Police-reported crime in Canada's Provincial North and Territories, 2013

by Mary Allen and Samuel Perreault

[Highlights] [Full article in PDF]

Skip to text

Text begins

Police-reported crime statistics and self-reported victimization studies show that levels of crime in the Territories tend to be higher than in the rest of Canada. In 2013, police-reported crime was substantially higher in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut than in any of the provinces, with a Crime Severity Index (CSI) for the Territories three times higher than the national average (Boyce et al. 2014, Charron et al. 2010, Perreault and Hotton Mahoney 2012).

While levels of police-reported crime are high in the Territories, they are not the only Canadian northern regions where crime is an issue. The conditions and challenges faced in the north are not confined within territorial borders. Communities in the northern regions of the western provinces, northern Ontario, northern Quebec and northern Newfoundland and Labrador share many similarities with their northern neighbours as well as a common concern over high crime rates.

Recent research and policy discussions related to common northern issues have expanded the scope of "the North� to include the northern parts of some provinces, referred to in this report as the "Provincial North� (Coates and Poelzer 2014, Conference Board of Canada 2014, McNiven 1999, Wilson and Poelzer 2005).

This extension of the north to include the northern regions of the provinces with the territories is also relevant to policing and the justice system. A 2012 Symposium on Policing in Northern and Remote Canada, for example, included the northern and remote regions of the provinces in its discussions of a wide variety of challenges for policing in the north. However, data to inform such discussions for the expanded "North� are limited. While police-reported crime statistics are regularly published for the Territories, in contrast, there has been little information available on crime in the Provincial North.Note 1

In both the Territories and Provincial North, crime is a serious concern in communities already faced with a variety of social and economic problems. Many northerners live in small, isolated communities or remote areas and face the challenges of low education levels, high unemployment, and low income (Statistics Canada 2013c). These conditions are often accompanied by high levels of substance abuse, particularly alcohol (Ajunnginq Centre 2007, Collins 2006, Nunavut Tunngavik 2014, NWT Health and Social Services 2010).

According to the 2009 General Social Survey on Victimization which collected self-reported information on certain types of crime, one-third of residents in the three territories reported that they were victims of at least one criminal incident in the 12 months preceding the survey.Note 2 The survey found that victimization rates were higher among individuals with low income. In addition, about three-quarters of self-reported violent incidents in the Territories were said to be related to alcohol or drug use by the perpetrator (Perreault and Hotton Mahoney 2012).

Currently, there is particular concern about high rates of victimization among the Aboriginal populations who comprise a large proportion of the population in the North. In the Territories, victimization rates among Aboriginal populations in 2009 were notably higher than for non-Aboriginal populations (Perreault and Hotton Mahony 2012). Regardless of region, high rates of victimization among Aboriginal populations, specifically among Aboriginal women, are a special concern for multiple levels of government (Brennan 2011, Perreault 2011, Royal Canadian Mounted Police 2014).

Social and economic conditions vary considerably across the Provincial North and Territories, and crime in these regions is not necessarily driven by poverty. Northern development, often based on resource exploration and extraction, can result in high levels of employment and income. The "boomtown� conditions arising from rapid development have also been shown to be related to higher rates of crime (Ruddell and Ortiz 2014).

While there have been some studies focusing on specific northern regions or communities, there has been no comprehensive analysis of crime in the Provincial North and Territories as a whole. In the context of the diversity of the Provincial North and the Territories, this Juristat uses data from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) survey to examine the nature and extent of police-reported crime in these northern regions, as compared to police-reported crime in the South. The analysis will focus on types of crime and characteristics of the perpetrators and victims in these different regions.

Definition of the North

For this report, Canada's "North� includes the three territories and the "Provincial North� which encompasses the northern regions of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador. While there is no standard definition or delineation of this provincial northern region, the definition agreed upon by the Northern Development Ministers Forum (NDMF) and used by the Conference Board of Canada's Centre for the North provides a generally accepted definition which is consistent with the sources of data used in this analysis (Conference Board of Canada 2014, Northern Development Ministers Forum n.d.).Note 3 It is this methodology that is used for the purpose of this Juristat. Figure 1 below shows the line which, based on this methodology, delineates the North from the South within the provinces. The "South�, according to this methodology, refers to the provincial regions below the line as well as Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

For the most part, these northern boundaries reflect provincial administrative regions. For example, the boundary in northern Saskatchewan approximates the Saskatchewan Northern Administration District. By this definition, northern Saskatchewan shows the greatest similarity in demographic and socio-economic conditions to the Territories. It is a region of relatively remote, smaller communities with little economic development compared to the northern-defined regions in other provinces such as Ontario, Quebec, or Alberta, which are demographically more varied, and include larger population centres.

The size and distribution of the population in the North varies considerably by province (Text Table 1). Northern Ontario, for example, has a population around 800,000 and includes the Census Metropolitan Areas (CMA) of Sudbury and Thunder Bay and Quebec's North includes Saguenay. Northern Saskatchewan, in contrast, has a very small population (under 40,000) and no communities with a population over 3,000 (Statistics Canada 2013a).

The nature of economic development and socio-economic conditions in northern regions also varies considerably between provinces. As is the case in the South, the provincial northern regions are diverse with different populations and economic and social characteristics. Some of these differences are presented in the next section and should be considered when making provincial comparisons.

See the "Survey Description� section for a brief description of the northern delineation by province.

