Juristat Bulletin—Quick Fact
Firearms and violent crime in Canada, 2016

By Adam Cotter

Release date: June 28, 2018

In 2016, violent Criminal Code offences accounted for about one in every five crimes that came to the attention of police. While firearm-related violent crime represents a small part of all crime in Canada in a given year, it nevertheless has a significant emotional and physical impact on victims, families, and communities.

This Juristat Bulletin—Quick Fact provides information on recent trends in police-reported violent crime involving firearms,Note including changes since 2009,Note geographic variations over time and between regions, and the types of firearms involved. Of note, for an offence to be considered firearm-related, a firearmNote need only be present during the commission of the offence, not necessarily used.

Small proportion of police-reported violent crime involves firearms

Overall, four in five (78%) police-reported violent crimes did not involve any type of weapon. If a weapon was present, it was most often a weapon other than a firearm (19%), such as a knife or a blunt instrument. About 3% of all violent crimes in 2016 were firearm-related. Between 2009 and 2014, between 1.9% and 2.3% of all violent crime involved a firearm, increasing slightly to 2.7% in 2015 and 2.8% in 2016 (Table 1; Table 2).

Rate of firearm-related violent crime down from 2009, but up one-third since 2013

Firearm-related crime has been increasing in recent years—while other types of crime have been on the decline. In 2016, there were approximately 7,100 victims of violent crime where a firearm was present. This resulted in a rate of 25 victims of firearm-related violent crime for every 100,000 Canadians, a rate that was 33% higher than that reported in 2013 (19 per 100,000). Over the same time, the rate of overall police-reported violent crime declined by 4% (Table 1; Chart 1).

Chart 1 Victims of police-reported violent crime and firearm-related violent crime, Canada, 2009 to 2016

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 Year (appearing as row headers), Violent crime and Firearm-related violent crime , calculated using rate per 100,000 population
units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Violent crime Firearm-related violent crime
rate per 100,000 population
2009 1,322 28.6
2010 1,292 23.3
2011 1,236 21.9
2012 1,198 21.9
2013 1,093 19.2
2014 1,041 21.0
2015 1,066 24.9
2016 1,052 25.5

However, the rate of firearm-related violent crime was at its lowest point in recent years in 2013.Note Despite the increases noted since 2013, the rate of firearm-related violent crime in 2016 was slightly lower than that reported by police in 2009. In 2009, police reported about 7,300 victims of violent crime involving a firearm, resulting in a rate of 29 victims per 100,000 population.

There are two different ways that data on weapons are collected through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

The first, most serious weapon present, collects information on the most serious weapon present during the commission of the crime, regardless of whether or not it was used. The second approach, weapon causing injury, captures information on the type of weapon used in the commission of the offence, but only if the victim sustained a physical injury as a result of the crime.

Relatively speaking, very few injuries that result from violent crime are caused by firearms. There were just over 116,000 victims of violent crime in 2016 who sustained injuries as a result; of these, about 1,500 (1%) were caused by a firearm. However, as would be expected, firearms were proportionately more responsible for incidents resulting in more severe injury. Among victims of violent crime, firearms were the cause of injury for just under 1% of all victims who sustained minor physical injuries, 6% of all major physical injuries, and 32% of deaths.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba have the highest provincial rates of firearm-related violent crime

Similar to trends in violent crime in general, Saskatchewan (56 victims per 100,000 population) and Manitoba (48 per 100,000) recorded the highest rates of firearm-related violence among the provinces in 2016 (Table 2). In these two provinces, as well as in Ontario and Alberta, firearm-related offences accounted for 3% of all violent crimes that came to police attention, while the proportion ranged from 1% to 2% across the other provinces and territories (Table 2).

Increases in victims of firearm-related violent crime since 2013 observed virtually across the country 

When compared to what was reported in 2013, there were about 1,900 more victims of firearm-related violent crime in Canada in 2016. Over this period, nearly every reporting jurisdiction across the country saw an increase in the number and rate of victims of firearm-related violent crime (Chart 2).

