Crime continues downward trend
Number of cases off 8 per cent from 1994-95 Statistics Canada findsFriday, December 18, 1998
The Globe and Mail
Crime in Canada continues to decline, mirroring patterns seen in much of the Western world figures from the 1997-98 fiscal year show.
The average jail term, however, appears to be inching upward, and while the number of cases is down, the number of charges per case has risen slightly, as has the requisite court time.
In its newest snapshot of the nation's adult courts, Statistics Canada found an 8-per-cent decline in the number of cases dealt with since 1994-95 - a figure that has steadily dipped in each intervening year.
The figures are incomplete. Aside from young offenders, who accounted for about 23 per cent of all criminal charges laid in 1997-98, the 411,576 adult cases disposed of in 1997-98 exclude any numbers from British Columbia, Manitoba and New Brunswick, as well as data from some Quebec courts. (The 1994-95 figures also exclude these numbers.)
But drawing from the nine jurisdictions that regularly report to Statscan's adult criminal court survey, trends are nonetheless visible in those 411,576 cases, encompassing a total 864,837 charges:
- Males accounted for 85 per cent of the caseload, with the largest gender difference seen in traffic offences, where males outnumbered females 9-1. With property offences -- the commonest crime category among women -- the ratio fell to 4-1.
- Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of the accused were aged 18 to 34, with adults aged 18 to 24 accounting for a full 30 per cent of the total, although totalling only 12 per cent of the adult population at large. The median age of an accused person -- half were older, half younger -- was 31.
- Close to 40 per cent of the cases involved impaired driving (15 per cent), common assault (12 per cent) or theft (11 per cent).
- Over all, crimes against persons accounted for about 20 per cent of the total, property crimes for 26 per cent, other Criminal Code offences for 27 per cent, traffic violations for 17 per cent, drugs for 4 per cent, and breaches of other federal statutes for 7 per cent.
- One case in five was completed with a single court appearance, and only 10 per cent took longer than a year. But the percentage of cases requiring six or more appearances rose to 29 from 23 per cent.
- Conviction rates held steady at around 62 per cent of those charged -- one percentage point down from 1994-95 -- and within that 62 per cent, slightly under one third were handed a prison term, also unchanged. In 43 per cent of convictions, the penalty was probation, most commonly for 1 year.
- Among those jailed half, half received sentences of a month or less. Only 3 percent wet to a federal penitentiary, where terms of two years or more are served.
- The median prison sentence was 60 days, compared with a 1994-95 median of 45 days. In large part, that change reflects stiffer sentences for fraud convictions, the report's authors suggest.
- Fines, with or without other penalty, were imposed in 41 per cent of the cases. Fifty-four per cent of those fines were of $300 or less.
- An average of 2.1 charges was laid per case, against 1.98 in 1994-95.
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