Figure 1: Delineating northern and southern Canada

map 1

Description for figure 1 – Delineating northern and southern Canada

Text Table 1
Distribution of population by north-south region, by province and territory, 2013
Table summary
This table displays the results of Distribution of population by north-south region. The information is grouped by Province and territory (appearing as row headers), Population, South, North and Total, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province and territory Population South North Total
number percent
Total provinces 35,042,476 94 6 100
Newfoundland and Labrador 526,702 95 5 100
Prince Edward Island 145,237 100 0 100
Nova Scotia 940,789 100 0 100
New Brunswick 756,050 100 0 100
Quebec 8,155,334 95 5 100
Ontario 13,537,994 94 6 100
Manitoba 1,265,015 92 8 100
Saskatchewan 1,108,303 96 4 100
Alberta 4,025,074 90 10 100
British Columbia 4,581,978 93 7 100
Total territories 115,828 0 100 100
Yukon 36,700 0 100 100
Northwest Territories 43,537 0 100 100
Nunavut 35,591 0 100 100
Canada 35,158,304 94 6 100

Characteristics of the Provincial North and the Territories

The boundary defining Canada's Provincial North in this analysis is based on the northern definition of the Northern Development Ministers Forum (NDMF), and reflects provincial administrative regions. The resulting northern regions in each province are not necessarily comparable in terms of their demographic and socio-economic conditions. Some northern regions include large metropolitan areas or regions of economic development while others are more remote. Similarly, social and economic conditions in the three territories also vary considerably.

These different conditions can have an impact on the nature of crime in the North. It is therefore important to consider the demographic and socio-economic context in each of the provincial and territorial northern jurisdictions when making comparisons. This section lays out a variety of demographic and socio-economic measures primarily based on the 2011 Census and 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) (Table 1).

One of the most obvious differences between provincial and territorial northern regions is demographic. There were large differences in the size of the populations served by police in the northern regions in 2013, from under 50,000 in northern Saskatchewan, northern Newfoundland and Labrador and the three territories to over 800,000 in northern Ontario (Text table 1).Note 4 These differences reflect the presence of large population centres in Ontario and Quebec, as well as in Alberta and British Columbia. The percentage of the northern population living in rural areas (outside Census Metropolitan Areas or Census Agglomerations) ranges from less than 40% in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia to 100% in northern Newfoundland and Labrador and northern Saskatchewan.Note 5

In addition, the proportion of the population in the North with Aboriginal identity also varies by province and territory. While over two-thirds of the Aboriginal population in Canada resides in the South, the Aboriginal population makes up a large portion of the population in some regions of the Provincial North and the Territories.Note 6 According to the 2011 NHS, Aboriginal people accounted for the majority of the population in northern Saskatchewan (87%), Nunavut (86%), northern Manitoba (69%) and the Northwest Territories (52%). In Yukon (23%), northern British Columbia (19%), northern Alberta (17%), northern Ontario and northern Quebec (both 13%), Aboriginal people made up less than 25% of the total population. In northern Newfoundland and Labrador, the proportion was 44%.

In general, populations in the Provincial North and the Territories tend to be slightly younger than in the South. In 2011, the proportion of the population less than 18 years old was 23% in the Provincial North and 28% in the Territories compared to 20% in the South. However, the age profile of the northern regions varies by province and territory. In northern Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba and Nunavut, children and youth made up over 35% of the population. In contrast, they comprised 20% of the population in the northern parts of Quebec and Ontario. These differences in the overall age distribution of the northern regions are primarily explained by the high proportion of children and youth among the Aboriginal populations. Over one-third of the Aboriginal population in the Provincial North (36%) and Territories (38%) was under age 18.Note 7

The younger populations in some regions may also be reflected in family size. The northern parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as Nunavut, had the highest percentage of families with five or more members in 2011. These were also the regions where families were more likely to be lone parent families.

Generally, individuals in the Provincial North and the Territories are less likely to complete high school than their southern counterparts, but this varied by region. The proportion of adults without high school or any completed postsecondary education in 2011 was particularly high in northern Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan and Nunavut.Note 8

Unemployment is high in many parts of the Provincial North and Territories.Note 9 In 2011, individuals in most northern regions of the provinces were more likely to be looking for work than in the South (with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, where unemployment was high in both north and south, and Alberta where unemployment was low in both north and south).

Many individuals in the Provincial North and the Territories did not participate in the labour force in 2011. They were not employed and they were not looking for work.Note 10 In northern Saskatchewan, in particular, the NHS found that over half of individuals age 15 and over (53%) were not in the labour force during the week of Sunday, May 1 to Saturday, May 7, 2011. Combined with an unemployment rate of 18%, this means that just 38% of working age individuals in northern Saskatchewan were employed (compared to 66% in southern Saskatchewan, and 58% in the Provincial North overall).

Income includes earnings as well as other income such as government support payments. While the northern regions of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in 2011 had particularly high proportions of the population in the bottom income quintile, other jurisdictions did not show the same large north/south difference in levels of low income.Note 11

Police-reported crime in the Provincial North and the Territories is notably high compared to the rest of Canada

Police-reported crime in the Provincial North and the Territories is notably high compared to the rest of Canada. Among the 50 police services that reported the highest Crime Severity Indexes (CSIs) in 2013, 32 were located in the Provincial North, 8 in the Territories and 10 in the South, even though the vast majority of the population and police services were located in southern Canada.Note 12

About 6% of the Canadian population lives in the Provincial North and 0.3% in the Territories. However, these regions accounted for 12% and 2% of police-reported criminal incidents in 2013, respectively. There were about 221,000 criminal incidents reported in the Provincial North in 2013 and about 40,000 in the Territories, compared to over 1.5 million in the South. Once the size of the population is factored in, however, both areas have substantially high crime rates compared to the South.

