a firearm were solved compared to 69% for those gang-related committed using another method.Note 21 Although to a lesser degree, firearm-related homicides that were not gang-related continued to be less likely to be solved (86%) than those that were committed using another method (93%). Firearm-related homicides, overall, were more likely to be solved (93%) when the type of weapon used was an ordinary rifle or shotgun compared to either a fully automatic firearm, a sawed-off rifle or shotgun or a handgun (57%).

In 2017, the majority of both homicide victims (74% or 485 victims) and those accused (87% or 459 accused) were male. These proportions have remained relatively stable over the past 13 years for victims of homicide and since the beginning of collection (1961) for those accused of homicide.

About one quarter of homicide victims in Canada are Aboriginal

While only representing an estimated 5% of the Canadian population (Statistics Canada 2018c), Aboriginal people accounted for 24% of all homicides victims in 2017.Note 22 This proportion has remained relatively unchanged since the first release of complete Aboriginal identity information for both male and female victims in 2014.

In 2017, the homicide rate for Aboriginal people increased 8% from the previous year to reach 8.76 homicides per 100,000 Aboriginal population. This rate is 6 times higher than for non-Aboriginal people (Table 6). Across Canada, there were 15 more Aboriginal homicide victims in 2017 than in 2016 (156 compared to 141). Of these, ten were female and five were male.

A 32% increase in the rate of homicides for Aboriginal female victims (4.22 per 100,000 Aboriginal females) was observed in 2017 and follows a sharp decrease in the previous year. In comparison, the homicide rate for Aboriginal males (13.40 per 100,000 Aboriginal males)Note 23 increased by 2% in 2017. This rate has, however, been increasing consistently since 2014 (Chart 9).

Chart 9

Data table for Chart 9 
Data table for Chart 9
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 9 Year, Rate per 100,000 population and Number of victimes (appearing as column headers).
Year Rate per 100,000 population Number of victimes
Aboriginal females 2014 3.60 30
2015 5.02 43
2016 3.19 28
2017 4.22 38
Non-Aboriginal females 2014 0.70 120
2015 0.77 133
2016 0.70 121
2017 0.75 132
Aboriginal males 2014 11.10 90
2015 12.82 107
2016 13.18 113
2017 13.40 118
Non-Aboriginal males 2014 1.65 276
2015 1.90 321
2016 2.01 342
2017 2.10 360

Aboriginal victims were generally younger than non-Aboriginal victims in 2017. While the average age for non-Aboriginal victims was 38 years, Aboriginal victims were, on average, 32 years of age (Table 7). In comparison, Aboriginal female victims were on average 30 years old and Aboriginal males 33 years old.

Of all the 2017 homicides where the victim was an Aboriginal person, 63% occurred in the Prairies, where, based on population projections (Statistics Canada 2018c), 40% of the Aboriginal population resides. For the third consecutive year, the homicide rate for Aboriginal people was highest in Saskatchewan (14.86 per 100,000 Aboriginal population) (Table 6).

Solve rates higher for homicides involving Aboriginal victims

By the end of 2017, police services had solvedNote 24 79% of 2017 homicides involving an Aboriginal victim compared to 63% for non-Aboriginal victims,Note 25 however, differences emerged depending on the sex of the victim. Just over three quarters (76%) of homicides involving an Aboriginal female victim were solved by police compared to 84% for non-Aboriginal female victims. In previous years, solve rates for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal female victims have been similar.

For male victims, 80% of homicides involving Aboriginal male victims were solved compared to only 55% of homicides involving non-Aboriginal male victims.Note 26 The low solve rate for non-Aboriginal male victims may be related to the fact that 64% of these unsolved homicides were gang-related, a type of homicide that tends to be harder to solve (Cotter 2014; Trussler 2010).

Rate of Aboriginal persons accused of homicide 12 times higher than non-Aboriginal accused persons

In 2017, 38% of persons accused of homicide were reported by police as Aboriginal, a proportion which has been increasing since 2014 when it was 31%.Note 27 The rate of Aboriginal persons accused of homicide in 2017 was 12 times higher compared to non-Aboriginal accused persons. This is similar to previous years where the rate for Aboriginal accused was at least 9 times higher than non-Aboriginal accused. (Table 6).

In 2017, the rate of Aboriginal males accused of homicide (18.05 per 100,000 Aboriginal males) was 11 times higher than that of non-Aboriginal males (1.69 per 100,000 non-Aboriginal males) and four times higher than the rate of Aboriginal female accused (4.33 per 100,000 Aboriginal females) (Table 6).

Aboriginal accused persons were younger than non-Aboriginal accused persons in 2017. Indeed, the average age for Aboriginal accused persons was 27 years old compared to 33 years old for non-Aboriginal (Table 7).

