Section 1: Police-reported family violence in Canada, 2019

Family violence, a serious public health issue, can take on many forms, including physical and sexual violence, and emotional and financial abuse (Public Health Agency of Canada 2014). It is an abuse of power within a relationship of trust and dependency. Family violence has immediate and long-term consequences for victims—including physical, mental, cognitive and financial—and recovery depends on the length and severity of abuse.

The costs are not just personal, but affect wider society as well. According to Justice Canada, “a considerable amount of Canadian resources are directed to address this issue including health care costs, costs to the justice system, to employers and businesses, and to social and community services” (Justice Canada 2017). In order to mitigate the impact on individuals, families and communities, it is important to monitor the issue of family violence, and invest in prevention measures and supports for victims. This is particularly true of the COVID-19 era, when Canadians have been subject to lockdown measures and safety protocols that required them stay at home and could have impacted their ability to seek help.

In this section, family violence refers to violence committed by spouses (legally married, separated, divorced and common-law), parents (biological, step, adoptive and foster), children (biological, step, adopted and foster), siblings (biological, step, half, adopted and foster) and extended family members (e.g., grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and in-laws). Victims refer to those aged 89 years and younger.Note 

One in four victims of police-reported violence victimized by a family member

In 2019, there were 399,846 victims of police-reported violence in Canada (Table 1.1). Of these victims, one-quarter (26%) were victimized by a family member, which represented 102,316 victims. While just over half (53%) of all victims of violence were female, two-thirds (67%) of family violence victims were female.

Family violence that came to the attention of police was most often perpetrated by a current spouse (31%) or a parent (20%) followed by a former spouse (13%), a sibling (11%) or a child (11%). A larger proportion of female victims experienced violence from a current or former spouse (51% versus 29% of male victims) while family violence perpetrated by someone other than a spouse was more common for male victims (71% versus 49% of female victims).

Family violence increases for the third year in a row, larger increase among men and boys

The rate of police-reported family violence increased 7% in 2019 from the previous year (Chart 1.1).Note  Between 2018 and 2019, the rate increased more for men and boys than women and girls (+10% versus +6%). While the overall rate of family violence steadily declined between 2009 and 2016 (-19%), 2019 marked the third consecutive annual increase, up 13% from 2016. Between 2009 and 2019, rates of family and non-family violence had similar decreases (-9% and -11%, respectively).

Chart 1.1 Victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and year, Canada, 2009 to 2019

Data table for Chart 1.1 
Data table for Chart 1.1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1.1. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Family violence, Non-family violence, Female victims, Male victims and Total victims, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Family violence Non-family violence
Female victims Male victims Total victims Female victims Male victims Total victims
rate per 100,000 population
2009 411 185 299 796 998 896
2010 407 180 294 803 966 884
2011 384 174 280 742 899 820
2012 367 173 271 714 861 787
2013 343 163 254 663 773 718
2014 328 158 243 628 732 680
2015 326 159 243 649 747 697
2016 322 160 241 660 742 701
2017 332 162 247 692 755 723
2018 342 166 254 717 765 741
2019 363 183 273 771 823 797

Family-related sexual violence more than five times higher for women and girls than men and boys

In 2019, the rate of police-reported family violence was 276 victims per 100,000 population (Table 1.2). The most common type of family violence was physical assaultNote  (accounting for 71% of victims, a rate of 197 per 100,000) followed by other offences involving violence or the threat of violenceNote  (50) and sexual offencesNote  (28). Differences were noted between female and male victims: while rates of physical assault (249 versus 146) and other offences involving violence or the threat of violence (70 versus 30) were 1.7 and 2.3 times higher for women and girls than men and boys, respectively, the rate of sexual offences was 5.5 times higher for women and girls (48 versus 9).

Seven in ten (71%) victims of family violence were assaulted using physical force (Table 1.3).Note  An additional 17% of victims were assaulted with a weapon present, such as a knife, club or firearm. Nearly half (46%) of victims of family violence suffered a physical injury, somewhat higher than those who experienced non-family violence (42%).Note  Among those who were physically injured resulting from family violence, nearly all (95%) had minor injuries. Physical injury resulting from family violence was slightly more common for men and boys than women and girls (49% versus 45%).

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Police-reported crime and calls for service during the COVID-19 pandemic

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics at Statistics Canada began collecting monthly data from police services to track information on selected types of Criminal Code violations during the pandemic. In addition, information was collected on calls for police service—that is, calls for help which may not be related to crime—during this time. While the number of police services that submitted this information varied from one reference period to the next, these data provide insight into the volume and nature of incidents that occurred.Note 

Between March and October 2020, selected police-reported criminal incidentsNote  were 18% lower than the same period in 2019 (Statistics Canada 2021). Meanwhile, between March and October 2020, calls for serviceNote  were 8% higher than the same eight-month period in 2019. More specifically, calls for service related to child welfare checks were up 17%, the largest difference from 2019. These were followed by calls related to general wellness checks (+13%), mental health issues (+12%), child custody matters (+12%), overdoses (+9%) and domestic disturbances (+8%).