In 2013, the police-reported crime rate was 10,425 criminal incidents per 100,000 population in the Provincial North and 34,594 per 100,000 population in the Territories. These rates were two and seven times higher respectively than the rate of 4,749 per 100,000 population in the South (Table 2, Chart 1).

Chart 1

Description for chart 1

While rates of both violent and non-violent crime are higher in the Provincial North and Territories, much of the difference in overall crime rates is attributable to non-violent offences, particularly mischief and disturbing the peace.

In addition to a higher volume of police-reported crime in the Provincial North and Territories, the Crime Severity Index (CSI), which takes into account both the volume and seriousness of police-reported crime, was also notably higher in the Provincial North (113.7) and the Territories (257.3) than in the southern part of the provinces (65.1) (Table 2 and Table 3).

Police-reported crime in the North varies substantially across provinces and territories

In all provinces with northern regions, the police-reported crime rate and the CSI in 2013 were higher in the northern part than in the southern part. There were, however, substantial differences across the provincial and territorial North whereas levels of crime in the South did not range as widely by province (Figure 2 and 3, Table 2).

Figure 2: Police-reported crime rate by north-south region

map 2 – Police-reported crime rate, by north-south region, 2013

Description of figure 2 – Police-reported crime rate, by north-south region, 2013

Northern Saskatchewan had the highest police-reported crime rate and CSI in the North. The Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and northern Manitoba also had notably high levels of crime, followed by Yukon and northern Newfoundland and Labrador.

Some northern regions had relatively low levels of police-reported crime. Among the northern regions examined in this report, the lowest crime rates and CSI were noted in northern Quebec, where the crime rate was lower than the rate for Canada overall. Northern Ontario also reported relatively low crime rates and CSI. In fact, both northern Ontario and northern Quebec reported crime rates and CSIs at levels similar to or lower than those reported in the southern parts of the western provinces.

Figure 3: Police-reported Crime Severity Index (CSI) by North-South region

map 3 – Police-reported Crime Severity Index, by north-south region, 2013

Description of figure 3 – Police-reported Crime Severity Index, by north-south region, 2013

The two northern regions of Ontario and Quebec stand out as having larger population centres, including Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Saguenay, which may make them more similar to southern regions. However, the presence of these cities does not explain their lower levels of police-reported crime. Crime rates and CSIs reported by police services in both the larger population centres and the rural areas in northern Quebec and Ontario were relatively low (Table 4 and Table 5).

Violent crime rates notably higher in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South

Almost all types of police-reported violent crime were notably higher in the Provincial North and Territories relative to the South (Chart 2). In the Provincial North, the violent crime rate in 2013 was over twice as high as in the South. In the Territories, the violent crime rate was almost seven times the rate in the South (Table 2).

Chart 2

Description for chart 2

In terms of the severity of violent crime, the north-south differences were less pronounced since higher rates of police-reported violent crime in the Provincial North and Territories were mostly driven by high rates of common assault, which is one of the less serious violent crimes (Table 3 and Table 6).

Again, violent crime in the North varied considerably by province and territory (Chart 3). In 2013, northern Saskatchewan had the highest police-reported violent crime rate and violent CSI in Canada. The next highest violent crime rates and violent CSIs were in northern Manitoba, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories. Northern Quebec and northern Ontario had the lowest violent crime rates and violent CSIs among northern regions, although still higher than total Canada levels.

Chart 3

Description for chart 3

Almost all violent offences were more frequent in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South

The most frequent violent offence reported by police in the Provincial North and the Territories was common assault (Assault level 1) (Table 6), representing 53% of all violent crime in the Territories and 47% in the Provincial North in 2013 (compared to 40% of violent incidents in the South). While common assault was also the most frequent violent offence in the South, rates in the Provincial North and Territories were respectively three and nine times higher.

The rates of more serious levels of assault reported by police (assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm and aggravated assault) were also higher in the Provincial North and Territories relative to the South. Again, rates of assault in the North varied substantially by province and territory reflecting the overall provincial variation in northern crime (Table 7).

Rates of most other violent offences reported by police were also higher in the Territories and Provincial North. In addition to assault, northern regions had notably higher rates of sexual assault and sexual violations against children, as well as high rates of criminal harassment, uttering threats and threatening or harassing phone calls.

The only violent offences which were generally more prevalent in southern Canada in 2013 were robbery and extortion. Only in Saskatchewan were rates of robbery higher in the North than in the South.Note 13

Individuals accused of violent crime in the Provincial North and the Territories tended to be older than accused in the South

The rate of individuals accused of police-reported violent crime was higher in the North than in the South.Note 14 In all regions, both north and south, young adults aged 18 to 24 were those most likely to be accused of violent crime. The highest rate of accused in violent crimes was among 18 to 24 year olds in the Territories for whom there were 12,513 accused per 100,000 population (Table 8).

However, accused rates were notably high among all adult age groups in the North, particularly in the Territories. Compared to the South, for all adult age groups up to age 54, the rate of adults accused of violent crimes per 100,000 population was about 9 times higher in the Territories and about 3 times higher in the Provincial North (Chart 4).

