Firearms and violent crime in Canada, 2012

By Adam Cotter

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While firearm-related violent crime accounts for a relatively small proportion of all violent crime in Canada, it can have considerable physical, emotional, and psychological effects on those who are victimized, on families, and on communities (Hahn et al. 2005). As a result, firearm-related violent crime is a significant social concern. In addition, about one in five (21%) firearm-related deaths in Canada is the result of a criminal offence, while the majority (79%) are the result of suicide, accident, or legal intervention (Statistics Canada 2012).

The analysis of firearm-related violent crime in this Juristat relies on two separate data sources. The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey provides data on firearms and police-reported violent crime while data on firearm-related homicides comes from the Homicide Survey. Quebec is excluded from the analysis of UCR data due to data quality issues; specifically, a large proportion of incidents where the most serious weapon present was reported as unknown. The analysis of firearm related homicides, however, includes all provinces and territories in Canada. As there are differences in coverage between the two data sources, they are used as separate yet complementary sources of data in order to analyze firearm-related violent crime in Canada.

Information on the types of firearm most frequently present and most frequently used in the commission of an offence, the relationship between the accused and victim, the level of injury, and the involvement of youth is presented. These findings are compared to violent crime committed without a firearm to further understand the nature of firearm-related violent crime in Canada. In addition to data from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey and the Homicide Survey, the Integrated Criminal Court Survey is used in this Juristat to examine court case processing of violent offences involving a firearm.

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Defining different types of firearm

For the purposes of the UCR and Homicide Surveys, a firearm is any barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet, or other missile can be discharged and that is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to a person.

Different types of firearm are distinguished as such by the two surveys (presented in descending order of seriousness according to the hierarchy for determining most serious weapon):

Fully automatic firearm: Any firearm that allows continuous and rapid firing of bullets with one pull of the trigger.

Sawed-off rifle/shotgun: Any rifle or shotgun with a barrel length which has been altered to less than 457 millimetres, or with an overall weapon length of less than 660 millimetres.

Handgun: Any firearm designed to be held and fired by the action of one hand.

Rifle/shotgun: Any long-barrelled firearm with a barrel length greater than or equal to 457 millimetres, or with an overall length of 660 millimetres or more.

Firearm-like weapon: Any weapon capable of propelling any object through a barrel by means of gunpowder, compressed carbon dioxide, pumped air, or any other means. Includes, for example, flare guns or pellet guns. For UCR data, this category also includes all unknown types of firearms.

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Most violent crime in Canada does not involve firearms

Firearms are present in a relatively small proportion of all police-reported violent crime in reporting provinces and territories. Excluding Quebec, police reported approximately 5,600 victims of violent crime where a firearm was present in 2012, a rate of 21 victims for every 100,000 population (Table 1A). In comparison, the rate of victims of non-firearm-related violent crime was about 49 times higher, at 1,033 victims per 100,000 population.

Firearm-related violent crime accounted for 2% of all victims of violent crime in 2012, a proportion that has remained stable over the past four years. For the large majority (81%) of victims of violent crime, there was no weapon present during the commission of the offence.1 A weapon other than a firearm, such as a knife or blunt instrument, was present in 17% of violent offences.

Although violent crime is generally decreasing, the rate of firearm-related violent crime is decreasing at a faster pace than violent crime that does not involve firearms. There were about 1,800 fewer victims of firearm-related violent crime in 2012 than there were in 2009, resulting in a 27% decrease in the rate of firearm-related violent crime (Chart 1).2 Since 2009, the rate of violent offences involving other weapons has decreased 9%, while the rate of offences involving the use of physical force, threat, or no weapon has decreased 14%.

Chart 1

Description for chart 1

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Firearm-related violent crime and physical injury

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey includes two distinct ways of measuring firearm-related violent crime in Canada: most serious weapon present, which is used throughout this Juristat, and weapon causing injury, which is used in this text box.

Most serious weapon present collects information on the most serious weapon present during the commission of the crime, regardless of whether or not the weapon was used. This variable captures incidents where a firearm was used against a victim causing injury, used against a victim without causing injury (i.e., as a threat), or was present during the offence and was not used in any manner. It is not possible to distinguish which of these scenarios occurred.

Weapon causing injury indicates the type of weapon used during the commission of a violent offence if the victim suffered a physical injury as a result of a weapon. While this captures information on the weapon used against victims, it does not include information on weapons used if no injury was suffered (e.g., if a victim was threatened with a weapon but the use did not cause physical injury). If multiple weapons were used to inflict injury, the weapon that was used to cause the most physical injury is recorded. Weapon causing injury does not capture incidents where the firearm was used or fired but missed the victim.

A large majority of injuries that occur as the result of a violent crime are not caused by firearms. In 2012, police reported approximately 134,000 victims of violent crime who suffered at least minor physical injury, accounting for under half (47%) of all victims of violent crime (Table 1B). Of these victims, about 107,600 were injured by the use of physical force, and a further 24,776 were injured by the use of a non-firearm weapon. The remaining 1% of these victims (1,325) were injured due to the use of a firearm.

