Homicide in Canada, 2012

By Jillian Boyce and Adam Cotter

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Homicide remains a relatively rare event in Canada, representing less than 1% of all violent crime in 2012 (Perreault 2013). Nevertheless, homicide is the most serious criminal offence, with devastating consequences for families of victims, and requiring significant resources from all aspects of the Canadian criminal justice system. As such, it is important to examine the nature and extent of homicide in Canada, not only because of its severity, but also because it is considered to be a fairly reliable barometer of violence in society (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011).

Since 1961, Statistics Canada has been collecting police-reported information on homicide incidents, victims and accused persons through the Homicide Survey. This Juristat article uses data from the 2012 Homicide Survey to report on the short and long term trends in homicide at the national, provincial/territorial and census metropolitan area (CMA) levels. Furthermore, the characteristics of homicides are discussed, including gender differences, the methods used to commit homicide, the involvement of gangs and organized crime groups, the likelihood of being solved, the relationship between accused persons and victims, incidents involving intimate partners, and the involvement of youth.

Lowest homicide rate since 1966

Following a year of increase, the number of homicides declined in 2012. In total, Canadian police services reported 543 homicides in 2012, 55 fewer than the previous year (Table 1a). This resulted in a homicide rate of 1.56 per 100,000 population (Table 1b), representing a 10% decrease from 2011 and the lowest homicide rate since 1966.

The 2012 decline in the homicide rate continues a general downward trend evident since the rate peaked in 1975 (Chart 1). Similarly, despite annual fluctuations, the rate of attempted murders has also declined over the past three decades. While the number of attempted murders increased by 11 victims between 2011 and 2012, the rate remained one of the lowest in the past 40 years (1.94 per 100,000 population) (Perreault 2013).

Chart 1 Homicides and attempted murders, Canada, 1961 to 2012

Description for chart 1

There were fewer homicides committed against both males and females in 2012. While the homicide rate for males reached its lowest point in more than 40 years in 2012 (2.24 per 100,000 male population), the homicide rate for females in 2012 (0.88 per 100,000 female population) was, for the most part, similar to rates recorded in recent years (Chart 2). Regardless, males continued to account for the majority of homicide victims in 2012 (71% versus 29% for females) (Table 2).

Chart 2 Homicides, by sex of victim, Canada, 1982 to 2012

Description for chart 2

The number of homicide victims also declined among almost all age groups in 2012. The largest decrease was in the number of homicides committed against 18- to 24-year-olds, which dropped from 139 victims in 2011 to 95 victims in 2012. This was the result of fewer homicides among this age group within the majority of provinces and territories, in particular, British Columbia (-16), Alberta (-8) and Quebec (-8). This drop resulted in one of the lowest homicide rates for 18- to 24-year-olds in about 40 years, and was also the first time in over a decade that homicide rates were not highest for this age group. In contrast, the number of victims between the ages of 25 and 34 increased from 123 in 2011 to 139 in 2012, resulting in a homicide rate that was comparable to that of 18- to 24-year-olds (Chart 3).

Chart 3 Homicides, by age group of victim, Canada, 2012

Description for chart 3

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International comparisons of homicide

The homicide rate continues to be one of the best measures for comparing crime across countries since it is the most likely to be thoroughly investigated and reliably reported in official crime statistics (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011; Shaw et al. 2003). In addition, definitions for counting homicide are generally similar internationally (Nivette 2011; Van Dijk 2008), allowing for comparisons to be made.

Canada’s homicide rate remains higher than the majority of its peer countries.1 More specifically, in 2012, Canada’s homicide rate ranked fifth highest among the 17 countries determined to be most comparable to Canada. While Canada’s homicide rate of 1.56 per 100,000 population was about four times higher than Japan, the peer country with the lowest homicide rate, it remained well below the American homicide rate of 4.67 per 100,000 population (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011) (Chart 4).

Chart 4 Homicide rates, by peer countries, 2012

Description for chart 4

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Homicides decline in most provinces and territories in 2012

Homicides decreased in almost all provinces and territories in 2012. The largest declines were in Alberta (-24), British Columbia (-16) and Saskatchewan (-9) which, combined, accounted for 49 fewer homicides in 2012 (Table 1a). Quebec (+3), the Northwest Territories (+2) and Ontario (+1) were the only provinces and territory to report increases in homicides in 2012.

