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July 19, 2000

Decline in spousal homicide mirrors that of other kinds of murder

Luiza Chwialkowska
National Post

OTTAWA - Despite a string of family killings in recent weeks, spousal homicides have been declining along with other kinds of murder for close to a decade, according to Statistics Canada.

The national homicide rate declined by 4.7% in 1999 over the previous year, according to a report released yesterday, and experts say there is no reason to suspect that spousal killings have not followed the trend.

Spousal homicides have been gradually declining along with the overall homicide rate, from more than 100 each year during the early 1990s to 70 in 1998.

In 1999, 536 homicides of all kinds were reported by police, 22 fewer than the previous year.

Statistics Canada will release numbers on spousal homicides for 1999 in October.

"I see no reason to expect that the recent homicide decline won't also include a decline in the spousal killings," says Rosemary Gartner, director of the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto.

Spousal homicides generally make up one out of every five or six murders in Canada, estimates Prof. Gartner.

In 1998, 57 women and 13 men were killed by a current spouse or a former spouse, according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Another 10 women were killed by a boyfriend or a former boyfriend. In all, slightly more than half of all female homicide victims were killed by someone with whom they had an intimate relationship.

About 60% of spousal homicides involved a history of domestic violence between the accused and the victim known to police.

A number of spousal killings this summer have put a spotlight on the issue in recent weeks.

On Monday, a Stratford man was charged with stabbing his common-law partner to death. The woman's slaying followed the July 6 Kitchener slayings in which Bill Luft killed his wife and four children before committing suicide.

In June, a couple and their young daughter were discovered dead inside their home in Winfield, B.C., near Kelowna. Police suspect a murder-suicide. Earlier in the month, a Pickering postal worker shot his wife and then himself. In Etobicoke, another man shot his wife while she slept before turning the gun on himself.

"I don't know whether I would place any great significance on the recent cases," said Prof. Gartner. "When you're dealing with something as rare as homicide, you can have clumps of them for no reason other than random fluctuation."

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