While a small minority of victims of violent crime are injured due to the use of a firearm, these injuries are typically more serious than those caused by the use of other weapons or physical force. The use of a firearm resulted in major physical injury or death of the victim in 33% of incidents where an injury was suffered, a higher proportion than violent offences involving other weapons (14%) or physical force (4%) (Text box chart 1).

Textbox chart 1

Description for textbox chart 1

While there were approximately 5,600 police-reported violent offences where a firearm was present in 2012, there were about 1,300 police-reported incidents where a firearm was used and an injury was suffered as a result (Table 1B). This suggests that, when firearms are present in the commission of a violent offence, they may not be fired or otherwise used to directly cause physical harm in the majority of cases. However, when they are used, they are more likely to cause serious or fatal injury than other types of weapons or physical force.

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Firearms most frequently present in attempted murders

Aside from the violent Criminal Code offences that by definition involve firearms3, firearms are present in some violent offences more frequently than others. In 2012, a firearm was present in four in ten (42%) attempted murders (Table 1A, Chart 2). While attempted murders involved the presence of firearms more often than other types of violent crime (42%), firearms were not present in the majority of incidents. In 49% of all attempted murders, a weapon other than a firearm was present. Furthermore, 2,368 robberies involved a firearm, accounting for 12% of all robberies in 2012.

Chart 2

Description for chart 2

Some types of firearms are present more frequently than others in violent crimes. Of all violent crimes where a firearm was present in 2012, the majority (57%) involved handguns (Table 2). In addition, a rifle or shotgun was present in 16% of firearm-related violent offences, and 4% involved another type of firearm.4 In the remaining 23%, a firearm-like weapon, such as a pellet gun or flare gun, or an unknown type of firearm, was present.

Firearm-related homicides increase in 2012

Homicides account for very few violent crimes in Canada (Perreault 2013), yet are often used as a barometer for the level of violence within a society (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011). There were 172 homicides committed with a firearm in 2012, 14 more than the previous year (Table 3). Consistent with previous years, shootings, along with stabbings, were the most common methods used to commit homicide in 2012, accounting for 33% and 31% of all homicides, respectively. Beating (21%) was the next most frequent cause of death.

After reaching its lowest rate since 1971 in 2011, the rate of firearm-related homicide increased 8% to 0.49 per 100,000 population in 2012. Similar to the overall homicide rate (Boyce and Cotter 2013), the rate of firearm-related homicide peaked in 1975 (1.26 per 100,000 population), and then began to decrease. Following an increase in the early 1990s, the firearm-related homicide rate has generally been declining (Chart 3).

Chart 3

Description for chart 3

Rates of both firearm-related and non-firearm-related homicide have decreased since peaking in the 1970s. Over this period, however, the rate of firearm-related homicide has declined at a faster rate than non-firearm-related homicide. Since 1972, the firearm-related homicide rate has decreased 45%, while the non-firearm-related homicide rate has decreased 22%.

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Firearm restrictions in Canada and other countries

Canadian legislation classifies firearms into three categories: prohibited, restricted, and non-restricted. Prohibited firearms include assault weapons, fully automatic firearms, and sawed-off rifles or shotguns. Handguns are generally classified as restricted weapons, while rifles and shotguns are usually non-restricted.

Canadian law requires that an individual has a valid license under the Firearms Act in order to own or possess a firearm or to purchase ammunition. There is a screening process that must be completed prior to obtaining a firearm license, which includes a safety course, criminal history and background check, personal references, and a mandatory waiting period (Royal Canadian Mounted Police 2013). Until April 5, 2012, all three categories of firearms were required by law to be registered; in 2012, the requirement to register non-restricted firearms was revoked (Royal Canadian Mounted Police 2013). Due to legal action, the registration of non-restricted firearms is ongoing in Quebec.  

As of the end of 2011, prior to the repeal of the requirement to register non-restricted firearms, there were approximately 7 million non-restricted firearms registered in Canada. In 2012, there were about 800,000 registered firearms in Canada among approximately 2 million licensed owners. In addition, about 2,400 individuals had their firearms license revoked and about 500 individuals were denied a firearm license, most frequently as the result of a court-ordered prohibition or as a condition of probation. Public service agencies reporting to the Canadian Firearms Program indicated that roughly 32,000 firearms were seized in 2012 (Royal Canadian Mounted Police 2013).

Other countries

In the United States, which has a comparatively high rate of firearm homicide (see Chart 4), firearm regulations are state-specific and therefore vary across the country. Relatively few states place restrictions on the possession of firearms. A license to own a rifle or shotgun is required in four states, while a license is needed to possess a handgun in five states. While eight states require handguns to be registered, only the District of Columbia and Hawaii mandate the registration of long guns. In 2007, there were 89 firearms for every 100 citizens in the United States, the highest rate of gun ownership of any country (Berman et al. 2007).

