Canada's crime rate: Two decades of decline

Canadian Megatrends

Crime.

It's reported in the news every day. Sometimes, it's the leading story.

We read about it, talk about it, and wonder how the news stories relate to the overall picture.

And the numbers tell us that the overall police-reported crime rate in Canada has been falling for more than 20 years. 

Since 1962, Statistics Canada has collected information on all criminal incidents substantiated and reported by Canadian police services, as well as on victims' experiences.

In Canada, there are two complementary ways to measure police-reported crime: the traditional crime rate and the Crime Severity Index. While both measures take into account the volume of police-reported crime, the Crime Severity Index also accounts for the seriousness of the crime.

Since crime was first measured uniformly across the country, fluctuations have been noticed in the crime rate from year-to-year, but a major trend has been observed. From 1962 to 1991, the crime rate increased steadily, and then started to decline. This trend is most notable for property crime, but it is also the case for violent crime and other Criminal Code offences.

In 2013, the police-reported crime rate was at its lowest point since 1969

Chart 1: Police-reported crime rate, Canada, 1962 to 2013
Description for Chart 1
Police-reported crime rate, Canada, 1962 to 2013
Year Violent crimes Property crimes Other crimes Total
rate per 100,000 population
1962 221 1,891 659 2,771
1963 249 2,047 726 3,022
1964 284 2,146 815 3,245
1965 299 2,091 809 3,199
1966 347 2,258 907 3,511
1967 381 2,484 985 3,850
1968 423 2,826 1,087 4,336
1969 453 3,120 1,164 4,737
1970 481 3,515 1,217 5,212
1971 492 3,649 1,170 5,311
1972 497 3,634 1,224 5,355
1973 524 3,704 1,546 5,773
1974 553 4,151 1,684 6,388
1975 585 4,498 1,769 6,852
1976 584 4,533 1,867 6,984
1977 572 4,466 1,933 6,971
1978 580 4,579 1,995 7,154
1979 610 4,903 2,153 7,666
1980 636 5,444 2,263 8,343
1981 654 5,759 2,322 8,736
1982 671 5,840 2,262 8,773
1983 679 5,608 2,182 8,470
1984 701 5,501 2,185 8,387
1985 735 5,451 2,227 8,413
1986 785 5,550 2,392 8,727
1987 829 5,553 2,575 8,957
1988 868 5,439 2,613 8,919
1989 911 5,289 2,692 8,892
1990 973 5,612 2,900 9,485
1991 1,059 6,160 3,122 10,342
1992 1,084 5,904 3,052 10,040
1993 1,082 5,575 2,881 9,538
1994 1,047 5,257 2,821 9,125
1995 1,009 5,292 2,707 9,008
1996 1,002 5,274 2,656 8,932
1997 993 4,880 2,603 8,475
1998 995 4,569 2,529 8,093
1999 971 4,276 2,449 7,695
2000 996 4,081 2,534 7,610
2001 995 4,004 2,593 7,592
2002 980 3,976 2,560 7,516
2003 978 4,125 2,670 7,773
2004 957 3,976 2,668 7,601
2005 962 3,744 2,620 7,326
2006 968 3,605 2,673 7,246
2007 952 3,335 2,621 6,908
2008 938 3,096 2,598 6,632
2009 926 3,005 2,531 6,462
2010 907 2,802 2,451 6,160
2011 869 2,586 2,324 5,780
2012 841 2,521 2,269 5,632
2013 766 2,342 2,082 5,191

In 2013, the police-reported crime rate was at its lowest point since 1969. Experts have not reached a consensus on why crime has been declining since the 1990s, but several factors have been cited as possible explanations. These factors include an aging population, changing policing practices and strategies, the rise of technology, shifts in unemployment, variations in alcohol consumption, neighbourhood characteristics, or changing attitudes towards illegal and risky behaviour.

Despite the inability to identify a single factor which explains the crime rate decline in Canada, similar downward trends in crime rates have also been observed in other countries.