Despite the drop in homicides in the west, homicide rates continued to typically be higher in the western and northern parts of the country. For the eighth consecutive year, Nunavut (14.84 per 100,000 population) reported the highest rate with a total of five homicides in 2012 (Table 1b). The Northwest Territories, also with five homicides in 2012, reported the second highest rate in the country (11.53), and was the highest rate recorded in the territory since 1992.2, 3

As has been the case in previous years, the highest provincial homicide rate in 2012 was in Manitoba (4.10 per 100,000 population), although the rate decreased 3% from the previous year. While Saskatchewan had the second highest homicide rate among the provinces in 2012 (2.69 per 100,000 population), it was the lowest rate recorded in that province since the early 2000s and was lower than the average rate of homicide recorded in Saskatchewan over the past decade (Chart 5). The homicide rate in British Columbia was at its lowest point since recording began in 1961, and for the first time, the province reported a homicide rate similar to the national rate (1.54 and 1.56, respectively).

Chart 5 Homicides, by province, 2012

Description for chart 5

Following Yukon and Prince Edward Island, where there were no homicides in 2012, the lowest rates of homicide were in Newfoundland and Labrador (0.59) and New Brunswick (0.79). After recording its lowest rate of homicide in 45 years in 2011, the homicide rate remained stable in Ontario in 2012 at 1.20 per 100,000 population.

Thunder Bay records highest homicide rate in 2012

For the second time in three years, Thunder Bay recorded the highest homicide rate among all census metropolitan areas (CMAs).4 With a total of 7 homicides,5 the 2012 rate in Thunder Bay (5.81) was well above its rate from 2011 and triple its previous 10-year average rate (Table 3). Despite a decrease in homicides between 2011 and 2012, Winnipeg (4.09) reported the second highest homicide rate among all CMAs in 2012, followed by Regina (3.06) and Halifax (2.90) (Chart 6).

Chart 6 Homicides, by census metropolitan area, 2012

Description for chart 6

For the second year in a row, both Moncton and Kingston recorded no homicides; Guelph, Brantford and St. John’s also had no homicides in 2012. Similar to findings at the provincial level, Edmonton saw the greatest decrease in the number of homicides, with 17 fewer victims in 2012 than in 2011. This resulted in a homicide rate of 2.68, compared to 4.17 in 2011, and was lower than its average rate of homicide over the past decade (3.23). Halifax, which recorded its highest homicide rate in 2011 since CMA data first became available in 1981, saw a similar drop, down from 4.40 in 2011 to 2.90 in 2012.

While there may be a common perception that homicide in Canada, and violent crime more generally, is a big city phenomenon (Francisco and Chénier 2007), homicide rates within Canadian cities are generally below or similar to overall averages. More specifically, of the five largest cities in Canada (those with a population greater than one million), only Edmonton reported a homicide rate that was higher than the national rate.

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Homicide in U.S. metropolitan areas

Similar to Canadian CMAs, homicide rates vary across large metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the United States. Among MSAs with a population greater than one million, homicide rates ranged from a low of 1.79 per 100,000 population in Raleigh, North Carolina to a high of 20.41 per 100,000 population in New Orleans, Louisiana.

There were five CMAs with a population greater than one million in Canada in 2012: Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. Of these five CMAs, all but Edmonton recorded homicide rates that were lower than the American MSAs of comparable size. For instance, both the largest MSA, New York, and the one closest in size to Toronto, Washington, each had homicide rates nearly three times higher than Toronto’s in 2012.

