Gang-related violence accounted for almost one in four homicides in Canada last year, according to the latest figures from Statistics Canada.

Police reported 611 homicides in Canada in 2008, an increase of 17 from the previous year and a two per cent rise in the national homicide rate, Statistics Canada said in a report released Wednesday.

That rise coincides with the 138 gang-related homicides in 2008, 20 more than in 2007. These included homicides linked to organized crime groups or street gangs, as well as deaths of innocent bystanders.

Police in the metropolitan area of Toronto reported 24 gang-related homicides, the most of Canada's largest census metropolitan areas. But based on population, Calgary's 16 gang-related homicides gave it the highest rate among the 10 largest metropolitan areas.

Gun-related violence on rise

With a rise in gang-related homicides came a rise in gun-related killings. There were 200 homicides committed with a firearm in 2008, 12 more than the previous year. Firearm-related crime has been increasing since 2002, and gang violence is the primary driver of this trend, the study found.

  Homicides by census metropolitan area (2008)
 Cities with 500,000+ pop.  No. of homicides  Rate
 Winnipeg  31  4.07
 Edmonton  39  3.44
 Calgary  34  2.87
 Vancouver  54  2.37
 Toronto  103  1.86
 Montreal  48  1.27
 Ottawa  11  1.20
 Quebec  8  1.09
 Hamilton  6 0.85 
 Kitchener  4  0.78
 (Source: Statistics Canada)

Three-quarters of gang-related homicides in Canada were committed with a firearm, compared with about 20 per cent of homicides unconnected to gangs.

Toronto police reported 50 gun-related homicides, again the most of all metropolitan areas, but Winnipeg and Edmonton had the highest rate of firearm-related deaths.

The study also found that the proportion of homicide victims in 2008 that were females was the lowest in almost 50 years. Females made up 24 per cent of homicide victims and died in homicides at a rate of 0.87 per 100,000 population, both the lowest numbers since 1961.

Statistics Canada said the decline could be connected to a corresponding drop in spousal homicide rates over the last 30 years, as well as the rise in gang-related homicides, which mostly targets men. Among solved homicides, 15 per cent were committed by a spouse.

Women are about three times more likely to be a victim of a spousal homicide than men, Statistics Canada said.

Western provinces have highest rates

Western provinces and territories had the highest homicide rates, with Manitoba reporting the highest rate, followed by Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec reported the lowest rates.

While most gang-related homicides occurred in urban centres, the report found Canadians in rural areas were at slightly more risk of being a victim of a homicide.

In 2008, the 22.9 million Canadians living in one of the 34 major metropolitan areas had a lower homicide rate (1.8 per cent) than the 10.4 million Canadians living outside a city (2.0 per cent).