Chart 2 Victims of firearm-related violent crime, by province and territory, 2009, 2013, and 2016

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 and territory (appearing as row headers), 2016, 2013 and 2009, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province and territory 2016 2013 2009
rate per 100,000 population
Newfoundland and Labrador 12.9 11.8 11.2
Prince Edward Island 10.1 4.8 15.0
Nova Scotia 12.4 19.6 29.2
New Brunswick 21.9 15.1 16.1
Ontario 21.9 15.0 28.0
Manitoba 48.0 32.5 40.6
Saskatchewan 56.4 30.8 34.3
Alberta 34.6 26.5 30.1
British Columbia 18.2 19.7 28.7
Yukon 50.7 19.3 26.7
Northwest Territories 67.5 38.8 27.8
Nunavut 89.0 104.5 110.4
Canada 25.5 19.2 28.6

The increase since 2013 was driven by notable increases in firearm-related violent crime in Saskatchewan (83% increase in rate), Manitoba (+48%), Ontario (+46%), New Brunswick (+45%), and Alberta (+30%) (Text table 1).

Text table 1
Changes in number of victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime, by province and territory, 2009, 2013, and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Changes in number of victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime. The information is grouped by Province or territory (appearing as row headers), 2016, Percent change in rate from 2013 to 2016, Difference in number of victims from 2013 to 2016, Percent change in rate from 2009 to 2016 and Difference in number of victims from 2009 to 2016, calculated using number, rate and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province or territory 2016 Percent change in rate from 2013 to 2016 Difference in number of victims from 2013 to 2016 Percent change in rate from 2009 to 2016 Difference in number of victims from 2009 to 2016
number rateText table Note 1 percent number percent number
Newfoundland and Labrador 66 12.9 10 4 15 8
Prince Edward Island 15 10.1 109 8 -33 -6
Nova Scotia 117 12.4 -37 -67 -58 -156
New Brunswick 166 21.9 45 52 36 45
Ontario 3,024 21.9 46 1,016 -22 -570
Manitoba 616 48.0 48 215 18 137
Saskatchewan 634 56.4 83 301 64 287
Alberta 1,472 34.6 30 410 15 364
British Columbia 864 18.2 -7 -38 -37 -400
Yukon 19 50.7 163 12 90 10
Northwest Territories 30 67.5 74 13 143 18
Nunavut 33 89.0 -15 -4 -19 -3
Canada 7,056 25.5 33 1,922 -11 -266

On the whole, increases were noted in nearly every reporting province and territory between 2013 and 2016, with the exception of Nova Scotia (-37%), Nunavut (-15%), and British Columbia (-7%).

While many provinces saw increases from the national low in 2013, when compared to 2009, there were 266 fewer victims of firearm-related violent crime in Canada in 2016. This difference was driven by decreases in Ontario (570 fewer victims), British Columbia (-400), and Nova Scotia (-156). In contrast, over this period there were substantial increases in the number of victims and the rate of firearm-related violent crime in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and New Brunswick.

Regina, Winnipeg report highest firearm-related violent crime rates among CMAs

Reflecting the provincial trend, Regina (59 per 100,000 population) and Winnipeg (50 per 100,000) had the highest rates of firearm-related violent crime among census metropolitan areas (CMAs) (Table 3; Chart 3). Moncton (41 per 100,000 population), Edmonton (38 per 100,000), and Toronto (33 per 100,000) reported the next highest rates.

Chart 3 Victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime, by census metropolitan area, 2016

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 Census metropolitan ares (CMA) (appearing as row headers), Rate per 100,000 population (appearing as column headers).
Census metropolitan ares (CMA) Rate per 100,000 population
Regina 59.4
Winnipeg 49.5
Moncton 41.3
Edmonton 38.3
TorontoData table Note 1 32.5
HamiltonData table Note 2 31.5
Saskatoon 30.8
Windsor 22.9
Calgary 22.0
OttawaData table Note 3 21.3
Kelowna 20.3
Vancouver 19.8
Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo 19.5
Brantford 18.7
Abbotsford–Mission 16.6
London 15.9
Peterborough 15.4
St. Catharines–Niagara 15.2
Halifax 14.3
Barrie 13.4
Saint John 10.9
St. John's 9.6
Thunder Bay 9.1
Guelph 8.3
Victoria 6.5
Kingston 6.0
Greater Sudbury 5.4

Compared with 2013, the rate of firearm-related violent crime more than doubled in Regina (up 131%, from 26 per 100,000 in 2013 to 59 per 100,000 in 2016) and in Moncton (up 119%, from 19 to 41). Additionally, there were 869 more victims of firearm-related violent crime in Toronto in 2016 compared to 2013, resulting in an 83% increase in rate.