Chart 4

Description for chart 4

Youth in the Provincial North and Territories (aged 12 to 17) also had higher rates of accused than in the South, but the magnitude of the difference between the North and the South was not as great as it was for older age groups. Rates of youth accused of violent crime were four times higher in the Territories and two times higher in the Provincial North.

Females in the Provincial North and Territories more likely to be accused than in the South

As was the case in the South, the majority of accused persons identified by police in violent crimes were males. However, while the rate of accused for males was almost three times higher in the Provincial North and eight times higher in the Territories than in the South, the difference for females was even greater (four times higher in the Provincial North and 13 times higher in the Territories) (Table 8, Chart 5).

Chart 5

Description for chart 5

Older populations much more likely to be victimized in the Provincial North and the Territories than in the South

The rate of victims of police-reported violent crime was over twice as high in the Provincial North, and almost 7 times higher in the Territories than in the South. As was the pattern among accused, victimization rates for police-reported violent incidents were notably higher among older populations in the Provincial North and the Territories than in the South (Table 9).

Young adults (18 to 24) were the age group most at risk of victimization in both the north and south, but older individuals in the Provincial North and particularly in the Territories had much higher victimization rates for police-reported violent crime than in the South. In fact, for older populations in the North, the risk of being victimized was similar to or higher than for youth and young adults in the South. This was most noticeable in the Territories where victimization rates for adults aged 45 to 54 were over three times higher than for young adults in the South (Chart 6).

Chart 6

Description for chart 6

Females made up a much greater proportion of victims in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South

Females were at greater risk of victimization in police-reported violent crime in the North than in the South, particularly in the Territories (Chart 7).Note 15 Rates of female victims were 8 times higher in the Territories and nearly 3 times higher in the Provincial North than in the South. As a result, females made up a much greater proportion of victims in the North. In the South, just over half (51%) of all victims in 2013 were female. The proportion was 55% in the Provincial North and 59% in the Territories.

Chart 7

Description for chart 7

Victims of police-reported violent crime in the Provincial North and Territories more likely to know their attacker

Overall, most victims of police-reported violent crime in Canada knew the accused. Violent crimes committed by strangers were less common in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South. While 28% of victims in the South in 2013 identified the accused as a stranger, this was the case for 15% of victims in the Provincial North and 9% of victims in the Territories (Chart 8). This difference may reflect the smaller populations of northern communities where individuals are less likely to be a stranger.

Chart 8

Description for chart 8

Furthermore, police-reported violent crimes in the North in 2013 were more likely than crimes committed in the South to take place in a private dwelling. Specifically, nearly two-thirds (66%) of police-reported violent crimes in the Provincial North in 2013 were committed in private dwellings, compared with 56% in the South. The proportion was even higher in the Territories (73%).

The homicide rate in the Provincial North in 2013 was lower than in the Territories, but more than double the rate in southern Canada

In 2013, police services reported 65 homicides in the Provincial North, a rate of 3.1 homicides per 100,000 population, more than double the rate (1.3) in southern Canada. In the Territories, there was a total of six homicides in 2013, a rate of 5.2 per 100,000 population. Rates of attempted murder were also higher in the Provincial North and the Territories (Table 6).

Northern Manitoba had the highest homicide rate amongst all northern and southern regions. In 2013, 14 homicides were committed there, a rate of 14.6 per 100,000 population. Next highest were Nunavut (4 homicides or 11.2 per 100,000 population) and northern Saskatchewan (4 homicides or 10.3 per 100,000 population). In contrast, no homicides were reported in Yukon in 2013 (Table 7).

According to the 2013 Homicide Survey, there were key differences in the nature of homicides that occurred in the Provincial North and the Territories (combined) as compared to those that occurred in the southern regions of the provinces.Note 16 Homicides that occurred in the South in 2013 were more likely to be incidents of first degree murder (44%) than in the provincial/territorial North (24%). Murder (2nd degree) made up 70% of homicides in the provincial and territorial North. This may be related to the fact that homicides in the provincial/territorial North were more likely to be the result of an argument or quarrel (45% compared with 32% in the South).

Most often, homicides in the provincial/territorial North were caused by a knife or other piercing instrument (stabbings, 39%) or by beatings (25%). While stabbings were also the most common cause of death in the South (38%), death as a result of beatings was less frequent (19%). Shootings were the cause of death for a smaller proportion of homicides in the provincial/territorial North (21% compared to 27% in the South).

As in the South, the majority of those accused of homicide were male (86%). However, in contrast to other violations in the Provincial North and Territories, those accused of homicide in the North tended to be younger than accused in the South: 44% of individuals accused of homicide in the North were aged 18 to 24 and another 18% were aged 12 to 17. The majority of those accused of homicide in the South were over 25 years old. Young adults in the South (18 to 24 years) comprised 28% of accused and youth 12 to 17 years old, 7%. 

In spite of their younger age, those accused of homicide in the provincial/territorial North were more likely to have a previous criminal conviction (61%) than their counterparts in the South (53%).

While the majority of homicides in Canada involve alcohol and/or drugs, this was even more pronounced for the North. Individuals accused of homicide in the Provincial North and Territories were more likely and to have been under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs when they committed the homicide (83% compared with 66% in the South). Victims of homicide in the provincial/territorial North were also more likely to be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at the time of the homicide (76% compared with 51% of homicide victims in southern Canada).