Homicide rate also following downward trend

Chart 2 - Homicides and attempted murders, Canada, 1962 to 2013
Description for Chart 2
Homicides and attempted murders, Canada, 1962 to 2013
Table summary
The table depicts homicides and attempted murders in Canada by population as column headers, and the years from 1962 to 2013 as row headers.
Year Homicide Attempted murder Population
1962 1.43 0.5 18,583,057
1963 1.32 0.6 18,930,418
1964 1.31 0.6 19,290,468
1965 1.41 0.6 19,644,460
1966 1.25 0.7 20,014,880
1967 1.66 0.7 20,378,022
1968 1.81 0.9 20,701,107
1969 1.86 1.0 21,001,013
1970 2.19 1.2 21,297,099
1971 2.15 1.5 21,961,999
1972 2.34 1.9 22,218,475
1973 2.43 2.1 22,491,757
1974 2.63 2.3 22,807,918
1975 3.03 2.8 23,143,192
1976 2.85 3.0 23,449,791
1977 3.00 2.9 23,725,921
1978 2.76 3.1 23,963,370
1979 2.61 3.1 24,201,801
1980 2.41 3.2 24,516,071
1981 2.61 3.6 24,820,393
1982 2.66 3.8 25,117,442
1983 2.69 3.5 25,366,969
1984 2.60 3.6 25,607,651
1985 2.72 3.3 25,842,736
1986 2.18 3.4 26,101,155
1987 2.43 3.5 26,448,855
1988 2.15 3.1 26,795,383
1989 2.41 3.0 27,281,795
1990 2.38 3.3 27,697,530
1991 2.69 3.7 28,031,394
1992 2.58 3.7 28,366,737
1993 2.19 3.4 28,681,676
1994 2.06 3.2 28,999,006
1995 2.01 3.2 29,302,091
1996 2.14 3.0 29,610,757
1997 1.96 2.9 29,907,172
1998 1.85 2.5 30,157,082
1999 1.77 2.3 30,403,878
2000 1.78 2.5 30,689,035
2001 1.78 2.3 31,019,020
2002 1.86 2.2 31,353,656
2003 1.74 2.2 31,639,670
2004 1.95 2.1 31,940,676
2005 2.06 2.5 32,245,209
2006 1.86 2.6 32,570,505
2007 1.81 2.4 32,887,928
2008 1.84 2.2 33,245,773
2009 1.81 2.4 33,628,571
2010 1.63 2.0 34,005,274
2011 1.74 1.9 34,342,780
2012 1.56 1.9 34,754,312
2013 1.44 1.8 35,158,304

The homicide rate, due to its consistent and reliable reporting to police, is often used as an indicator of the level of violence in a society. In Canada, the homicide rate more than doubled between 1961 and 1975, when it reached its highest point. While there is variance in the homicide rate year-to-year, due to relatively small numbers, since peaking in 1975 the homicide rate has generally been declining.

Homicide was a relatively rare event in Canada in 2013, representing less than 1% of all violent crime. In total, police reported 505 homicides in 2013, 38 fewer than the previous year. As a result, the national homicide rate declined to 1.44 per 100,000 population in 2013, marking an 8% decrease from the previous year and the lowest homicide rate recorded since 1966.

The attempted murder rate also decreased in 2013 to 1.83 victims per 100,000 population, marking a 5% decline from the previous year and the lowest attempted murder rate since 1971.

Similar to the overall crime rate, many countries have also reported declines in their homicide and attempted murder rates in recent years.

Motivations related to the decline

Several factors commonly mentioned by experts as possible explanations for the decline in crime may be related primarily to certain types of crime. For example, multivariate analysis performed by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics indicated that changes in inflation tend to have the most association with changes in crime that is financially motivated (i.e., robbery, break and enter, motor vehicle theft), while changes in alcohol consumption and unemployment rates are correlated with changes in the homicide rate, and changes in the population's age and gender are associated with changes in the rate of break and enters.

As well, legislative changes introduced in Canada—such as amendments to the Criminal Code regarding sexual assault and the Young Offenders Act, which was followed by the Youth Criminal Justice Act on April 1, 2003 (Department of Justice)—have the potential to affect crime rates by expanding definitions and criminalizing certain behaviours not previously considered a crime, or by decriminalizing others.


Definitions

Crime rate: Refers to the number of Criminal Code offences in an area reported to the police per 100,000 population in that area.

Crime Severity Index:  Refers to a measure of police-reported crime that measures both the volume and seriousness of police-reported crime in Canada.

References

Boyce, J., A. Cotter and S. Perreault. 2014. Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2013, Statistics Canada. Catalogue no.  85-002-X.

Brennan, S. & A. Taylor-Butts. 2008. Sexual assault in Canada, 2004 and 2007, Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85F0033M, no. 19.

Cotter, A. 2014. Homicide in Canada, 2013, Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Department of Justice. The Youth Criminal Justice Act: Summary and background. Catalogue no. J2-375/2013E-PDF.

Phillips, J. and K. Land. 2012. “The link between unemployment and crime rate fluctuations: An analysis at the county, state, and national levels.” Social Science Research. Vol. 41, no. 3. p. 681–694.

Pottie Bunge, V., H. Johnson and T. A. Baldé. 2005. Exploring crime patterns in Canada, Statistics Canada. Catalogue no.  85-561-MIE.

Rosenfeld, R. 2009. Crime is the problem: Homicide, acquisitive crime, and economic conditions. Journal of Quantitative Criminology. Vol.25, p. 287-306.

Savoie, J. 2008. Analysis of the spatial distribution of crime in Canada: Summary of major trends, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2006. Crime and Justice Research Paper Series, Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-561-M.

Statistics Canada. CANSIM (database). Crimes and offences. Last updated January 12, 2015.

Contact information

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Information and Client Services (1-800-387-2231 or 613-951-9023 or ccjs-ccsj@statcan.gc.ca) at the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

 
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