Since 2013, many of Canada’s smaller CMAs have reported decreases in the number of victims of firearm-related crime, some resulting in substantial decreases in rate (St. John’s, Saint John, Kingston, Peterborough, Brantford, Guelph, Barrie, Greater Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Abbotsford–Mission, and Victoria). Furthermore, in contrast to the national trend, Halifax (-44%) and Vancouver (-14%) have seen a downward trend in firearm-related violent crime since 2013.

Break and enters to steal firearms increasing in recent years

Police services in reporting jurisdictions reported just over 1,100 incidents of break and enter where the incident was specifically committed in order to steal a firearm.Note This represented a rate of 4 incidents per 100,000 population, and continued the general increase noted in this offence since 2009 (Text table 2).

Text table 2
Police-reported break and enter to steal a firearm, Canada, 2009 to 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Police-reported break and enter to steal a firearm. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Incidents and Rate (appearing as column headers).
Year Incidents Rate
2009 276 1.1
2010 526 2.0
2011 597 2.3
2012 743 2.8
2013 743 2.8
2014 817 3.0
2015 984 3.6
2016 1,116 4.0

Of these offences, just over one-third (36%) involved breaking into a motor vehicle for the purpose of stealing a firearm. The remainder (64%) involved breaking and entering into another location, the majority of which were private residences.

Rates of breaking and entering to steal a firearm were also higher in Canada’s northern regions (12 per 100,000) and rural areas (9 per 100,000) when compared to the south (4 per 100,000) and urban areas (3 per 100,000). As is the case with violent firearm-related offences, these higher rates may be related to higher rates of gun ownership in these areas.

Handguns are most commonly involved in police-reported firearm-related violent crime

In 2016, more than half (60%) of firearm-related violent crimes involved handguns, followed by shotguns or rifles (18%) and other types of firearms (4%), such as fully automatic firearms or sawed-off rifles or shotguns. The remaining 18% involved a firearm-like weapon (such as a pellet gun or a flare gun) or an unknown type of firearm.

Since 2009, the rate of police-reported violent crime involving handguns has been well above the rates of violent crime involving rifles or shotguns, other firearms (i.e., fully automatic firearms or sawed-off rifles or shotguns), or firearm-like weapons or unknown types of firearm (Chart 4). In addition, much of the increase in firearm-related violence crime since 2013 has been driven by increases in violent crime where a handgun was present, as there were about 1,200 more victims and a 37% higher rate in 2016.

Chart 4 Victims of firearm-related violent crime, by type of firearm, Canada, 2009 to 2016

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), Handgun, Rifle or shotgun, Other firearm and Firearm-like weapon or type of firearm unknown, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Handgun Rifle or shotgun Other firearmData table Note 1 Firearm-like weapon or type of firearm unknownData table Note 2
rate per 100,000 population
2009 17.9 3.8 1.4 5.5
2010 13.0 4.2 1.0 5.1
2011 12.5 3.5 1.1 4.9
2012 12.5 3.6 0.9 4.9
2013 11.2 3.2 0.9 3.9
2014 12.8 3.3 0.8 4.2
2015 15.1 4.2 1.1 4.5
2016 15.3 4.4 1.1 4.6

Among the provinces in 2016, Manitoba (22 per 100,000) as well as Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario (17 per 100,000 each) reported rates of handgun-related violence that were higher than the national average (15 per 100,000) (Table 5). The Northwest Territories, with 11 victims of handgun-related violence, had a rate of 25 victims per 100,000 population, while there were 2 victims of handgun-related violent crime in Nunavut and 1 in Yukon.

In 2016, Saskatchewan reported a rate of rifle or shotgun-related violent crime of 19 victims per 100,000, nearly double what was reported by Manitoba, the province with the next highest rate (10 per 100,000) and just over four times higher than the national rate (4.5 per 100,000). Rates of rifle or shotgun-related violent crime in the Territories were considerably higher than in the provinces (Table 4).

Among census metropolitan areas (CMAs), handgun-related violent crime was highest in Winnipeg and Moncton (both 31 victims per 100,000 population), followed by Toronto (28 per 100,000) (Table 5). Overall, 86% of all police-reported handgun-related violent crime occurred within a CMA.

This article focuses on overall firearm-related violent crime and trends since 2009. Characteristics of victims and persons accused of firearm-related crime have remained relatively stable in recent years. For example, as was found in 2012, firearm-related violent crime in 2016 continued to be an offence more often committed by strangers (60%), and most victims (69%) and accused persons (90%) were male. As was the case in 2012, the offences of homicide, attempted murder, and robbery were more likely than other violent violations in 2016 to involve the presence of firearms. Additionally, young adults (ages 18 to 24) and youth (ages 12 to 17) continue to be accused of firearm-related violent crime at a higher rate than any other age group.