In terms of family violence, three types of violent crime could be explored through this data collection initiative: physical assault, sexual assault and uttering threats. While the number of incidents for all types of police-reported crime in this study—family-related or not—was lower during the first eight months of the pandemic compared with the same period in 2019, there was one exception: the number of incidents of uttering threats by family was 2% higher during the pandemic while it was 9% lower for non-family. In contrast, compared to the same period in 2019, family-related physical assault and sexual assault were lower during the first eight months of the pandemic (-4% and -10%, respectively) but numbers were even lower for physical assault and sexual assault when victims and accused were not family (-10% and -21%, respectively).Note 

The numbers for selected police-reported crime, while similar in pattern, need to be considered separately. Incidents perpetrated by non-family often occur when people are in the public domain, outside the home. It is expected that as individuals reduced their contact with others outside of their household—as a result of pandemic-related restrictions—that incidents of violence perpetrated by non-family would decrease as the opportunity for these crimes was reduced. Inversely, as individuals spent more time at home with family during the pandemic—while working from home and participating in virtual learning—heightened stress due to social isolation, economic uncertainty and increased substance use, among others, could lead to an increase in family violence (Campbell 2020; Usher et al. 2020).

Based on these police-reported data, a large increase in family violence did not materialize as family-related physical assault and sexual assault decreased, and uttering threats increased to a small degree. It should be noted that many victims might have been unable to seek help, and incidents of family violence that are normally suspected or witnessed by third-party individuals (such as friends and teachers) and reported to police are more likely to have gone undetected during the pandemic.

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Saskatchewan and Manitoba have highest rates of family violence among the provinces

Similar to crime in general, rates of police-reported family violence were highest in the territories. Among the provinces, the rate of family violence was highest in Saskatchewan (519 per 100,000 population) and Manitoba (417) (Table 1.4).Note  Meanwhile, rates were lowest in Ontario (173), Prince Edward Island (203) and Nova Scotia (225). Compared with the provinces, rates were notably higher in the territories, with Nunavut reporting the highest rate (3,398) followed by the Northwest Territories (2,689) and Yukon (707).

Women and girls experienced a higher rate of family violence than men and boys in every province and territory. The largest differences in the rate for women and girls compared with men and boys were noted in Ontario (239 versus 106, 2.2 times higher for women and girls), the Northwest Territories (3,739 versus 1,696, 2.2 times higher) and Quebec (478 versus 232, 2.1 times higher).

In every province and territory in 2019, the rate of family violence increased from the previous year, with the exception of Prince Edward Island (-2%).Note  The largest provincial increases were noted in British Columbia (+25%), Newfoundland and Labrador (+20%) and New BrunswickNote  (+11%).

In the provinces, the rate of family violence was 2.0 times higher in rural areas than urban areas (469 versus 234 per 100,000 population), and this pattern was the same for women and girls, and men and boys (Chart 1.2).Note  In rural areas, women and girls had a rate of family violence that was 1.8 times higher than men and boys (606 versus 337). Notably, the difference between rural and urban rates was larger for family violence than non-family violence (2.0 versus 1.4 times higher in rural areas).

Chart 1.2 Victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and urban or rural area, provinces, 2019

Data table for Chart 1.2 
Data table for Chart 1.2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1.2. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Family violence, Non-family violence, Female victims, Male victims and Total victims, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Family violence Non-family violence
Female victims Male victims Total victims Female victims Male victims Total victims
rate per 100,000 population
Urban area 315 151 234 691 787 738
Rural area 606 337 469 1,142 966 1,052

The rate of family violence was 2.0 times lower in Canada’s largest cities—referred to as census metropolitan areasNote  or CMAs—than it was in non-CMAs (215 versus 432) (Table 1.5).Note  Of the CMAs, rates were highest in Lethbridge (383), Trois-Rivières (360) and Saguenay (352). Meanwhile, rates were lowest in Guelph (111), OttawaNote  (114) and London (123).

Among the CMAs, the largest differences in the rate of family violence for women and girls compared with men and boys were noted in Abbotsford–Mission (363 versus 124, 2.9 times higher for women and girls), Thunder Bay (406 versus 140, 2.9 times higher) and Guelph (161 versus 59, 2.8 times higher).

Detailed data tables

Table 1.1 Victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2019

Table 1.2 Victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and type of violation, Canada, 2019

Table 1.3 Victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim, type of weapon present and level of injury, Canada, 2019

Table 1.4 Victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and province or territory, 2018 to 2019

Table 1.5 Victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and census metropolitan area, 2019

References

Campbell, A. M. 2020. “An increasing risk of family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic: Strengthening community collaborations to save lives.” Forensic Science International: Reports. Vol. 2.

Justice Canada. 2017. About family violence.

Public Health Agency of Canada. 2014. Family Violence Initiative.

Statistics Canada. 2021. “Selected police-reported crime and calls for service during the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020 to October 2020.” The Daily. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-001-X.

Usher, K., Bhullar, N., Durkin, J., Gyamfi, N. and D. Jackson. 2020. “Family violence and COVID-19: Increased vulnerability and reduced options for support.” International Journal of Mental Health Nursing. Vol. 29, no. 4.

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