Text table 1
Homicides, U.S. metropolitan statistical areas with greater than 1,000,000 population, 2012
Table summary
This table displays the results of homicides. The information is grouped by metropolitan statistical area (appearing as row headers), population, homicide and homicide rate, calculated using number and rate units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Metropolitan statistical areaNote 1Note 2 Population Homicide
number number rate
New Orleans, LA 1,220,047 249 20.41
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 1,343,608 153 11.39
Detroit, MI 4,288,943 469 10.94
Baltimore, MD 2,755,459 262 9.51
Birmingham, AL 1,136,805 105 9.24
Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD 6,012,363 517 8.60
Oklahoma City, OK 1,285,907 103 8.01
Jacksonville, FL 1,378,810 110 7.98
Kansas City, MO-KS 2,033,239 156 7.67
St. Louis, MO-IL 2,798,017 202 7.22
Chicago, IL-IN-WI 9,511,421 675 7.10
Milwaukee, WI 1,566,214 107 6.83
Richmond, VA 1,232,458 84 6.82
Virginia Beach, VA-NC 1,703,542 116 6.81
San Francisco, CA 4,431,755 288 6.50
Miami, FL 5,747,489 364 6.33
Louisville, KY-IN 1,248,616 77 6.17
Atlanta, GA 5,434,540 333 6.13
Tucson, AZ 1,000,369 57 5.70
Houston, TX 6,150,496 349 5.67
Indianapolis, IN 1,915,784 108 5.64
Phoenix, AZ 4,309,766 228 5.29
San Antonio, TX 2,227,800 114 5.12
Nashville, TN 1,712,682 87 5.08
Los Angeles, CA 13,064,838 651 4.98
Orlando, FL 2,200,987 109 4.95
Las Vegas, NV 1,995,735 95 4.76
Buffalo, NY 1,140,160 54 4.74
Pittsburgh, PA 2,363,571 99 4.19
Dallas, TX 6,680,025 277 4.15
Riverside, CA 4,344,917 178 4.10
Rochester, NY 1,086,565 44 4.05
Denver, CO 2,635,467 103 3.91
Tampa, FL 2,863,265 111 3.88
Sacramento, CA 2,196,416 84 3.82
New York, NY-NJ-PA 19,791,750 748 3.78
Hartford, CT 1,023,883 37 3.61
Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV 5,826,080 210 3.60
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 2,123,695 74 3.48
San Diego, CA 3,169,187 107 3.38
San Jose, CA 1,882,748 56 2.97
Seattle, WA 3,534,349 104 2.94
Providence, RI-MA 1,604,098 38 2.37
Portland, OR-WA 2,279,873 54 2.37
Minneapolis, MN-WI 3,408,532 76 2.23
Salt Lake City, UT 1,123,286 25 2.23
Austin, TX 1,810,230 39 2.15
Boston, MA-NH 4,629,025 95 2.05
Raleigh, NC 1,175,043 21 1.79

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Firearm-related homicides increase in 2012, stabbings decrease

As has been the case for more than 30 years, shootings and stabbings continued to be the most common methods to commit homicide in 2012. There were 172 shootings in 2012, up from 158 in 2011, accounting for 33% of all homicides (Table 4). As such, the rate of firearm-related homicide increased from 0.46 per 100,000 population in 2011 to 0.49 per 100,000 population in 2012 (Chart 7), but remained among the lowest rates in almost 50 years.

Chart 7 Homicides, by most common method, Canada, 1982 to 2012

Description for chart 7

The risk of firearm-related homicide remained higher in some areas of the country than others, with Nova Scotia (0.84), Alberta (0.75) and Saskatchewan (0.74) reporting the highest rates in 2012. Despite an increase in the number of shootings in Ontario in 2012 (up by 11 victims from 2011), the rate remained below the national rate (0.43 and 0.49, respectively). Among CMAs, Halifax recorded the highest rate of firearm-related homicide at 1.93 victims per 100,000 population (Table 5), almost four times higher than the national rate. In contrast to homicide rates in general, the risk of firearm-related homicide continued to be higher, as a whole, for CMAs (0.54) than non-CMAs (0.38).

Coinciding with the overall decrease in homicides, the number of fatal stabbings declined in 2012. In total, there were 164 stabbings in 2012, down 40 from 2011, accounting for 31% of all homicides. As such, the rate of stabbings declined to 0.47 per 100,000 population and was one of the lowest rates recorded in almost 40 years.

The largest decreases in the number of fatal stabbings were recorded in British Columbia (-18), Alberta (-12) and Saskatchewan (-10). Manitoba, however, reported seven more stabbings in 2012 than the previous year, which resulted in a rate for Manitoba that was more than quadruple the national rate (2.05 versus 0.47). When looking at the rate of stabbings by CMA, both Thunder Bay and Winnipeg reported rates that were much higher than the national rate (2.49 and 1.98, respectively) (Table 5).

The number of fatal beatings also decreased in 2012, down 13 from the previous year, and was the lowest rate of homicides from beatings in more than 40 years (0.32 per 100,000 population).

Furthermore, 2012 also marked the first time since this information became available in 1997 that there were no homicides from Shaken Baby Syndrome. Despite there being no homicides resulting from Shaken Baby Syndrome, 16 children under the age of 3 were killed in 2012, 1 more than the previous year.