More information on general characteristics is available in Cotter 2014 or upon request.

Firearm-related violent crime higher in northern regions

Overall, violent crime tends to be higher in Canada’s northern regions, a trend which was also evident for firearm-related crime. The rate of firearm-related violent crime in the north was close to double what was reported in the south (46 victims per 100,000 compared with 24 per 100,000) (Table 6).Note

Firearm-related violent crime was fairly similar in rural areas and urban areasNote Note (Table 6). There were 30 victims of firearm-related violent crime for every 100,000 residents of a rural area in Canada, compared with 25 per 100,000 residents living in an urban area. Despite this general trend, when looking closer at urban areas, rates—and volume—of firearm-related crime were higher in Canada’s largest cities, while rates were lowest in areas with a population between 10,000 and 99,999 (Chart 5).

Chart 5 Victims of firearm-related violent crime, by census metropolitan area, census agglomeration and rural area, 2016

Data table for Chart 5
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5 Rate per 100,000 population (appearing as column headers).
Rate per 100,000 population
Census metropolitan areas (population 100,000 and over) 25.6
Census agglomerations (population 10,000 to 99,999) 20.0
Rural areas 29.5

In most provinces and territories, rates were higher or similar in northern and rural areas. Ontario was an exception to this trend, as the rate of firearm-related violent crime was higher in southern Ontario (22 per 100,000) and in urban areas (23 per 100,000) when compared to rates in northern Ontario and rural Ontario (13 and 10 per 100,000, respectively).

New Brunswick, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia also had higher rates of firearm-related violent crime in their largest cities than in their rural areas, while the rates were virtually equal in Manitoba. Among the provinces, Saskatchewan (68 victims per 100,000 population) and Alberta (53 per 100,000) recorded the highest rates in rural areas.

Violent crime involving handguns tended to occur in southern regions and in urban areas. The rate of handgun-related violence in urban areas was more than double what was reported by police services serving rural areas (17 victims per 100,000 population, versus 7).

On the other hand, the rate of violent crime involving a rifle or shotgun was 4 times higher in rural areas when compared to urban areas (12 versus 3 per 100,000 population) and 5 times higher in the provincial north and territories when compared to the provincial south (19 versus 3.5 per 100,000 population) (Table 6; Chart 6).

Chart 6 Victims of firearm-related violent crime, by north-south region and urban or rural area, 2016

Data table for Chart 6
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6 Handgun, Rifle or shotgun, Other firearm and Total firearm-related violent crime, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Handgun Rifle or shotgun Other firearm Total firearm-related violent crime
rate per 100,000 population
SouthData table Note 1 15.6 3.5 5.0 24.1
NorthData table Note 1 10.8 18.9 16.0 45.7
UrbanData table Note 2 17.0 2.9 4.8 24.7
RuralData table Note 2 6.6 12.3 10.6 29.5

Many factors can help to explain these higher rates in northern or rural communities. For example, rates of firearm ownership may contribute to higher rates in these communities, as firearms may be required for hunting or farming, and therefore a firearm is more likely to be present when an offence is committed.

Data source 

Data are drawn from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime, by type of firearm, 2009 to 2016

Table 2 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by type of weapon present and by province and territory, 2016

Table 3 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by type of weapon present and by census metropolitan area, 2016

Table 4 Victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime, by type of firearm and by province and territory, 2016

Table 5 Victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime, by type of firearm and by census metropolitan area, 2016

Table 6 Victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime, by province and territory and north-south region or urban-rural area, 2016

Appendix tables

Appendix table 1 Changes in number of victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime, by census metropolitan area, 2009, 2013, and 2016

Appendix table 2 Victims of police-reported firearm-related violent crime, by selected offences, Canada, 2016

Appendix table 3 Persons accused of firearm-related violent crime, by age group, Canada, 2016

References

Allen, M. and Perreault, S. 2015. “Police-reported crime in Canada's Provincial North and Territories, 2013.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X

Cotter, A. 2014. “Firearms and violent crime in Canada, 2012.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X

David, J-D. 2017. “Homicide in Canada, 2016.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X

Munch, C. and Silver, W. 2017. “Measuring organized crime in Canada: Results of a pilot project.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.


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