In 2017, Aboriginal accused were one third more likely than non-Aboriginal accused to be involved in a gang-related incident (18% of Aboriginal accused compared to 12% of non-Aboriginal accused). This differs from 2016 where both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal accused were just about as likely to be involved in a gang-related incident (15% and 17% of accused respectively). The likelihood in 2017 was, however similar to the likelihood for the previous 10 years, where 19% of Aboriginal accused were involved in a gang-related incidentNote 28 compared to 14% of non-Aboriginal accused.Note 29

Most victims knew their killer

Consistent with previous years, four out of five victims of solved homicides in 2017 knew their killer. Just under one-third (32%) of all homicide victims were killed by an acquaintance (e.g., non-family), just under another one-third (31%) were killed by a family member, 17% were killed by strangers, 13% were killed by someone with whom they had a criminal relationship (e.g., drug dealers and their clients), and 6% were killed by someone with whom they had a current or former intimate relationship.Note 30 Note 31

However, the proportion of solved homicides committed by strangers and persons with whom the victim had a criminal relationship increased from the previous year. In 2017, 77 victims (+18 victims from 2016) were reported to have been killed by a stranger and 59 victims, 19 more than in 2016, were killed by someone with whom they had a criminal relationship (Table 8).

According to police reported crime statistics, women account for about eight in ten victims of intimate partner violence. The same is true with respect to homicide. In 2017, 84% of homicide victims killed by an intimate partner, meaning by a current or former legally married or common-law spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend or other intimate relationship, were female. The rate of intimate partner homicide was 5 times greater for females than for males (0.41 per 100,000 females aged 15 and over versus 0.08 for males aged 15 and over). In total, there were 76 intimate partner homicides in Canada in 2017, the same number as 2016, and 10 fewer than the previous 10 year average (86) (see Table 9 for more information).

Victims reported as missing prior to the incident being identified as a homicide

In 2017, 49 victims were on record as being missing at the time the homicide became known to police, of which 14 were Aboriginal. The proportion of victims reported as being missing prior to the incident being identified as a homicide was similar whether the victim was Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal (9% and 7%, respectively). This was also true for male victims where 7% of the victims were reported as missing before being identified as homicide victims regardless of Aboriginal identity. However, for females, 16% of Aboriginal victims were initially reported as missing whereas only 7% of non-Aboriginal female victims were.

A criminal past is common for both persons accused of homicide and victims

In 1997, the Homicide Survey began collecting information on the criminal history of victims and accused persons. While it is possible for a person to have more than one prior conviction, police are asked only to indicate the most serious.

In 2017, two-thirds (66%) of adults (18 years or older) accused of homicide had a criminal record in Canada, whereas just under one-third (31%) of 12 to 17 year old accusedNote 32 had a youth record. Having a criminal record was more common in males—both adults and youth—than females (65% compared to 51%).Note 33

Just over half (53%) of adult homicide victims had a Canadian criminal record. Of the 21 youth victims, 5 (25%) had a youth record.

Youth account for one in ten persons accused of homicide

In 2017, 50 youth aged 12 to 17 years were accused of homicide, accounting for 9% of all accused. While this proportion is the same as the previous 10-year average, it is almost double the proportion from 2016 (5%) and the greatest since 2010 (see Statistics Canada online data table 35-10-0070-01).

Youth accused of homicide in 2017 were just about as likely as adults to be involved in a gang-related incident (16% of youth and 14% of adult accused). This proportion for youth is lower than the 10-year average where youth accused were 2 times more likely than adult accused to be involved in a gang-related incident (29% of youth accusedNote 34 compared to 14% of adult accusedNote 35).

Accused persons in one out of seven homicides is suspected of having a mental disorder

Police suspected the presence of a mental or developmental disorderNote 36 in 15% of persons accused of homicides in 2017.Note 37 This proportion is comparable to the previous ten years. Police suspected the presence of a mental disorder in males accused more frequently (15% of homicides) than when the accused was female (10% of homicides). Half of the homicides committed by someone with a mental or developmental disorder were committed against family members (50%). Moreover, homicides by someone with a disorder were committed by persons aged 18 to 34 years (62%); they were also most often committed with a knife/other piercing or cutting instrument (43%).Note 38

Those who earn their living in criminal business, transportation or security account for high proportion of victims of homicide

In 2017, there were 149 homicides related to the victim's occupationNote 39 (either illegal or legal), 54 more than in the previous year. The majority of these homicides were linked to illegal activities such as drug trafficking (89%, or 142). This accounts for 53 more than 2016 and the highest number reported since the data became available in 1997.

The number of persons paid for sexual services killed as a result of this work increased from 3 in 2016 to 7 in 2017. Between 2008 and 2017, an average of 6 persons paid for sexual services were victims of homicide each year. The majority of those killed throughout this period were female (96%) and of non-Aboriginal identity (64% of female victims who were occupied as persons paid for sexual services).