Japan, which in contrast typically has a very low rate of firearm-related homicide (see Chart 4), has had strict gun control legislation in place since the end of World War II. The possession of firearms by private citizens was banned in 1946, although exceptions are allowed for firearms used for hunting following a laborious application and registration process. Citizens can be automatically disqualified from receiving an exception for a number of reasons, including being under 18, having declared bankruptcy, having certain specified health problems, having violated the law, or being reasonably expected to cause harm to his or her self, others, or property (Umeda 2013).

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Canada’s firearm-related homicide rate higher than several peer countries

When looking at firearm-related homicide rates in comparable countries, Canada’s rate is about seven times lower than that of the United States (3.5 per 100,000 population), although it is higher than several other peer5 countries (Chart 4). While Canada’s firearm-related homicide rate is similar to those in Ireland and Switzerland, it is significantly higher than the rates in Japan (0.01 per 100,000 population) and the United Kingdom (0.06 per 100,000 population).

Chart 4

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Firearm-related violent crime in the United States

Violent crime in the United States tends to involve firearms more frequently than violent crime in Canada. There were 8,813 homicides involving firearms in the United States in 2012, accounting for 69% of all homicides, while in Canada, firearms accounted for 33% of homicides.6 Similar to Canada, the majority (72%) of firearm-related homicides in the United States were committed using a handgun.  

In addition, when looking at specific offences, the rate of firearm-related crime is higher in the United States than in Canada. In the United States, a firearm was present in 22% of all major assaults, compared to 4% in Canada (Text box 4 table).7 The rate of firearm-related major assault in the United States was about ten times higher than in Canada in 2012 (53 per 100,000 compared to 5 per 100,000). Similarly, robbery in the United States was more likely to involve a firearm than robbery in Canada (41% of all robberies versus 12%).

Text box 4 table
Firearm-related violent crime, by selected offences, Canada and the United States, 2012
Table summary
This table displays the results of Firearm-related violent crime. The information is grouped by Offence (appearing as row headers), Firearm-related violent crime, calculated using number, percent of total offences and rate units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Offence Firearm-related violent crime
number percent of total offencesNote 1 rateNote 2
Canada  
Homicide 172 33 0.5
Major assaultNote 3Note 4 1,459 4 5.5
RobberyNote 4 2,368 12 8.9
United States  
HomicideNote 5 8,813 69 3.5
Major assaultNote 3 143,119 22 52.8
Robbery 122,174 41 45.1

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Most firearm-related homicides involve handguns

Handguns are the most frequently used firearm in the commission of homicide. Handguns were used in the majority (62%) of firearm-related homicides in 2012, followed by rifles or shotguns (23%). Prior to 1991, firearm-related homicides were most frequently committed with a rifle or shotgun.

In the early 1990s, the rate of homicides committed with a handgun surpassed that of homicides committed with a rifle or shotgun for the first time. Since 1995, handguns have accounted for the majority of firearm-related homicides (Chart 5).

Chart 5

Description for chart 5

The decrease in the rate of homicides committed with a rifle or shotgun also coincides with the decrease in the overall firearm-related homicide rate. Both firearm-related homicide and homicide committed with a rifle or shotgun peaked in 1975; since that year, the rate of homicides committed using a rifle or shotgun has decreased 86%. The rates of homicide committed with handguns or other firearms have also decreased since 1975, but at a much slower pace (-19% and -18%, respectively).

Firearm homicides more likely to be gang-related

Firearm-related homicides are more likely to be related to organized crime or street gang activity than homicides committed without the use of a firearm.8 Over the past two decades, the rate of gang-related homicide committed with a firearm has been consistently higher than the rate of gang-related homicide committed with another weapon (Chart 6).

Chart 6

Description for chart 6

In 2012, about half (46%) of all homicides committed with a firearm were gang-related, compared to fewer than one in ten homicides committed with another type of weapon or with physical force (8% and 5%, respectively). Three-quarters (75%) of gang-related homicides involving firearms were committed with the use of a handgun, with fully automatic firearms (10%) the next most frequently used type of firearm in gang-related homicides.

Firearm-related robbery continues to decline

Similar to the long-term trend in the firearm-related homicide rate, the rate of firearm-related robbery has also been decreasing.9 In 2012, there were 10 firearm-related robberies per 100,000 population, a decrease of 55% from 1998 (Chart 7).10 This decrease in firearm-related robbery has driven the overall decrease in the rate of robbery, which was 27% lower in 2012 than in 1998. Robbery which involved the use of some other type of weapon was at a rate 36% lower in 2012 than in 1998, whereas the rate of robbery that did not involve a weapon peaked in 2006, but was 8% lower in 2012 than it was in 1998.

Chart 7

Description for chart 7

Firearm-related robbery has also declined as a proportion of all robberies. In 2012, about one in ten (13%) robberies were firearm-related, compared to one in three (33%) in 1982.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba report highest rates of firearm-related violent crime

Firearm-related violent crime varies across the provinces and territories. Among the reporting provinces, consistent with trends in crime in general (Perreault 2013), rates of firearm-related violent crime were highest in Saskatchewan (34 per 100,000 population) and Manitoba (32 per 100,000) (Table 4, Chart 8). Saskatchewan and Manitoba also reported the highest rates of non-firearm-related violent crime among reporting provinces in 2012 (1,879 and 1,667 per 100,000 population, respectively). In contrast, rates of firearm-related violent crime were lowest in Prince Edward Island (11 per 100,000) and Newfoundland and Labrador (15 per 100,000).