Handguns continue to be the most common type of firearm used in shootings

Prior to the early 1990s, homicides committed with a firearm most frequently involved a rifle or a shotgun; however, beginning in 1991, this trend shifted with handguns becoming more commonly used (Chart 8). In 2012, handguns accounted for the majority (65%) of firearm-related homicides, followed by rifles or shotguns (24%), sawed-off rifles or shotguns (5%), fully automatic firearms (5%) and other firearm-like weapons (e.g., nail gun, pellet gun) (1%) (Table 6). As such, the 2012 rate of homicide committed with a handgun (0.31) was almost triple the rate for a rifle or shotgun (0.11).

Chart 8 Firearm-related homicides, by selected type of firearm, Canada, 1982 to 2012

Description for chart 8

Certain types of firearms were more likely to be used to commit homicide in some areas of the country than in others. For instance, while the majority of firearm-related homicides that occurred in a CMA in 2012 were committed with a handgun (76%), the majority of firearm-related homicides occurring outside of CMAs involved a rifle or shotgun (60%). Some exceptions did exist, however, such as in Winnipeg, where the proportion of firearm-related homicides committed with a handgun (40%) was equal to firearm-related homicides committed with a sawed-off rifle or shotgun (40%). Among Canada’s three largest CMAs, Toronto recorded the highest proportion of firearm-related homicides involving a handgun (87%), followed by Montréal (67%) and Vancouver (65%).

Gang-related homicides remain stable for third consecutive year

The Homicide Survey allows police to classify a homicide as “gang-related” when they suspect that it occurred as a consequence of activities involving an organized crime group or a street gang. Since these data became available in 1991, the rate of gang-related homicides had generally been increasing until peaking in 2008 (Chart 9). With 95 homicides considered by police to be gang-related in 2012, the rate of gang-related homicide remained stable for the third year in a row at 0.27 victims per 100,000 population.

Chart 9 Gang-related homicides, Canada, 1992 to 2012

Description for chart 9

Rates of gang-related homicide continued to typically be highest in the western region of the country. Despite having one less gang-related homicide than the previous year, the rate of gang-related homicide in Saskatchewan was the highest in the country and was nearly triple the national rate (0.74 versus 0.27 per 100,000 population) (Table 7). Manitoba, which in recent years, has reported some of the highest rates of gang-related homicide in the country, reported seven fewer gang-related homicides in 2012 than in the previous year, dropping to its lowest rate since 2002 (0.39 per 100,000 population).

Among census metropolitan areas, Saskatoon reported the highest rate of gang-related homicides in 2012 (Table 8). With a total of five gang-related homicides in Saskatoon in 2012, this city’s rate (1.73) was more than six times higher than the national rate (0.27). Among Canada’s three largest CMAs, both Vancouver (0.65) and Montréal (0.45) reported rates of gang-related homicide that were above the national rate, whereas Toronto’s rate (0.25) was similar to the national rate. In contrast to homicide rates in general, the rate of gang-related homicide was higher, as a whole, for CMAs than non-CMAs (0.33 versus 0.13), a finding that has held true since the early 1990s.

Firearms used to commit most gang-related homicides

Gang-related homicides exhibit some distinct characteristics when compared to homicides that are not gang-related. For instance, most gang-related homicides are committed with a firearm. More specifically, in 2012, three-quarters (75%) of gang-related homicides involved a firearm, compared to just under one-quarter (21%) of homicides that were non-gang-related. Furthermore, of firearm-related homicides, handguns were used in 80% of gang-related homicides compared to 48% of non-gang-related homicides.

Gang-related homicides are also more likely to have ties to the illegal drug business, such as drug dealing, trafficking or the settling of drug-related accounts or debts. In 2012, 68% of gang-related homicides involved drugs, usually cocaine, compared to 11% of non-gang-related homicides. As such, the majority of gang-related homicides were motivated by a settling of accounts (70%) or financial gain (14%). In contrast, homicides that were not gang-related were most commonly motivated by an argument or quarrel (39%) or frustration, anger, despair (24%).

Majority of homicides in 2012 were solved

In 2012, slightly more than three-quarters (76%) of homicides that came to the attention of police were cleared (also referred to as solved) by police, either through the laying or recommending of a charge, suicide of the accused, or by some other means (e.g., death of the accused not resulting from suicide).6 Of the homicides that were solved in 2012, the majority resulted in a charge being laid or recommended by police (88%), while the remainder were cleared by suicide of the accused (11%) or cleared by other means (1%).

