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The Globe and Mail

Homicide rate lowest in three decades

Globe and Mail, By ALLISON DUNFIELD, September 29, 2004, one of Canada's two national newspapers

The national homicide rate in Canada dropped to its lowest rate in over three decades, a new Statistics Canada report said Wednesday.

The murder rate dropped 7 per cent in 2003, to 1.73 victims per 100,000 people, a 2003 survey found.

"The homicide rate has generally been declining since the mid-1970s," the agency said.

However, Mia Dauvergne, the manager of the homicide survey for Statistics Canada, told globeandmail.com that this particular survey does not try to establish reasons for the trend.

"Other research done in the United States and Canada have tried to identify some of the factors [for declining murder rates]. Age demographics [for example] have been looked at," she said.

John Manzo, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Calgary who specializes in criminology, told globeandmail.com the decline in murders is difficult to explain but has been common among many industrialized countries over the past three decades.

"If I had to say there was one central reason for it, I'd say it's a maturing population," he said. Canada's population has been steadily getting older as the baby boomer generation ages and fewer children are born. (The portion of Canada's population over age 65 is expected to rise to 20 per cent by 2025 from 13 per cent today.)

However people still perceive that crime, especially violent crime, is getting worse, Prof. Manzo said.

But this perception is wrong, as crime trend studies indicate, he said.

"An important lesson to get from these statistics is that the myth that things were always better in the past is clearly incorrect. And although we might attend to crime more in news and other media now, it's actually quite clearly the case that things are less dangerous now than they used to be."

For example, in this particular survey, Statscan found that 2003's 548 homicides were actually 34 fewer than were committed in 2002.

The major factor for the 2003 decline was a reduction in the number of women killed in Canada, the study found.

Fifty fewer women were killed than in 2002.

The number of male victims, however, increased by 16 in 2003.

However, Ms. Dauvergne cautioned against reading too much into the number of men vs. women murdered last year.

"There are going to be fluctuations in data. It's not necessarily indicative of a trend," she said.

By province, the greatest decrease in murders was found in British Columbia (33 fewer homicides), followed by Quebec which had 18 fewer homicides and Alberta, which had 7 fewer.

Additionally, Quebec and Nova Scotia reported their lowest homicide rates since the 1960s.

The only provinces seeing an increase in their homicide rates were Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with 14 more and seven more respectively.

Wednesday's statistics include only cases of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter or infanticide.

"Deaths caused by criminal negligence, suicide and accidental or justifiable homicide are not included," the agency said.

Killings in 2003 were most likely committed by someone known to the victim, and one in every seven involved organized crime or street gangs.

Homicides by strangers reached a 25-year low, the survey found.

In 2003, a total of 57 of 548 homicides were perpetrated by a stranger to the victim. more than half (51 per cent) of victims were killed by an acquaintance and one-third by a family member.

The survey found that the rate of spousal homicide declined by 8 per cent in 2003.

"This rate has been gradually declining since the mid-1970s for both men and women.

In line with a widespread trend, far more husbands killed their wives than wives killed their husbands in 2003.

And, the study found, "homicides involved other types of intimate partner relationships also dropped" — meaning there were fewer killed in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships or by estranged partners.

As well, the number of children slain in Canada dropped to a 25-year low.

In 2003, 33 children under 12 were killed, and of these, just under half were under one year old.

Of the homicides, the overwhelming majority were committed by parents or stepparents.

Two were killed by daycare providers and another two by strangers.

Method of killing

Canadians who were slain in 2003 were most commonly killed by firearms, "similar to previous years," Statscan said.

The use of rifles and shotguns continued to decline, a trend that the agency has seen in the past few decades, but the number of killings with handguns shot up in 2003. They were used in two-thirds of all firearm homicides in 2003 and 59 per cent of all gang-related killings.

The other top methods of killing in 2003 were: stabbings (26 per cent), followed by beatings (22 per cent) and strangulation (12 per cent).

Victims and accused

The Statscan survey found that most victims and accused persons had a criminal record in 2003. Most had been previously convicted of a violent offence.

About four in 10 youth accused of homicide also had a criminal record. The survey found an increase in homicides committed by youths. About 57 youths ages 12 to 17 were accused of homicide in 2003, an increase of 15 over 2002.

"The youth homicide rate had generally been declining between 1995 and 2001," Statscan said.

Prof. Manzo concurred, but said it's very difficult to pinpoint a reason as to why youths are not committing as many murders as they had in the past.

Canada compared with rest of the world

Canada's homicide rate of 1.73 victims per 100,000 was about one-third of that of the United States (5.69 per 100,000) and was slightly lower than that of England and Wales (1.93) but higher than France (1.65) ands Australia (1.63).

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