National Post

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Spousal homicide increase bucks trend

Result when murder is declining may be a 'blip,' experts say

Heather Sokoloff
National Post

National Post
Notes of grief and flowers line the street outside the home of Gillian Hadley, a Pickering, Ont., woman murdered by her estranged husband in 2000. The number of men in Canada accused of killing their wives rose in 2001 from the previous year, virtually all the increase in Ontario.

Spousal homicides increased in Canada for the first time in six years, Statistics Canada reported yesterday, but experts said it may simply be a ''blip.''

The national homicide rate, meanwhile, remained stable for the third consecutive year, while the rate of youths charged with homicide dipped to a 30-year low.

Fully 554 Canadians were murdered in 2001, the last year for which StatsCan has data, eight more than in 2000. The national homicide rate, which has generally been declining since the mid-1970s, was 1.78 homicides for every 100,000 individuals, similar to levels during the late 1960s.

The number of men accused of killing their current or former wives rose to 69 in 2001 from 52 in 2000, virtually all the increase occurring in Ontario.

Sixteen women were accused of killing their husbands, unchanged from 2000. One homicide was committed by a male same-sex partner.

Experts said it is too soon to say whether the increased numbers are anything more than an aberration.

Homicides by other intimate partners, such as boyfriends or girlfriends, decreased to 21 in 2001 from 23 in 2000, suggesting the spike in spousal homicides may be not be a trend.

''Fortunately, homicides are relatively rare in Canada,'' said Rosemary Gartner, director of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Toronto.

''If you get an increase of a dozen or so, it looks like a huge upturn. We can't predict whether it will continue on that way or whether it is just a blip,'' said Dr. Gartner, an expert in the subject of spousal homicide.

''I'd want to keep my eye on it, given the fact that homicide rates are going down overall,'' she added.

As usual, most homicide victims knew their killer. About 45% of all solved murder cases were committed by an acquaintance, and 43% by a family member. In total, 52% of all female victims and 8% of all male victims were killed by an individual with whom they had an intimate relationship at one time, either through marriage or dating.

''The fact is most people know their killers, and homicides arise out of disputes between family or friends,'' Dr. Gartner said. ''They are not generally motivated by predatory desires, or robbing or pillaging or raping.''

Spousal slaying accounted for 47% of all family homicides. Another 28 victims were killed by a father or step-father, 17 by their mother or step-mother, 21 by their son, four by their daughter, eight by a sibling, while the others were by an extended family member.

Thirty young people were charged with homicide offences, 13 fewer than in 2000.

One in nine homicides was gang-related.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan recorded the highest homicide rates among the provinces, reporting 34 and 27 murders, or 2.96 and 2.66 per 100,000 people, respectively. Newfoundland had the lowest, with one murder last year, or 0.19 per 100,000.

Statistics Canada noted that the Criminal Code classifies homicide as first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter or infanticide. Deaths caused by criminal negligence, suicides, and accidental or justifiable homicides are not included.

Among Canada's nine largest metropolitan areas, Winnipeg reported the highest homicide rate at 2.77 victims per 100,000 residents; Ottawa reported the lowest rate, 0.36, its lowest since 1984.

Among metropolitan areas with populations between 100,000 and 500,000, Regina had the highest rate, 3.53, and Sherbrooke, Que., with no homicides, had the lowest.

Copyright © 2002 National Post Online