The proportion of solved homicides tends to vary by province and territory. Nunavut, which had the highest homicide rate in the country, solved 100%, or all five, of its homicides in 2012. Similarly, Manitoba, which had the highest homicide rate among the provinces, reported the second highest proportion of solved homicides, with 90% of all homicides being cleared in 2012. In contrast, British Columbia recorded the lowest proportion of solved homicides in 2012, at slightly more than half (55%), followed closely by Nova Scotia (59%).

Coinciding with the lower than average homicide clearance rates7 in British Columbia, three of its four CMAs reported homicide clearance rates below the national average, with Abbotsford-Mission and Vancouver recording the lowest clearance rates among all CMAs in 2012 (25% and 49%, respectively). In addition, Halifax also recorded one of the lowest clearance rates in the country with one-half (50%) of all homicides unsolved in 2012. Generally speaking, homicide clearance rates were lower in CMAs than in non-CMAs.

While variations in clearance rates exist among provinces and territories and among CMAs, several factors may influence the likelihood of a homicide being solved. For instance, homicides involving gangs, the drug-trade or firearms have been found to have a lower probability of being solved than other types of homicide (Hotton Mahoney and Turner 2012; Trussler 2010; Dauvergne and Li 2006). In 2012, 38% of homicides considered to be gang-related were solved compared to 90% of homicides not considered to be gang-related. The proportion of solved drug-related homicides was also less than non-drug related homicides (57% versus 88%), as was the proportion of firearm-related homicides versus non-firearm-related homicides (55% versus 89%). Generally speaking, the CMAs with the lowest proportion of homicides involving gangs, drugs or firearms in 2012 typically had the highest proportion of homicides that were solved in 2012.

Stranger-related homicides at lowest point in more than 40 years

Historical homicide data have consistently shown that solved homicides are much more likely to be committed by someone known to the victim than by a stranger. In 2012, the rate of homicides committed by strangers decreased slightly to 0.19 per 100,000 population (Chart 10), its lowest point in more than 40 years. Overall, homicides committed by strangers represented 16% of all solved homicides in 2012, while the remaining victims were killed by someone known to them (84%).

Chart 10 Homicides, by accused-victim relationship, Canada, 1992 to 2012

Description for chart 10

Victims continued to most likely be killed by an acquaintance (e.g., a casual acquaintance, close friend or dating partner) in 2012, accounting for 44% of all solved homicides (Table 9). While the number of homicides committed by an acquaintance dropped from 213 in 2011 to 178 in 2012, the number of victims in 2012 was comparable to the 10-year average. Part of the decrease among homicides committed by acquaintances in 2012 can be attributed to fewer homicides committed by casual acquaintances, down 25 victims from the previous year. In contrast, the number of homicides committed by a close friend increased from 33 victims in 2011 to 44 victims in 2012.

Among solved homicides, just over one-third (35%) of victims were killed by a family member in 2012. In total, 143 homicides were committed by a family member in 2012, similar to the number of victims in 2011, but below the 10-year average of 154 victims. Among family-related homicides in 2012, the majority continued to be committed by a current or former spouse (43%), followed by a child (20%), a parent (18%), an extended family member (14%) or a sibling (5%). Homicides committed by family members were more frequently cleared by suicide of the accused than homicides committed by non-family members (23% versus 4%).

The remainder of homicide victims in 2012 (5%) were killed by someone with whom the victim had a criminal relationship. Overall, 20 victims were killed by criminal acquaintances in 2012, similar to the previous year, but substantially less than the previous 10-year average.

While the majority of homicide victims are killed by someone known to them, the type of relationship shared between the victim and accused differs for males and females. For example, the proportion of female victims killed by a family member in 2012 was triple that of male victims (63% versus 21%). In contrast, males were more frequently killed by an acquaintance (52%) or a stranger (20%) than female victims (28% and 8%, respectively).

Intimate partner homicides stable in recent years

Intimate partner violence, which includes violence by a current or former spouse or common-law partner, current or former dating partner, or other intimate relationship, accounts for about one-quarter (26%) of all violent crimes that come to the attention of police (Sinha 2013). Similarly, intimate partner homicide made up one in five (20%) solved homicides in 2012. In total, there were 82 intimate partner homicides in Canada in 2012 – 7 fewer than the previous year – with the majority (83%) involving a female victim. The rate of intimate partner homicide in 2012 was 0.28 per 100,000 population, consistent with rates recorded over the previous five years (Chart 11).