Chart 8

Description for chart 8

Rates of violent crime are generally higher in the territories than in the provinces (Perreault 2013). Nunavut (154 per 100,000 population) and the Northwest Territories (39 per 100,000) had firearm-related violent crime rates that were higher than any reporting province. Yukon (17 per 100,000), on the other hand, had a firearm-related violent crime rate that was lower than all but three reporting provinces: Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. All three territories reported non-firearm-related violent crime rates higher than any province.

Handguns are the most frequently present type of firearm in violent crime, and the rate and proportion of their presence differs across the provinces. Looking at the use of handguns specifically, the highest rate among reporting provinces was found in Nova Scotia (16 per 100,000 population), followed by British Columbia (15 per 100,000) (data not shown). Saskatchewan (9 per 100,000) and Manitoba (11 per 100,000), in contrast, recorded rates of handgun-related violent crime that were below the national average (12 per 100,000). While Ontario’s rate of handgun-related violent crime was virtually equal to the rate of all reporting provinces and territories, about two-thirds (68%) of firearm-related violent crime involved handguns, the highest such proportion among the provinces and territories (Table 5).

While Saskatchewan and Manitoba ranked highest among provinces in terms of firearm-related violent crime, they did not have the highest provincial rates of firearm-related homicides. In 2012, Nova Scotia (0.84 per 100,000 population) and Alberta (0.75 per 100,000) recorded the highest rates of firearm-related homicide among the provinces. While both Nova Scotia and Alberta had one more firearm-related homicide than the previous year, much of the overall increase in firearm-related homicides was driven by an increase in Ontario (+11). For the first time since 2006, there were no firearm-related homicides in any of the territories. In addition, there were no firearm-related homicides in Prince Edward Island for the 23rd consecutive year.

Halifax CMA has highest rate of firearm-related violence

Generally, the rates of firearm-related violent crime are virtually equal in census metropolitan areas11 (CMAs) and non-CMAs. In 2012, both CMAs and non-CMAs recorded 21 victims of firearm-related violent crime for every 100,000 population

Halifax, with 41 victims of firearm-related violent crime per 100,000 population, recorded the highest rates among reporting CMAs in 2012, followed by Moncton (39 per 100,000 population) (Table 6, Chart 9). Saskatoon (38 per 100,000) and Hamilton (33 per 100,000) were the next highest, while the lowest rates were found in the CMAs of Greater Sudbury (6 per 100,000) and St. John’s (4 per 100,000).

Chart 9

Description for chart 9

Halifax also recorded the highest rate of firearm-related homicide (1.93 victims per 100,000 population) among the CMAs for the second straight year (Table 7). Just under half (45%) of all firearm-related homicides in 2012 occurred in one of Canada’s three largest CMAs: Toronto (38 homicides), Montréal (20), or Vancouver (20). While these three CMAs had the greatest number of firearm-related homicides among CMAs, due to their large populations, their firearm-related homicide rates did not rank among the three highest. Sixteen CMAs reported zero firearm-related homicides in 2012.

Handguns more often present in CMAs; rifles and shotguns in non-CMAs

The type of firearm that is most frequently present in firearm-related violent crime differs between CMAs, where handguns are most commonly present, and non-CMA areas, where rifles and shotguns account for a greater proportion. Handguns were present in seven of ten (70%) firearm-related violent offences in CMAs, compared to about one in four (26%) firearm-related violent crimes in non-CMA areas (Table 8). In non-CMA areas, rifles or shotguns were more frequently present than handguns (33% and 26% respectively). In general, larger CMAs report a larger proportion of handguns present in firearm-related violent crime compared to smaller CMAs. For example, in Toronto, Canada’s largest CMA, a handgun was present for more than eight in ten (82%) victims of firearm-related violent crime, the highest proportion among Canada’s CMAs. Greater Sudbury (10%) and Thunder Bay (13%) recorded the lowest proportion of handguns present in firearm-related violent crime.

The rate of violent crime where handguns were present was over twice as high in CMAs than in non-CMAs (14 per 100,000 compared to 6 per 100,000), while the rate of violent crime involving rifles or shotguns was about 4 times higher in non-CMA areas compared to CMAs (7.4 and 1.8, respectively). Among the reporting CMAs, Moncton (31 victims per 100,000 population) and Halifax (30 per 100,000) recorded the highest rates of handgun-related violent crime in 2012, while Greater Sudbury (1) and Thunder Bay (1) reported the lowest rates.

Most victims of firearm-related violent crime are male

While, on the whole, about half of all victims of violent crime are male, victims of firearm-related violent crime are more likely to be male. In 2012, two-thirds (67%) of all victims of firearm-related violent crime were male, compared to just under half (48%) of victims of violent crime committed where another weapon or physical force was present.