In 2017, there were 9 homicide victims whose death was related to their legal occupation, compared to 12 in the previous year.Note 40 Since this information became available from the Homicide Survey in 1997, there has been an average of 13 victims killed each year while ‘on-the job’ (i.e. related to the victims’ legal employment and excluding persons paid for sexual services). Over this time period, 19% of these homicides involved security occupations, such as police and correctional officers as well as other security personnel. Another one in six work-related homicide (16%) involved retail employees (including service station and convenience store clerks). Transportation-related occupations (including taxi drivers, truck drivers and bus drivers) accounted for 15% of all work-related homicides, followed by restaurant/ bar and hotel workers (15%), and janitors or superintendents (3%).

In 2017, there was one homicide of a police officer that occurred in relation to their occupation. Since 1961, there have been 146 police officers who were victims as a result of their occupation, marking an average of almost 3 officers per year. Over the last 21 years, 2005 saw the highest number of officers murdered, with 5 victims that year.

Summary

Homicide in Canada hit its highest rate in almost a decade in 2017, increasing 7% over the previous year. The increase in the national number of homicides between 2016 and 2017 was largely due to more homicides in British Columbia and Quebec, and also due to more firearm-related and gang-related incidents. In fact, after rising steadily since 2014, homicide committed with a firearm reached its highest rate in 20 years in 2017. The gang-related homicide rate rose for a third consecutive year in 2017, after declining 37% from 2009 to 2014.

The rate of homicides reported in rural areas was 45% higher than the rate reported in urban areas of Canada. While rates of homicides reported in both urban and rural areas increased in 2017, the rate in rural areas saw a greater increase and reached the highest rate since 2009, the earliest year for which urban/rural data are available.

As in previous years, the vast majority of victims were male, and Aboriginal people, both male and female, were over-represented as victims. Also consistent with previous years, four out of five victims of solved homicides knew their killer, the vast majority of whom were either casual acquaintances or family members. However, compared with the previous year, homicides committed by strangers and those committed by individuals known to each other through illegal activities increased in 2017 more than any other relationship types.

Detailed data tables

Table 1a Number of homicides, by province and territory, 1987 to 2017

Table 1b Rate of homicides, by province and territory, 1987 to 2017

Table 2 Homicides, by census metropolitan area, 2016 and 2017

Table 3a Homicides, by gang-related status and province or territory, 2016 and 2017

Table 3b Gang-related homicides, by census metropolitan area, 2016 and 2017

Table 4a Homicides, by firearm-related status and province or territory, 2016 and 2017

Table 4b Firearm-related homicides, by census metropolitan area, 2016 and 2017

Table 5 Firearm-related homicides, by type of firearm, Canada, 1997 to 2017

Table 6 Rates of homicide victims and accused persons, by sex and Aboriginal identity and province or territory, 2017

Table 7 Homicide victims and accused persons, by Aboriginal identity, sex and age, Canada, 2017

Table 8 Homicides by closest accused to victim relationship, Canada, 2016 and 2017

Table 9 Homicides by closest accused to victim relationship and sex, Canada, 2017

Survey description

The Homicide Survey collects police-reported data on the characteristics of all homicide incidents, victims and accused persons in Canada. The Homicide Survey began collecting information on all murders in 1961 and was expanded in 1974 to include all incidents of manslaughter and infanticide. Although details on these incidents are not available prior to 1974, counts are available from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR) and are included in the historical aggregate totals.

Whenever a homicide becomes known to police, the investigating police service completes the survey questionnaires, which are then sent to Statistics Canada. There are cases where homicides become known to police months or years after they occurred. These incidents are counted in the year in which they become known to police (based on the report date). Information on persons accused of homicide are only available for solved incidents (i.e., where at least one accused has been identified). Accused characteristics are updated as homicide cases are solved and new information is submitted to the Homicide Survey. Information collected through the victim and incident questionnaires is also accordingly updated as a result of a case being solved. For incidents involving more than one accused, only the relationship between the victim and the closest accused is recorded.

Due to revisions to the Homicide Survey database, annual data reported by the Homicide Survey prior to 2015 may not match the annual homicide counts reported by the UCR. Data from the Homicide Survey are appended to the UCR database each year for the reporting of annual police reported crime statistics. Each reporting year, the UCR includes revised data reported by police for the previous survey year. In 2015, a review of data quality was undertaken for the Homicide Survey for all survey years from 1961 to 2014. The review included the collection of incident, victim and charged/suspect-chargeable records that were previously unreported to the Homicide Survey. In addition, the database excludes deaths, and associated accused records, which are not deemed as homicides by police any longer (i.e., occurrences of self-defence, suicide, criminal negligence causing death that had originally been deemed, but no longer considered homicides, by police). For operational reasons, these revisions were not applied to the UCR.

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