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Crime and justice

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Enforcement of laws affects all Canadians—whether a police officer is arresting someone in a small town or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are monitoring security on Parliament Hill. It is also a big-ticket item for governments: federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments spent more than $12 billion on policing, courts, legal aid, prosecutions and adult corrections in 2002/2003. (Calculating the total cost is difficult because all levels of government help pay the justice bill.) Policing accounted for 61% of justice costs; adult corrections, 22%; courts, 9%; legal aid, 5%; and criminal prosecutions, 3%.

The amount of crime taking place is measured by the crime rate—the number of reported incidents per 100,000 population in a year. Canada’s crime rate in 2005 was 7,761 offences per 100,000, down 5% from 2004.

The decrease was primarily driven by a lower rate of non-violent crimes, such as counterfeiting, break-ins and auto thefts. Police services reported a 6% decrease for property crimes, a 7% drop each for motor vehicle thefts and break-ins, and a 6% drop for thefts under $5,000.

Violent crime accounted for 12% of Criminal Code offences. The homicide rate rose in 2005 to its highest level in nine years, but the overall rate of violent crime, which also includes attempted murder, assault, robbery, sexual assault, other sexual offences and kidnapping, was unchanged.

Provincial crime rates ranged from a low of 5,780 incidents per 100,000 population in Ontario to a high of 14,320 incidents in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan’s violent crime rate was the highest among the provinces for an eighth year in a row and was 24% higher than the next highest, Manitoba. Although Quebec’s violent crime rate rose 2% in 2005, it reported the lowest rates among the provinces over the past decade.

Homicide rate rises

Police services reported 658 homicides in 2005, or about two victims per 100,000 population. After reaching a 30-year low in 2003, Canada’s homicide rate climbed 4% in 2005 to its highest point in a decade. The most substantial increases in the number of homicides were reported in Ontario, where 31 more homicides occurred than in 2004; the next highest, Alberta, had 23 more than in 2004.

Homicide victims are more likely to be killed by someone they know than by a stranger. In the 478 solved homicides in 2005, about 50% of the victims were killed by an acquaintance, about 30% by a family member and about 20% by a stranger.

Most homicide victims in 2005 were male—480 males versus 178 females. The victimization rate for males peaked at 25 to 29 years; for females, it peaked at 30 to 39 years. Ninety percent of persons accused of homicide were male, and the rate of accused peaked at 18 to 24 years of age for both males and females.

Since the mid-1980s, firearms have been used in about one out of three homicides each year. Firearms were used to kill 222 Canadians in 2005, 49 more than in 2004. Homicides committed with a firearm increased in all regions except Manitoba, British Columbia and the territories. Since the early 1970s, however, the type of firearm used in homicides has changed. Rifles and shotguns have steadily become less common, handguns have become more so.

Homicides aside, firearms are rarely used in most other crimes in Canada.

Gang-related homicides

Data about the extent of gang activity in Canada are very limited. And while it is generally accepted that organized crime exists in Canada, the full extent of it is unknown. Gang-related homicides—which stem from the activities of organized crime groups and street gangs—gained steadily from 4% of all homicides in 1994 to 15% in 2003, then fell back to 11% in 2004. In 2005, however, the number of gang-related homicides rose to 107, or 16% of all homicides. The largest increase was in Ontario, where gang-related homicides more than doubled from 14 in 2004 to 31 in 2005.

In 2005, the highest numbers of gang-related homicides occurred in Toronto (23), Edmonton (16), Montréal (15) and Calgary (9). Of all gang-related killings, 69% were committed with a firearm, usually a handgun, compared with 27% of non gang-related homicides.

Youth crime rate declines

The youth crime rate fell 6% from 2004 to 2005, and youth violent crime declined 2%. During the same period, the rate of youths—those aged 12 to 17 years—who were charged decreased 6%, and those cleared otherwise fell 7%. Changes in legislation—such as the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), which came into force in 2003—can significantly affect the number of youths who are diverted from further exposure in the justice system. The YCJA contains provisions that are designed to allow youth who have committed less serious offences to be diverted from courts and custodial facilities; serious offenders serve longer sentences.

Since the introduction of the YCJA, the proportion of apprehended youths who are formally charged has dropped, from 56% in 2002—when the Young Offenders Act was still in effect—to 43% in 2005.

Youths accused of crimes are not always formally charged, even though police might have sufficient evidence to do so. Police have a range of alternatives to laying formal charges, mainly taking no further action, issuing an informal warning, referring the youth to community programs or issuing a formal police caution.