Similarly, while homicide victims are typically male, a higher proportion of victims of firearm-related homicide are male. In 2012, 84% of victims of firearm-related homicide were male, compared to 67% of victims of non-firearm-related homicide – proportions which have been relatively stable over the past decade.

Firearm-related violent crime more likely to be committed by a stranger

While it is generally the case that victims of violent crime know the accused person, this did not hold true for victims of firearm-related violent crime in 2012. The majority (60%) of victims of firearm-related violent crime were victimized by a stranger, compared to about four in ten (36%) victims of violent crime involving another weapon, and one-quarter (25%) of victims of violent crime where no weapon was present (Chart 10). Violent crime committed by intimate partners12, family members, or acquaintances were less likely to have firearms present.

Chart 10

Description for chart 10

Despite this, firearm-related homicides were most frequently committed by a friend or acquaintance of the victim in 2012, accounting for 38% of solved homicides. However, when compared to homicides committed with physical force or another weapon, firearm-related homicides were more likely to be committed by a stranger (14% of solved homicides compared to 23%).

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Administrative weapon offences

Not all crime involving firearms is violent. In addition to the information on weapons present in the commission of a violent criminal offence, the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey also captures information on administrative weapons offences, including those that involve firearms, such as possession, unsafe storage, or improper documentation. There were about 14,000 such offences reported in 2012, representing a rate of 41 per 100,000 population (Text box 5 table). The majority of these were possession offences.

Text box 5 table
Administrative weapons offences, Canada, 2011 and 2012
Table summary
This table displays the results of Administrative weapons offences. The information is grouped by Offence (appearing as row headers), 2011 and 2012, calculated using number and rate units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Offence 2011 2012
number rateNote 1 number rateNote 1
Possession of weapons 11,260 32.7 11,144 32.0
Unsafe storage of firearms 1,077 3.1 1,109 3.2
Weapons possession contrary to order 812 2.4 819 2.4
Firearms documentation or administration 420 1.2 418 1.2
Offensive weapons, explosives 208 0.6 248 0.7
Weapons trafficking 134 0.4 113 0.3
Unauthorized importing or exporting of weapons 75 0.2 72 0.2
Offensive weapons, prohibited 14 0.0 18 0.1
Offensive weapons, restricted 3 0.0 5 0.0
Total weapons offences 14,003 40.6 13,946 40.0

In addition, the UCR Survey also collects information on property stolen during the commission of an offence. In 2012, there were about 3,000 incidents where at least one firearm was among the property reported stolen. Furthermore, for some offences, there is a distinct Criminal Code section that applies when the intent is to steal a firearm: robbery to steal a firearm, break and enter to steal a firearm, and break and enter of a motor vehicle to steal a firearm. In total, there were just over 900 such incidents reported to police in 2012.

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Persons accused of firearm-related violent crime typically young, male

In general, persons accused of firearm-related violent crime have similar characteristics as those accused of violent crime involving other types of weapons. Regardless of the most serious weapon present, individuals between the ages of 18 to 24 are most frequently accused of violent crime. For every 100,000 individuals between the ages of 18 to 24, there were 50 accused of firearm-related violent crime, 331 accused of violent crime involving another weapon, and 1,495 accused of violent crime not involving a weapon. Youth (ages 12 to 17) had the next highest rate of individuals accused of firearm-related violent crime (43 per 100,000), followed by those between the ages of 25 and 34 (22 per 100,000).

In the reporting provinces and territories in 2012, there were 16 individuals accused of firearm-related violent crime for every 100,000 population over the age of 12 (Table 9). Among the reporting provinces, rates of accused were highest in Saskatchewan (36 per 100,000) and Manitoba (27), while they were lowest in Prince Edward Island (6), Ontario (13), and British Columbia (13).

In addition, for firearm-related violent crime as well as violent crime not involving firearms, the accused persons are typically male. More than nine in ten (92%) of all persons accused of firearm-related violent crime were male, as were more than three-quarters of those accused of violent crime involving another weapon (77%) or no weapon (76%).

Youth account for one in five persons accused of firearm-related violent crime

A small proportion of youth accused of violent crime are accused of an offence where a firearm is present. Among youth accused of a violent crime, about 3% were accused of an offence where a firearm was present. While this was a small proportion of all youth accused of a violent offence, approximately one in five (21%) persons accused of firearm-related violent crime in 2012 were youth (between the ages of 12 and 17) (Table 9).

The rate of youth accused of firearm-related violent crime varies across the provinces. Saskatchewan (82 per 100,000 youth), Manitoba (77 per 100,000), and Nova Scotia (72 per 100,000) recorded the highest rates in 2012 (Chart 11). In contrast, among reporting provinces British Columbia (23 per 100,000) and Prince Edward Island (27 per 100,000) reported the lowest rates. Among the territories, the Northwest Territories (169 per 100,000 youth) and Nunavut (124 per 100,000) had rates that were substantially higher than the provinces, whereas Yukon did not report any youth accused of firearm-related violent crime in 2012.

