The number of homicides in Canada rose to 598 in 2011, 44 more than the previous year, marking the first increase in three years, according to data released today.

Statistics Canada reported Tuesday that the homicide rate has stayed "relatively stable over the past decade." Prior to that, it had been declining since the mid-1970s.

However, deaths related to firearms aren't nearly as common, the federal agency said.

"The rate of firearm homicides per 100,000 population has generally been declining since the mid-1970s and, in 2011, reached its lowest point in almost 50 years."

The Canadian murder weapon of choice is now the blade.

"An increase in stabbings accounted for virtually the entire increase in homicides in 2011," the federal data agency said.

It said there were 39 more stabbings in 2011 compared to 2010. Overall, stabbings accounted for 35 per cent of homicides, firearms for 27 per cent, beatings for 22 per cent and strangulation for seven per cent.

Overall, the homicide rate was 1.73 per 100,000 population in 2011, seven per cent higher than in 2010, Statistics Canada said.

Metropolitan Winnipeg had the highest number of homicides at 39, as well as the highest rate among major cities, followed by Halifax and Edmonton.

The rates in Winnipeg and Halifax were the highest in those cities since data became available in 1981, Statistics Canada said.

Here are Canada's top 10 cities ranked by their homicide rate per 100,000 people:

  1. Winnipeg, 5.08
  2. Halifax, 4.41
  3. Edmonton, 4.17
  4. Thunder Bay, 3.33
  5. Regina, 3.15
  6. Saint John, 2.90
  7. Peterborough, 2.44
  8. Saskatoon,  2.16
  9. St. John's, 2.12
  10. London, 1.80

Across Canada, police considered 95 homicides to be gang-related in 2011, similar to 2010, but well below the peak of 138 reached in 2008. Gang homicides increased steadily from the early 1990s until 2008, before declining in both 2009 and 2010.

The report said the majority of homicide victims and those accused of homicide are male. In 2011, males accounted for seven in 10 homicide victims and nine in 10 of those accused of homicide.

Victims typically know their killer. Among solved homicides in 2011, almost half were committed by an acquaintance or friend, one-third by a family member and only 15 per cent by a stranger.

Police reported 89 homicides involving intimate partners in 2011, including 76 female victims and 13 male victims. This resulted in a rate of 0.26 intimate partner homicides per 100,000 population, similar to the rate in recent years.

The rate of intimate partner homicides committed against females increased by 19 per cent in 2011, the third increase in four years. The rate for male victims declined by almost half, hitting the lowest point since data collection began in 1961.

With files from The Canadian Press