As was the case with other police-reported crimes, most homicide victims in the North knew the accused. In most cases, the person accused of the homicide was a friend or acquaintance (55%); 14% were committed by a spouse or intimate partner, and 29% were committed by another family member. Gang-related killings made up 14% of homicides in the North compared to 18% in the South.

Mischief and disturbing the peace were the most frequent police-reported crimes in the Provincial North and Territories

Rates of non-violent crime were substantially higher in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South. The non-violent CSIs were also notably higher in the North. As with police-reported violent crime, both rates and CSIs for non-violent incidents varied notably by province. Northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories reported the highest rates and CSIs for non-violent crime (Table 2 and Table 3).

As in the South, the majority of police-reported criminal incidents in the Provincial North and Territories were non-violent. Overall, 76% of incidents in the Provincial North and 80% in the Territories were non-violent offences, while this was the case in 79% of incidents in the South.Note 17 However, the nature of non-violent crime in the Provincial North and Territories was quite different from non-violent crime in the South. Theft under $5,000 was the most frequent non-violent offence reported by police in the South, accounting for 28% of all criminal incidents. In contrast, mischief and disturbing the peace were the most commonly reported offences in the Provincial North and Territories, together comprising 36% of all crime in the Provincial North and 60% of crime in the Territories (18% in the South) (Table 6).

Mischief and disturbing the Peace explain much of the difference in overall police-reported crime rates between North and South

While police-reported crime rates for almost all types of crimes were higher in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South, a large part of the overall difference in crime rates between north and south can be attributed to non-violent crime. In particular, high crime rates in the North are partly explained by incidents of mischief and disturbing the peace. These two non-violent offences comprised a much larger proportion of crime in the North than in the South. In 2013, 35% of all police-reported crime in the Territories and 21% in the Provincial North were incidents of mischief (compared to 14% in the South). Disturbing the peace made up another 25% of all police-reported crime in the Territories and 14% in the Provincial North compared to 4% in the South.

The rates of these two offences and their impact, however, vary notably by province and territory, with particularly high rates of mischief in northern Saskatchewan (20,884 per 100,000 population) and the Northwest Territories (19,751 per 100,000 population). Rates of disturbing the peace were highest in the three territories, northern Manitoba, and northern Saskatchewan (Chart 9, Table 7).

Chart 9

Description for chart 9

These high rates of mischief and disturbing the peace in some northern regions partly explain the wide variation in crime rates in the north by province and territory. When these two offences are excluded the differences in the total crime rates among the provincial northern regions and the three territories decrease (Chart 10).

Chart 10

Description for chart 10

In addition, these two offences help explain the magnitude of the north-south difference in overall police-reported crime rates. More specifically, when mischief and disturbing the peace are not included in the calculation, the difference in the crime rates between the Provincial North and South is reduced by half, while the difference between the Territories and the South decreases by 67% (Chart 11).

Chart 11

Description for chart 11

Some of the difference in police-reported crime rates between north and south, particularly for incidents of mischief and disturbing the peace, may be a reflection of the police practices in different jurisdictions. In particular, policing in small northern remote communities differs from policing in larger population centres (Lithopoulos and Ruddell 2011, Yukon Department of Justice 2012). This is particularly relevant in the Territories where the average population served by a police service was about 1,900 compared to 9,000 in the Provincial North and over 44,000 in the South.

Some police services may be more likely to record incidents (especially of disturbing the peace) under similar municipal by-laws or provincial or territorial statues such as laws governing public intoxication or noise. This may also be more likely in the South where police services in larger centres may be able to divert calls related to disturbances to specialized by-law enforcement units.

Moreover, in order for an incident to be counted as a crime, police require sufficient evidence to determine that a crime actually occurred (rather than a non-criminal event). This is particularly relevant in instances of minor offences such as mischief or disturbing the peace. In a smaller community, police officers may be more likely to have the evidence because they know the accused and the circumstances of the incident (McCormick et al. 2012).

It is important to note that although clearance or solve rates were higher in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South, these solved incidents were much less likely to result in charges being laid. Nearly three-quarters of mischief incidents (74%) were cleared in the Territories, and 48% in the Provincial North (compared to 20% in the South). However, charges were laid in only 3% of cleared incidents in the Territories and 12% in the Provincial North (compared to 38% in the South). The pattern is similar for disturbing the peace where 1% of cleared incidents resulted in charges in the Territories, 4% in the Provincial North and 11% in the South (Table 10). A further discussion of clearance rates is provided later in this report.

Cannabis possession is the most common drug-related offence in the North and the South

In 2013, just over 11,000 drug-related offences were reported by police in the Provincial North, and just over 1,000 were reported in the Territories. As with other offences, rates for drug-related offences were highest in northern Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and northern Manitoba (Table 7).

Although the rate for almost every type of drug-related offence was higher in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South, the nature of drug-related offences was fairly similar. For example, most offences involved cannabis. The only notable difference was in the Territories where offences related to drugs other than cannabis and cocaine was lower than in the Provincial North. In fact, rates of possession of these other drugs were notably lower than in either the Provincial North or South.

However, the rates for trafficking, production or distribution of cannabis and cocaine in the Territories were much higher than the rates in either the northern or southern parts of the provinces. Compared to the South, for example, the trafficking, production or distribution rate in the Territories was 8.5 times higher for cannabis and 6 times higher for cocaine.