Chart 11

Description for chart 11

The type of firearm present differs depending on the age of the accused person. Youth accused frequently possessed a firearm-like weapon, such as a pellet gun or flare gun, or an unknown type of firearm (44%), or a handgun (38%) (Table 10). A smaller proportion of youth possessed a rifle or shotgun (12%) or another type of firearm (5%). In contrast, a handgun was the most common type of firearm, present for over half (53%) of all persons between ages 18 and 54 accused of a firearm-related violent offence. For accused persons over the age of 55, a rifle or shotgun was the most frequently present weapon (46%).

Firearm-related violent crime less likely to be solved

When compared to incidents involving other weapons or no weapons, those involving firearms are less likely to be solved, or cleared, by police. In 2012, 44% of all firearm-related violent crime was cleared and charges were laid or recommended against the accused person, while a further 10% was cleared by other means, such as the death of the accused, and 45% was not solved by police. In comparison, in 2012, 30% of violent crime involving another weapon and 31% of violent crime involving no weapons was not solved by police.

Similarly, homicides involving firearms are less likely to be solved13 than homicides involving other weapons or physical force. In 2012, 55% of homicides involving firearms had been cleared through laying or recommending charges, suicide of the accused person, or otherwise. In contrast, almost nine in ten homicides involving physical force (89%) or another weapon (89%) had been solved by police, a trend which has been consistent over the past two decades (Chart 12).

Chart 12

Description for chart 12

Previous research has found that the presence of firearms is a significant factor in the likelihood of a homicide remaining unsolved. Multivariate analysis performed on homicide data from 1976 to 2005 indicated that, after controlling for age of victim, gender, marital status, location, time of incident, and number of victims, firearm-related homicide was 2.9 times more likely to be unsolved compared to homicides involving other weapons (Dauvergne and Li 2006). The relatively low clearance rate of firearm-related homicides may also be associated with the involvement of gangs (Hotton Mahoney and Turner 2012; Trussler 2010). The decline in solved homicides coincides with an increase in gang-related homicides, which generally are more difficult for police to solve (Armstrong et al. 2013). In 2012, over three-quarters (78%) of unsolved firearm-related homicides were gang-related.14

Over half of firearm-related violent offences result in finding of guilt

The presence of a firearm in the commission of a violent offence is also a factor when it comes to processing the case in Canada’s criminal courts. In 2011/2012, adults charged with a selected violent offence involving a firearm were found guilty in 53% of completed cases, compared to 40% of adults charged with the same offence not involving a firearm, based on analysis of the ten offences for which it is possible to distinguish whether or not a firearm was involved15. In general, 50% of all adult court cases involving violent offences resulted in a finding of guilt in 2011/2012 (Boyce 2013). Cases with a firearm-related violent offence were equally likely to end in acquittal compared to cases involving the same offences without a firearm (7% compared to 7%), but were less frequently stayed or withdrawn (38% compared to 49%).

The majority (76%) of the cases that were found guilty of a firearm-related violent offence received a custodial sentence, while over half (53%) included probation as part or all of the sentence.16 In contrast, of all cases completed in adult court in 2011/2012, 35% of those that were found guilty resulted in a sentence of custody (Boyce 2013). The relatively high frequency with which these offences result in a custodial sentence may be related to the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences in the Criminal Code, particularly as they apply to offences committed with a firearm. For about one-third (34%) of firearm-related cases that resulted in a custodial sentence, the length of custody was for a period of two years or more17, with a median sentence length of one year.18

Summary

There were approximately 5,600 victims of firearm-related violent crime in 2012, accounting for 2% of all victims of violent crime. The rate of firearm-related violent crime has decreased 27% since 2009, reaching 21 per 100,000 population in 2012. In 2012, most (57%) victims of firearm-related violent crime were involved in an incident that was handgun-related.

Rates of firearm-related violent crime differ across the provinces and territories, with Saskatchewan and Manitoba having the highest rates among the provinces, similar to violent crime in general. Rates of handgun violence are highest in CMAs, while rates of rifle or shotgun violent crime are higher in non-CMA areas.

There were 172 victims of firearm-related homicide in 2012, 14 more than the previous year. When compared to non-firearm homicide, firearm-related homicide is more likely to be related to gang or organized crime activity and less likely to be cleared by police.

Survey descriptions

Aggregate Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR1) Survey

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey was established in 1962 with the co-operation and assistance of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. The scope of the survey is Criminal Code offences and other federal statutes that have been reported to federal, provincial or municipal police services in Canada and that have been substantiated through investigation by these services.

Coverage of the UCR aggregate data reflects virtually 100% of the total caseload for all police services in Canada. One incident can involve multiple offences. In order to ensure comparability, counts presented in this article are based upon the most serious offence in the incident as determined by a standard classification rule used by all police services. Counts based upon all violations are available upon request.

Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey

The Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey collects detailed information on criminal incidents that have come to the attention of, and have been substantiated by Canadian police services. Information includes characteristics pertaining to incidents (weapon, location), victims (age, sex, accused-victim relationships) and accused persons (age, sex). In 2012, data from police services covered 99% of the population of Canada.

