Toronto Star

October 8, 1999

Murder rate in Canada tumbles to 30-year low

Guns are losing ground as weapon of choice

By Elaine Carey
Toronto Star Demographics Reporter

Despite the growing fears of many Canadians, murder in Canada has hit a 30-year low.

Fewer Canadians are being killed, and hardly ever by strangers, and fewer murders involve guns than ever in the past, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics said in a report yesterday.

In fact, the group that faces the greatest risk of being murdered is babies in their first year of life, and that number is growing. A total of 23 infants were murdered last year - up from 13 in 1997 - and the number killed by their parents increased from eight to 18.

Across Canada, there were 555 homicides last year, 31 fewer than in 1997 - a rate of 1.83 for every 100,000 people - the lowest level since 1968.

And while life in the big city is perceived to be more dangerous, the murder rate in Canada's 25 largest centres was the same as in smaller communities. Toronto's rate fell to 1.65 per 100,000, or 76 murders, from an average rate of 1.92 for the nine previous years. Ontario's murder rate hit a 32-year low of 1.36, below that of all the Western provinces, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

``Unlike parts of the United States, homicide in Canada is not a big-city phenomenon, even though people in smaller communities talk about how dangerous Toronto is,'' said criminologist Anthony Doob of the University of Toronto.

``The whole imagery of murders by strangers in big cities with guns doesn't fit the facts.''

But national polls suggest Canadians perceive crime as increasing and fear being a victim of crime in their neighbourhoods, the report says.

Canada's murder rate was less than a third of that in the United States (6.3), but remains higher than that of most European nations, where rates range from 1.18 per 100,000 in Germany to 1.64 in France.

Murder rates are falling in almost every industrialized country. Germany's fell 18 per cent last year, and England and the United States both saw theirs drop by 7 per cent.

No one is sure why, but it doesn't have to do with policing styles or whether courts are tough on criminals, Doob said in an interview. The United States is jailing more criminals than in the past, while Canada is locking up fewer, and policing varies widely.

``It does seem to me there is some sort of general shift away from very serious violent crime, but we don't really know why,'' Doob said. The public doesn't perceive that because ``there seem to be a group of people who have an interest in saying things are getting worse,'' he said. ``It's clear in terms of these figures, and others as well, that they're not.''

Firearms were involved in just over one-quarter of all homicides, or 151, down 42 from the year before. That figure represents the lowest proportion since the centre, a division of Statistics Canada, began collecting data in 1961. A third of murders were by stabbing.

Women most likely to be killed by their male partners

Every year there are five times as many suicides involving guns and rifles as murders, the report said.

While spousal murders have declined, from 100 every year during the early '90s to 70 in 1998, women are still five times more likely to be killed by a husband than by a stranger.

In 1998, 57 women were killed by a current or ex-spouse, 10 by a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend, together accounting for more than half of all female murder victims.

Most murder victims are killed by someone they know. Of 431 homicides solved by police in 1998, 45 per cent involved an acquaintance, 40 per cent a family member and only 15 per cent a stranger.

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