Impaired driving rates higher in the North than in the South, but varied widely by province and territory

Impaired driving rates were higher in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South. There were considerable differences, however, across northern regions. Northern Saskatchewan had a particularly high rate of impaired driving (2,149 per 100,000 population), followed by northern Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Yukon, all with rates around 1,100 per 100,000. In contrast, police services in northern Ontario reported the lowest rates in the northern regions (235 per 100,000), followed by northern Newfoundland and Labrador (491 per 100,000). On average, there were 201 impaired driving incidents per 100,000 population in the South (Table 7).

Older adults are more likely to be accused of non-violent crimes in the North, particularly in the Territories

As with violent offences, rates of older adults accused of non-violent offences were notably higher in the North than in the South, particularly in the Territories. Although rates are highest everywhere among young adults aged 18 to 24, they are also notably high among older adults in the North, particularly in the Territories. While some non-violent offences, such as mischief, tend to be crimes of youth in the South, this was not the case in the North. While the majority (53%) of those accused of mischief in the South were under age 25, the proportions were much lower in the Provincial North (39%) and Territories (25%) (Chart 12).

Chart 12

Description for chart 12

Crimes in the Provincial North and the Territories are more likely to be solved, but accused are less likely to be charged

Most police-reported criminal incidents, both violent and non-violent, were more likely to be cleared (solved) in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South. Among violent crimes in 2013, 87% of incidents in the Territories and 79% in the Provincial North were cleared compared to 70% in the South. For most non-violent offences, the difference in clearance rates between north and south was even greater. For example, the clearance rate for property crime was 22% in the south, the clearance rates in the Provincial North (37%) and Territories (65%) were higher (Table 10).

These differences may be a function of the smaller size of communities in the North. Previous analysis has shown that clearance rates decrease as community size increases (Mahony and Turner 2012). In smaller communities, for example, police officers may be more likely to know the individuals involved and can therefore clear, or solve the case.

For those incidents which were cleared, those in the North were less likely to result in a charge. This was particularly notable for non-violent crime. Although non-violent incidents were much more likely to be cleared in the Provincial North and Territories than in the South, most did not result in a charge. Among property crimes in 2013, charges were laid in 29% of cleared incidents in the Provincial North and 8% in the Territories compared to 59% in the South. This difference was primarily driven by the high number of mischief incidents.

Among violent crimes as well, the proportion of cleared incidents resulting in charges in 2013 was lower in the Provincial North and Territories. However, this was the case only for less serious forms of violent crime. For cleared incidents of common assault, for example, the proportion cleared by charge was 56% in the Provincial North and 46% in the Territories compared to 64% in the South. In contrast, the proportion cleared by charge did not differ substantially for the most serious offences such as homicide and attempted murder or aggravated assault. For sexual assault level 1 and sexual offences against children, in fact, the percentage of cleared incidents resulting in a charge was higher in the Provincial North and the Territories than in the South.

Clearance rates, particularly for minor offences, may be influenced by differences in police practices and local conditions (Mahony and Turner 2012). There may be different policies restricting which offences can be cleared by departmental discretion.Note 18 Also, in the case of habitual offenders, an incident may be cleared otherwise if there are already existing charges against an accused related to other incidents (Hollins 2007, McCormick et al. 2012).

Other reasons for not laying a charge may include situations where the incident is diverted to a diversionary program (alternative measures), other forms of departmental discretion, or where the complainant declines to pursue charges or withdraws a complaint.

Many northern communities make use of restorative justice programs. Restorative justice programs divert offenders from the formal justice system with a focus on community healing. These programs are particularly relevant in smaller communities where offenders and victims (and police) often know each other and where individual crimes have an impact on the community overall. These programs include a variety of alternative measures such as victim offender mediation, family group conferencing, and sentencing circles (Department of Public Safety n.d.). For example, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which polices much of the North, promotes Community Justice Forums which facilitate discussions between the offender and victim(s), encourage offenders to take responsibility for their actions and find ways for them to make restitution. Resolutions may include community service, counseling or addiction treatment. Offenders may be diverted to these programs without being charged (Royal Canadian Mounted Police n.d.).  

Youth in the North were less likely to be charged than youth in the South. Instead incidents with youth accused were more likely to be cleared with a warning or caution. However, referrals of youth to community programs (such as substance abuse programs) or other alternative measures were slightly more common in the South.

Summary

Previous analyses of police-reported crime statistics have consistently shown that crime is particularly high in the Territories. Moreover, socio-economic and demographic data indicate that the territories are very different from the provinces. The current analysis of police-reported crime shows that the northern regions of the provinces also have higher rates of crime than in the South, and some share similar socio-economic conditions with the Territories.

Crime in the Provincial North and Territories, however, varied substantially by province and territory with the highest police-reported crime rates in 2013 in northern Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba, the three Territories and northern Newfoundland and Labrador.

Violent crime in 2013 was notably higher in the North. The most common police-reported violent offence in the Provincial North and the Territories was common assault, followed by uttering threats, criminal harassment and harassing phone calls. Rates of sexual offences and homicide were also higher in the Provincial North and Territories.

High rates of police-reported non-violent crime in the Provincial North and the Territories in 2013 were largely attributable to incidents of mischief and disturbing the peace. While rates of almost all offences were higher in the North than in the South, mischief and disturbing the peace explained much of the variation in northern crime by province and territory as well as explaining a large part of the overall difference in crime rates between the north and south.

Survey descriptions

Uniform Crime Reporting 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, territorial 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.