The UCR2 Trend Database (2009 to 2012) represents 99% of police services in Canada. Analysis of this four-year trend database is limited to a subset of offences. Offences where the victim information reported is complete are included in the subset, while incomplete records are excluded. In addition, offences are limited to those which have been classified in a consistent manner over the four-year period.

Homicide Survey

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.

Integrated Criminal Court Survey

The Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) is administered by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (Statistics Canada) in collaboration with provincial and territorial government departments responsible for criminal courts in Canada. The survey collects statistical information on adult and youth court cases involving Criminal Code and other federal statute offences. Data contained in this article represent the adult criminal court portion of the survey, namely, individuals who were 18 years of age or older at the time of the offence.

The primary unit of analysis is a case. A case is defined as one or more charges against an accused person or company that were processed by the courts at the same time and received a final decision. A case combines all charges against the same person having one or more key overlapping dates (date of offence, date of initiation, date of first appearance, date of decision, or date of sentencing) into a single case.

A case that has more than one charge is represented by the charge with the "most serious offence" (MSO). The most serious offence is selected using the following rules. First, court decisions are considered and the charge with the “most serious decision” (MSD) is selected. Court decisions for each charge in a case are ranked from most to least serious as follows: (1) guilty, (2) guilty of a lesser offence, (3) acquitted, (4) stay of proceeding, (5) withdrawn, dismissed or discharged, (6) not criminally responsible, (7) other, and (8) transfer of court jurisdiction.

Second, in cases where two or more charges result in the same MSD (e.g., guilty), Criminal Code sentences are considered. The charge with the most serious offence type is selected according to an offence seriousness scale, based on actual sentences handed down by courts in Canada. Each offence type is ranked by looking at (1) the proportion of guilty charges where custody was imposed and (2) the average (mean) length of custody for the specific type of offence. These values are multiplied together to arrive at the final seriousness ranking for each type of offence. If, after looking at the offence seriousness scale, two or more charges remain tied then information about the sentence type and duration of the sentence are considered (e.g., custody and length of custody, then probation and length of probation, etc.).

In 2011/2012, ICCS coverage reflects all cases completed in adult Canadian criminal courts with the exception of superior courts in Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well as municipal courts in Quebec. Information could not be extracted from these electronic reporting systems and was therefore unavailable.

The absence of data from superior courts in these five jurisdictions may have resulted in an underestimation of the severity of sentences since some of the most serious cases, which are likely to result in the most severe sentences, are processed in superior courts. There may also be an underestimation of case elapsed times as more serious cases generally require more court appearances and take more time to complete.

Cases are counted according to the fiscal year in which they are completed. Each year, the ICCS database is “frozen” at the end of March for the production of court statistics pertaining to the preceding fiscal year. However, these counts do not include cases that were pending an outcome at the end of the reference period. If a pending outcome is reached in the next fiscal year, then these cases are included in the completed case counts for that fiscal year. However, if a one-year period of inactivity elapses, then these cases are deemed complete and the originally published counts for the previous fiscal year are subsequently updated and reported in the next year’s release of the data. For example, upon the release of 2011/2012 data, the 2010/2011 data are updated with revisions for cases that were originally pending an outcome in 2010/2011 but have since been deemed complete due to a one-year period of inactivity. Data are revised once and are then permanently “frozen”. Historically, updates to a previous year’s numbers have resulted in an increase of about 2%.

Lastly, there are many factors that influence variations between jurisdictions. These may include Crown and police charging practices, the number, types and severity of offences, and various forms of diversion programs. Therefore, any comparisons between jurisdictions should be interpreted with caution.

Detailed data tables

Table 1A Victims of police-reported violent crime, by offence and most serious weapon present, Canada, 2012

Table 1B Victims of police-reported violent crime, by offence and weapon causing injury, Canada, 2012

Table 2 Victims of police-reported violent crime where a firearm was present, by type of firearm, Canada, 2012

Table 3 Victims of firearm-related homicide, by province and territory, Canada, 2011 and 2012

Table 4 Victims of violent crime, by type of weapon, by province and territory, 2012

Table 5 Victims of violent crime where a firearm was present, by type of firearm, by province and territory, 2012

Table 6 Victims of violent crime, by type of weapon, by census metropolitan area, 2012

Table 7 Victims of firearm-related homicide, by census metropolitan area, Canada, 2011 and 2012

Table 8 Victims of violent crime where a firearm was present, by type of firearm, by census metropolitan area, 2012

Table 9 Youth and adults accused of firearm-related violent crime, by province and territory, Canada, 2012

Table 10 Persons accused of police-reported violent crime where a firearm was present, by type of firearm, Canada, 2012

References

Armstrong, J., Plecas, D., & Cohen, I.M. (2013). The value of resources in solving homicides: The difference between gang related and non-gang related cases. Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research. University of the Fraser Valley.

Berman, E.G., Krause, K., Lebrun, E., & McDonald, G. (Eds.). (2007). Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the city. Cambridge University Press.

Boyce, J. (2013). Adult criminal court statistics in Canada, 2011/2012. Juristat. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Boyce, J. & Cotter, A. (2013). Homicide in Canada, 2012. Juristat. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Policing Services Program. (2013). Uniform Crime Reporting Incident-Based Survey Manual. Statistics Canada.