Chart 11 Intimate partner homicides, by sex of victim, Canada, 1992 to 2012

Description for chart 11

The rates of intimate partner homicide have consistently been higher for females than for males across all age groups, ranging from 8 times higher for those between 15 and 24 years of age to about double those between 55 and 64 years of age since 2002 (Chart 12). For both males and females, the rates of intimate partner homicide were highest for those between 25 and 34 years of age.

Chart 12 Intimate partner homicides, by sex and age group of victim, Canada, 2002 to 2012

Description for chart 12

Of all intimate partner homicides in 2012, just under one-half (46%) were committed by a current or former legally married spouse (Chart 13). About one-quarter (27%) were committed by a current or former common-law partner, the lowest proportion of such homicides since 1999. Other intimate relationships accounted for 22% of all intimate partner homicides in 2012, while the remaining 5% involved same-sex couples.8

Chart 13 Intimate partner homicides, by relationship type, Canada, 1992 to 2012

Description for chart 13

As has been the case since 1991, the majority (94%) of intimate partner homicides in 2012 involved a single victim. That said, there were five incidents in 2012 that involved multiple victims, such as children or friends of the victim. In three of the five incidents, the motivation was jealousy.

Homicides related to illegal professions increase in 2012

Some professions, both legal and illegal, put people at greater risk of violence and homicide than others (Perreault 2012). Since 1997 the Homicide Survey has collected information on whether or not the homicide was a direct result of the victim’s profession. In 2012, 82 homicides resulted from activities associated with the victim’s profession, 9 more than the previous year.

This increase was driven solely by homicides associated with victims employed in illegal professions, such as drug dealing, drug trafficking or prostitution.9 However, despite an increase in the number of homicides resulting from working in an illegal occupation, the number of victims in 2012 remained substantially lower than the previous 10-year average (68 victims versus 93 victims). Among the 68 victims who were killed as a result of his or her employment in an illegal profession in 2012, 5 were sex workers.

In contrast, homicides associated with legal professions decreased in 2012, down 5 victims from the previous year to 14 victims. While previous research has found that taxi drivers and police officers have the highest rates of being killed as a result of their occupation (Perreault 2012), there were no homicides involving police officers or taxi drivers as victims in 2012. Of those killed in 2012 as a result of their legal profession, the majority were employed in occupations related to sales and services (e.g., private security, retail service or food and beverage service).

Persons accused of homicide typically male, young adults

In total, 483 people were accused of homicide in 2012, 69 fewer than in 2011 (Table 2). Of those accused, approximately 9 in 10 (89%) were male – a proportion that has remained relatively stable over the past decade.

The majority of accused continued to be relatively young in 2012 with 6 in 10 (60%) accused between the ages of 18 and 34. Despite a decline in the rate of homicides committed by persons aged 18 to 24, this age group continued to report the highest rate in 2012 (4.81 per 100,000 population), which has been the case for about the past 30 years. Rates of those accused of homicide then declined with age.

For many persons accused of homicide, this was not their first offence. In 2012, about 6 in 10 (59%) accused of homicide had a prior conviction, most commonly for a violent offence. Of those with a prior conviction, 1% had previously been convicted of homicide, 16% had been convicted of robbery and 47% had been convicted of another violent offence.

Rate of youth accused of homicide lowest in over a decade

Of those accused of homicide in 2012, 7% were youth (12 to 17 years). In total, 34 youth were accused of homicide in 2012, 12 fewer than the previous year (Table 10). The rate of youth accused of homicide in 2012 (1.42) marked the lowest rate in over a decade and one of the lowest rates in more than 40 years. There were fewer homicides committed by both male and female youth.

The rate of female youth accused of homicide was at its lowest point in more than 40 years in 2012 at 0.09 per 100,000 female youth population (Chart 14). In addition, there were seven fewer male youth accused in 2012 than in 2011, and the rate for male youth accused (2.68) was at its lowest point in about a decade.

Chart 14 Youth (12 to 17 years) accused of homicide, by sex, Canada, 1982 to 2012

Description for chart 14

Homicides committed by youth were more likely than those committed by adults to involve another accused. In 2012, more than half (53%) of youth accused committed the homicide with at least one other accused person, compared to slightly less than one-third (31%) of accused persons 18 years of age and over.

Youth accused also appear more likely to be involved in gang-related homicides than adult accused. In total, almost one-third (30%) of youth accused were involved in a gang-related homicide in 2012 compared to slightly more than 1 in 10 (13%) adult accused.