Each year, the UCR database is "frozen� at the end of May for the production of crime statistics for the preceding calendar year. However, police services continue to send updated data to Statistics Canada after this date for incidents that occurred in previous years. Generally, these revisions constitute new accused records, as incidents are solved and accused persons are identified by police. However, some new incidents may be added and previously reported incidents may be deleted as new information becomes known.

Revisions are accepted for a one-year period after the data are initially released. For example, when the 2013 crime statistics are released, the 2012 data are updated with any revisions that have been made between May 2013 and May 2014. The data are revised only once and are then permanently frozen. Over the past 10 years (2003 to 2012), data to previous years has been revised upward 7 times and revised downward 3 times, with an average annual revision of 0.2%. The 2013 revision to persons charged and youth not charged counts resulted in a +0.7% increase to 2012 counts.

Measuring incidents of crime

Data from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey is used to calculate both the traditional crime rate and the Crime Severity Index (CSI). Both the traditional crime rate and the CSI are based on the aggregate count of criminal incidents. A criminal incident involves one or more related offences that are committed during a single criminal event and have been reported to and substantiated by police. Where there are multiple victims within a single criminal event, a separate aggregate incident is counted for each victim. For example, a single incident involving an assault on three victims at the same time and location is counted in the aggregate statistics as three incidents of assault.

Police services can report up to four violations for each incident, however, this has typically only been the practice since the late 1980s and not for all police services. Therefore, both the traditional crime rate and the CSI are based on the most serious violation in the criminal incident. By basing the measures on the most serious offence in an incident, it allows for historical comparisons, as well as better comparisons among police services.

It is possible, however, that by counting only the most serious violation, some offences may be underrepresented. This has little or no effect on serious violent offences, such as homicide, sexual assault and aggravated assault. However, some, but not all, minor offences are less likely to be the most serious when occurring at the same time as other more serious violations. These secondary offences, therefore, are not included in the calculation of aggregate statistics, the crime rate or the CSI.

For more information on counting crime in Canada, please refer to Measuring Crime in Canada: Introducing the Crime Severity Index and Improvements to the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (Wallace et al. 2009) and The Methodology of the Police-Reported Crime Severity Index (Babyak et al. 2009).

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. Information collected through the victim and incident questionnaires are also accordingly updated as a result of a case being solved. For incidents involving more than one accused, only the relationship between the victim and the closest accused is recorded.

Northern delineation by province:

British Columbia: The North includes the regional districts Central Coast, Cariboo and Fraser-Fort George and the regions north of them. It includes Williams Lake and Quesnel, as well as the more northern cities of Prince George, Fort Saint John, Prince Rupert, Dawson Creek, and Terrace.

Alberta:  The North approximates the region overseen by the Northern Alberta Development Council, and also includes the counties of Barrhead, Lac Ste Anne, Westlock, Thorhild and Smoky Lake (Alberta Divisions [also Census Divisions – (CD)] 12, 13, and 18 and further north). The largest centres in Northern Alberta are Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray) and Grand Prairie.

Saskatchewan:  Northern Saskatchewan reflects the Northern Saskatchewan Administration District. This area corresponds to the CD identified as Division 18. The largest community in Northern Saskatchewan is the town of La Ronge.

Manitoba: Northern Manitoba includes CDs 19 to 23, and includes the cities of Thompson and Flin Flon.

Ontario: Northern Ontario includes Parry Sound, Nipissing, Manitoulin and regions north and west of them. The largest population centres in Northern Ontario are the Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) of Thunder Bay and Greater Sudbury.

Quebec: Northern Quebec includes the administrative regions of Northern Quebec, Saguenay-Lac St Jean, and Cote-Nord. It includes the CMA of Saguenay.

Newfoundland and Labrador: Northern Newfoundland is comprised of Labrador. The largest population centres are Labrador City and Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Classifying police services to North and South

Some police services serve populations in both northern and southern Census Divisions (CDs) straddling the north-south boundary as defined by CDs. Overall, 1% of the population in the Provincial North (CDs) are served by police services primarily serving southern populations. This ranges from zero in Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan, and less than 1% in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec to 3.0 % in Alberta and 7.6% in Manitoba.

At the same time, 0.2% of the population served by northern police services live in southern Census Divisions. This ranges from zero in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, to 0.4% in Ontario, 0.5% in Saskatchewan, and 1.2% in Manitoba.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Selected characteristics of northern and southern regions, by province and territory

Table 2 Police-reported crime rate, by province and territory and by north-south region, 2013

Table 3 Police-reported Crime Severity Indexes by province and territory and by north-south region, 2013

Table 4 Police-reported crime rates, by province and territory, north-south region, Census metropolitan area/Census Agglomeration (CMA/CA) and Rural police services, 2013

Table 5 Police-reported Crime Severity Indexes by province and territory and by north-south region, Census metropolitan area/Census Agglomeration (CMA/CA) and Rural police services, 2013

Table 6 Police-reported crime for selected offences, by north-south region, 2013

Table 7 Police-reported crime for selected offences, by province and territory and by north-south region, 2013

Table 8 Characteristics of persons accused of police-reported crime, by north-south region, 2013

Table 9 Characteristics of victims of police-reported violent crime, by north-south region, 2013

Table 10 Police-reported clearance rates for selected offences, by north-south region, 2013

Text table 1 Distribution of population by north-south region, by province and territory, 2013

References

Ajunnginq Centre. 2007. Substance use/abuse issues among Inuit in Canada. Presentation to the Standing Committee of the Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. Ottawa, Ontario.http://www.naho.ca/documents/it/2007_Parliamentarian_Substance_Abuse.pdf

Babyak, C., A. Alavi, K. Collins, A. Halladay and D. Tapper. 2009. The Methodology of the Police-Reported Crime Severity Index. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. HSMD-2009-006E/F.