Dauvergne, M. & Li, G. (2006). Homicide in Canada, 2005. Juristat. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE, Vol. 26, no. 6.

Hahn, R.A., Bilukha, O., Crosby, A., Fullilove, M.T., Liberman, A., Moscicki, E., et al. (2005). Firearm laws and the reduction of violence: A systematic review. Annual Journal of Preventative Medicine, 28(2S1), 40-71.

Hotton Mahoney, T., & Turner, J. (2012). Police-reported clearance rates in Canada, 2010. Juristat. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

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

Royal Canadian Mounted Police. (2013). Commissioner of Firearms 2012 Report: The RCMP Canadian Firearms Program, Canada’s Authority on Firearms.

Statistics Canada. (2012). Table 102-0540 - Deaths, by cause, Chapter XX: External causes of morbidity and mortality (V01 to Y89), age group and sex, Canada, annual (number), CANSIM (database). (accessed September 10, 2013).

Trussler, T. (2010). Explaining the changing nature of homicide clearance in Canada. International Criminal Justice Review. Vol. 20(4).

Umeda, S. (2013). Firearms – control, legislation and policy: Japan. Washington,     DC: Library of  Congress. Accessed 28 February 2014 from http://www.loc.gov/law/ help/firearms-  control/japan.php.

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

Notes

  1. No weapon includes physical force and threats.
  2. Rates are based on the UCR2 Trend file, representing 99% of the population of Canada and including only those police services who have consistently responded in order to allow for comparisons over time.
  3. Includes using a firearm in the commission of an offence, unlawfully discharging a firearm, or pointing a firearm.
  4. Includes fully automatic firearms and sawed-off rifles/shotguns.
  5. 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.
  6. Percent calculation is based on the total number of homicides for which supplemental information (i.e., weapon used) was reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  7. In order to make comparisons between the FBI definition of aggravated assault and UCR offences, the major assault rate presented here includes assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm (level 2), aggravated assault (level 3), and attempted murder. For further information, see Gannon, Maire. 2001. “Crime comparisons between Canada and the United States”. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-XPE, vol. 21 no. 11.
  8. A homicide is classified as gang-related when the accused person and/or the victim involved in the homicide was either a member, or a prospective member, of an organized crime group or street gang, or was somehow associated with an organized crime group or street gang, and the offence was carried out as a result of this association. Prior to 2005, police were asked if the homicide was "gang-related". Beginning in 2005, the question was amended to give police the option of specifying whether the homicide was: (a) confirmed as gang-related or (b) "suspected" as being gang-related. As such, figures may be underestimated prior to 2005 due to "suspected" gang-related incidents that were excluded from the figures.
  9. Robbery-related rates, proportions, and trend data in this section are incident counts provided by the UCR Aggregate Survey. Other numbers in this Juristat related to robbery are victim counts provided by the incident-based UCR2 Survey. As a result, these numbers may not match other numbers presented in the text, tables, or charts.
  10. As a result of a methodological change to the way in which robbery incidents are counted by the UCR survey, revisions have been applied back to 1998. While this change resulted in a 12 to 13% increase in the number of robberies each year, it did not impact the trend over this period. For further information, see Wallace, Marnie, John Turner, Anthony Matarazzo and Colin Babyak. 2009. "Measuring Crime in Canada: Introducing the Crime Severity Index and Improvements to the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey". Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-004-X.
  11. 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.
  12. Intimate partner includes current and former legally married and common-law relationships, current and former same-sex relationships, and current and former dating relationships.
  13. Solved includes all homicides cleared by charge, cleared by suicide of the accused, or cleared otherwise.
  14. Percent calculation based on those homicides for which gang-related status was known. For 22% of unsolved firearm-related homicides in 2012, it was unknown whether or not the incident was gang-related.
  15. The following offences were used in all court-based comparisons: manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, attempted murder, causing bodily harm with intent, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, robbery, kidnapping, hostage-taking, and extortion. These ten offences are identified within the Criminal Code as unique offences when a firearm is involved in their commission. As such, it is possible to examine differences based on whether or not a firearm was present and/or used in the commission of these offences. Specific information on the Criminal Code sections, subsections, and paragraphs used in this analysis are available upon request.
  16. Cases can include more than one type of sentence; as a result, percentages will not add to 100.
  17. Length of custody data are not available from Manitoba. Since 2004/2005 for the Northwest Territories, the number of custody orders have been under-reported and the number of probation orders have been over-reported by unknown amounts due to clerical procedures. The majority of custody orders were captured as probation. Custodial sentence lengths exclude time spent in custody prior to sentencing and/or the amount of credit awarded for time spent in pre-sentence custody. The length of custodial sentences may be affected by time spent in pre-trial detention. For example, ‘time served', the time spent in custody prior to the decision of the court and sentencing, which often occurs with more serious offences, is likely to affect the sentence length. Excludes cases where the length of custody was unknown or indeterminate.
  18. Excludes cases in which the length of the custody sentence was unknown or indeterminate.