There were no children (under the age of 12) accused of homicide in 2012. Over the past decade, a total of six homicide accused were children, all of which were male. It is important to note that children accused of homicide, or any offence for that matter, cannot be held criminally responsible in Canada.10

Alcohol and/or drug consumption common in homicide

Research suggests that there is an association between alcohol and drug consumption and violent crime, including homicide (e.g., Kuhns et al. 2013; Parker 2004). Since 1991, the Homicide Survey has collected information on whether or not the victim or accused person consumed alcohol, drugs or other intoxicants at the time of the homicide.11

In 2012, 246 persons accused of homicide had consumed alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicants, or 75% of accused persons for whom the information was known.12 In addition, there were 238 victims of homicides who had consumed an intoxicant, or 62% of all victims where the information was known.13

The proportion of all accused who were under the influence of an intoxicating substance remained relatively consistent across age groups, with the exception of youth accused (92%) who were more often intoxicated and accused persons 65 years and older (22%) who were less often intoxicated when compared to other age groups (Chart 15). In contrast, the proportion of victims who had consumed alcohol and/or drugs peaked among those between 18 and 24 years of age (81%) and then generally decreased with age.

Chart 15 Homicide victims and accused persons who had consumed alcohol and/or drugs, by age group, Canada, 2012

Description for chart 15

Mental or developmental disorders more common in older accused

Since 1997, the Homicide Survey has collected information about whether or not a person accused of homicide was suspected of suffering from a mental or developmental disorder (e.g., schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar disorder, dementia) during the time of the incident. It is important to note that this information is based on the interpretation and information gathered by the investigating officer and is not necessarily a medical or clinical diagnosis.

In 2012, police suspected or believed that 74 individuals accused of homicide had a mental or developmental disorder, or 20% of all accused persons for which this information was available.14 In general, the proportion of all accused suspected to have a mental or developmental disorder has been increasing since 2003. This trend continued in 2012, as the proportion of accused persons suspected of having a mental or developmental disorder reached its highest point since data became available 15 years ago.

Over the past decade, the suspected presence of a mental or developmental disorder was more likely to be reported among certain subsets of the population. More specifically, of all persons accused of homicide since 2002, a higher prevalence of suspected mental or developmental disorders was reported for females (20%) than for males (14%). In addition, age was a factor for both sexes. The proportion of accused suspected of having a mental or developmental disorder was highest for those 65 years and older (Chart 16).

Chart 16 Persons accused of homicide with a suspected mental or developmental disorder, by age group, Canada, 2002 to 2012

Description for chart 16

Summary

There were 543 homicides in 2012, 55 fewer than the previous year, resulting in the lowest homicide rate recorded since 1966. Almost all provinces and territories reported a decrease in the number of homicides in 2012, with the largest declines in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Homicide rates were typically highest in the western and northern parts of the country.

Shootings and stabbings were the most common methods of homicide in 2012. In total, 172 victims were killed by a firearm in 2012, 14 more than the previous year, whereas the number of fatal stabbings decreased by 40, from 204 victims in 2011 to 164 victims in 2012. The rate of gang-related homicides remained stable for the third consecutive year, with the majority (75%) of gang-related homicides continuing to be committed with a firearm.

As in previous years, most homicide victims knew their killer, with 84% of solved homicides committed by someone known to the victim. While the number of homicides committed by a family member or a criminal acquaintance remained relatively stable from the previous year, those committed by an acquaintance fell. The number of homicides committed by strangers decreased slightly in 2012, marking the lowest rate of homicide by a stranger in more than 40 years.

There were 34 youth accused of homicide in 2012, accounting for 7% of all accused persons. The rate of youth accused in 2012 was at its lowest point in more than 10 years. There were fewer homicides committed by both male and female youth.

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 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. 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. For incidents involving more than one accused, only the relationship between the victim and the closest accused is recorded.

Detailed data tables

Table 1a Number of homicides, by province or territory, 1982 to 2012

Table 1b Rate of homicides, by province or territory, 1982 to 2012

Table 2 Homicide victims and accused persons, by sex, Canada, 2002 to 2012

Table 3 Homicides, by census metropolitan area, 2011 and 2012

Table 4 Homicides, by type of method, Canada, 2002 to 2012

Table 5 Homicides, by shootings and stabbings, by selected census metropolitan areas, 2012

Table 6 Firearm-related homicides, by type of firearm, Canada, 2002 to 2012

Table 7 Number of gang-related homicides, by region, 2002 to 2012

Table 8 Gang-related homicides, by selected census metropolitan areas, 2012

Table 9 Homicides, by accused-victim relationship, Canada, 2011 and 2012

Table 10 Youth (12 to 17 years) accused of homicide, Canada, 2002 to 2012

References

Dauvergne, M. and G. Li. 2006. “Homicide in Canada, 2005.” Juristat. Vol. 26, no. 6. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. (accessed August 16, 2013).