Boyce, Jillian, Adam Cotter and Samuel Perreault. 2014. “Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2013.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2014001/article/14040-eng.htm

Brennan, Shannon. 2011. “Violent victimization of Aboriginal women in the Canadian provinces, 2009.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2011001/article/11439-eng.htm

Charron, Mathieu, Christopher Penney and Sacha Senécal. 2010. “Police-reported crime in Inuit Nunangat.” Crime and Justice Research Paper Series. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-561-M. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-561-m/85-561-m2010020-eng.pdf   

Coates, Ken and Greg Poelzer. 2014. “The next northern challenge: the reality of the Provincial North.” Macdonald Laurier Institute. Ottawa, Ontario. http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/files/pdf/MLITheProvincialNorth04-14-Final.pdf  

Collins, Chantal. 2006. Substance abuse issues and public policy in Canada: V. Alcohol and related harms. PRB 06-20. Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament. Ottawa, Ontario. http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/researchpublications/prb0620-e.htm

Conference Board of Canada. 2014. The Centre for the North: Past, present, future. Centre for the North. Ottawa, Ontario. http://www.conferenceboard.ca/Libraries/NETWORK_PUBLIC/cfn_past-present-future.sflb

Department of Public Safety. Restorative Justice. http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/crrctns/rstrtv-jstc-eng.aspx.

Hollins, D. 2007. Strategies for Clearance Rate Improvement in "E Division RCMP". Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Operations Strategy Branch.

Hotton Mahony, Tina and John Turner. 2012. “Police-reported clearance rates in Canada, 2010.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11647-eng.htm

Lithopoulos, Savvas and Rick Ruddell.“Policing isolated aboriginal communities: perspectives of Canadian officers.” Policing: An international journal of police strategies & management. Vol. 34. No. 3.

McCormick, A.V., T. Haarhoff, I.M. Cohen, D. Plecas and K. Burk. 2012. Challenges Associated with Interpreting and Using Police Clearance Rates. University of the Fraser Valley, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. https://www.ufv.ca/media/assets/ccjr/reports-and-publications/Clearance_Rate_Report_2012.pdf

McNiven, Chuck. 1999. “North is that direction.” Canadian Social Trends. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008-XP. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-008-x/1999002/article/4657-fra.pdf

McNiven, Chuck and Henry Puderer. 2000. “Delineation of Canada’s north: An examination of the north-south relationship in Canada.” Geography Working Paper Series. No. 2000-3. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 92F0138MIE. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/92f0138m/92f0138m2000003-eng.pdf

Northern Development Ministers Forum. No date. About Us. http://www.focusnorth.ca/english/about_us.php

Northwest Territories Health and Social Services. 2010. NWT Addictions Report. http://www.hss.gov.nt.ca/sites/default/files/nwt_addictions_report.pdf 

Nunavut Tunngavik. 2014. Annual Report  on the State of Inuit Culture and Society 13014: Examining the Justice System in Nunavut. Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Perreault, Samuel. 2011. “Violent victimization of Aboriginal people in the Canadian provinces, 2009.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.  http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2011001/article/11415-eng.htm

Perreault, Samuel and Tina Hotton Mahony. 2012. “Criminal victimization in the territories, 2009.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11614-eng.htm

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). n.d. Restorative Justice. http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pubs/ccaps-spcca/restjust-justrepar-eng.htm.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). 2014. Missing and murdered Aboriginal women: A national operational overview. Ottawa, Ontario. http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pubs/mmaw-faapd-eng.htm

Ruddell, Rick and Natalie R. Ortiz. 2014. “Boomtown blues: Long-term community perceptions of crime and disorder.” American Journal of Criminal Justice. doi: 10.1007/s12103-014-9237-7.

Statistics Canada. 2012. Census Profile, 2011. Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-XWE2011001. Ottawa, Ontario. February 8. http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/prof/index.cfm?Lang=E

Statistics Canada. 2013a. Aboriginal Peoples Reference Guide. National Household Survey (NHS) 2011. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 99-011-XWE2011006. Ottawa, Ontario. May 8.

Statistics Canada. 2013b. National Household Survey Dictionary, 2011. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 99-000-XWE2011001. Ottawa, Ontario. October 3. http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/ref/dict/index-eng.cfm

Statistics Canada. 2013c. NHS Profile, 2011. National Household Survey. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 94-004-XWE2011001. Ottawa, Ontario. May 8. http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/dp-pd/prof/index.cfm?Lang=E

Wallace, M., J. Turner, C. Babyak and A. Matarazzo. 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. http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/olc-cel/olc.action?ObjId=85-004-X&ObjType=2&lang=en&limit=0

Wilson, Gary N. and Greg Poelzer, 2005. “Still forgotten? The politics and communities of the Provincial Norths.” The Northern Review 25/26. p 11-16.

Yukon Department of Justice. 2012. Symposium on Policing in Northern and remote Canada. Symposium program. Whitehorse, Yukon. http://www.justice.gov.yk.ca/pdf/Symposium_on_Policing_Program_Sept_11_12(1).pdf

Notes

Date modified: