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By: JILL MAHONEY, Globe and Mail
Canada’s crime rate continued its long decline last year, hitting the lowest level since 1973.
Crimes reported to police dropped 5 per cent in 2010. The decline spanned a wide range of offences, including the homicide rate, which fell by 10 per cent to a level not seen since 1966.
“Homicide is one of the few types of violent crime that almost invariably comes to the attention of police and, as such, is generally recognized as a country’s barometer of violence,” Statistics Canada said in a report released Thursday.
In addition, an index measuring the severity of crimes fell 6 per cent from 2009, reaching its lowest point since it was introduced in 1998.
The national crime rate has been dropping steadily for the past 20 years. However, the Conservative government argues that the crime is on the rise and plans to introduce a tough law-and-order package in the House of Commons in the fall.
Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s government has long looked to victimization surveys rather than the official crime rate, which is based on offences reported to and substantiated by police. Statscan’s last victimization survey found that Canadians reported just 31 per cent of criminal incidents to police in 2009.
Winnipeg Police Chief Keith McCaskill says he's working to lower his city’s crime rate as the Manitoba capital was once again painted as the most violent major metropolitan area in the country.
But Chief McCaskill says he takes comfort that the rate is going down.
The violent crime severity index for the city dropped by 13 per cent last year compared with the previous year. Manitoba is also once again leading the provinces in violent crime. Statistics Canada says there were 3.6 murders for every 100,000 people in Manitoba last year.
On the day the numbers came out, Chief McCaskill's police force was dealing with two shootings — one involving a robbery suspect shot by police and another a man wounded in an unexplained incident downtown.
Overall, Canadian police forces reported nearly 2.1 million Criminal Code offences last year, about 77,000 fewer than in 2009. The figures do not include traffic violations.
Statscan credited four property crimes for the majority of the drop in the crime rate: theft under $5,000, mischief, car thefts and break-ins. However, there were also fewer attempted murders, serious assaults and robberies.
By contrast, there were more sexual assaults, gun offences, criminal harassment, child pornography and drug offences in 2010.
Among Statscan’s findings:
- There were 554 homicides in 2010, down 56 from the year before. The decline in the homicide rate was largely driven by a decrease in British Columbia, where the rate hit an all-time low.
- There were 693 attempted murders last year, down from 801 in 2009. This resulted in the lowest level in more than 30 years.
- Nearly 93,000 vehicles were reported stolen last year, representing a 15 per cent drop and continuing a downward trend that started in the mid-1990s.
- Nearly 153,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 were accused of a crime in 2010, almost 15,000 fewer than a year earlier. The youth crime rate declined by 7 per cent.
- More than 22,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2010, an increase of 5 per cent. The higher number represented the first increase since 2005.
- Drug offences rose 10 per cent from 2009, continuing an upward trend. About half were for marijuana possession.
Three cities had increases in their crime severity index, which measures the seriousness of crimes: St. John’s, Sudbury, Ont., and Peterborough, Ont. The cities with the lowest crime severity indexes were Guelph, Ont., Quebec City, Toronto and Ottawa.
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