Francisco, J. and C. Chénier. 2007. “A comparison of large urban, small urban and rural crime rates, 2005.” Juristat. Vol. 27, no. 3. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
(accessed September 3, 2013).

Hotton Mahony, T. and J. Turner. 2012. “Police-reported clearance rates in Canada, 2010.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. (accessed August 16, 2013).

Kuhns, J.B., M.L. Exum, T.A. Clodfelter and M.C. Bottia. 2013. “The prevalence of alcohol-involved homicide offending: A meta-analytic review.” Homicide Studies. p. 1-20.

Nivette, A. 2011. “Cross-national predictors of crime: A meta-analysis.” Homicide Studies. Vol. 15, no. 2. p. 103-131.

Parker, R.N. 2004. “Alcohol and violence: Connections, evidence, and possibilities for prevention.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Substance Abuse Research Consortium, Supplement 2. p. 157-163.

Perreault, S. 2012. “Homicide in Canada, 2011.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. (accessed August 19, 2013).

Perreault, S. 2013. “Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2012.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. (accessed August 15, 2013).

Sinha, M. 2013. “Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2011.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. (accessed August 12, 2013).

Shaw, M., J. Van Dijk and W. Rhomberg. 2003. “Determining trends in global crime and justice: An overview of results from the United Nations surveys of crime trends and operations of criminal justice systems.” Forum on Crime and Society. Vol. 3, nos. 1 and 2. p. 35-63.

Trussler, T. 2010. “Explaining the changing nature of homicide clearance in Canada.” International Criminal Justice Review. Vol. 20, no. 4. p. 366-383.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2011. 2011 Global Study on Homicide: Trends, Context, Data. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna.

Van Dijk, J. 2008. The World of Crime: Breaking the Silence on Problems of Security, Justice, and Development Across the World. Sage Publications.

Notes

  1. Peer countries were determined using a methodology developed by the Conference Board of Canada. The Conference Board of Canada began by selecting countries deemed “high income” by the World Bank, then eliminated countries with a population less than one million, as well as countries smaller than 10,000 square kilometres. Of the remaining countries, the Conference Board of Canada used a five year average of real income per capita and eliminated any countries that fell below the mean. Based on this criteria, a total of 17 countries remained.
  2. While rates in the territories tend to be higher than in the provinces, it is important to note that the actual number of homicides is consistently low. Furthermore, as a result of small populations, minor changes in the number of homicides can result in considerable year-over-year fluctuations in the rates.
  3. Prior to 1999, the Northwest Territories included Nunavut.
  4. A census metropolitan area (CMA) consists of one or more neighbouring municipalities situated around a major urban core. A CMA must have a total population of at least 100,000 of which 50,000 or more live in the urban core. To be included in the CMA, other adjacent municipalities must have a high degree of integration with the central urban area, as measured by commuting flows derived from census data. A CMA typically comprises more than one police service.
  5. Includes one homicide committed in a correctional institution in 2012.
  6. While a somewhat lower clearance rate may be expected for recent years since police have had less time to solve these homicides, previous research has found that the majority of solved homicides (70%) are solved within a week of occurring, another 25% within the year, and an additional 5% solved a year or more following the date of the homicide (Dauvergne and Li 2006).
  7. The homicide clearance rate represents the proportion of homicides solved by the police.
  8. The Homicide Survey does not currently collect information on the legal status of same-sex unions, therefore the same-sex relationship category includes both current and former legal spouses, common-law partners, as well as dating and other intimate relationships.
  9. Although prostitution is not illegal in Canada, many acts related to sex work are prohibited, such as public communication for the purpose of prostitution, living off the avails of prostitution, and operating or using a bawdy house.
  10. See Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-34, s. 13.
  11. The “drugs” category includes both legal and illegal substances. The “other intoxicants” category includes substances such as glue, aerosols, gasoline or other solvents.
  12. In 2012, this information was unknown or not reported by police for 32% of all accused persons.
  13. In 2012, this information was unknown or not reported by police for 26% of all victims age 12 and over.
  14. In 2012, this information was unknown or not reported by police for 22% of all accused persons.