The number of homicides committed with knives has risen in Canada and equals the number committed with guns for the first time since 1974, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.

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A knife and a gun are pictured at the scene where a police officer was stabbed to death outside the Ottawa Civic Hospital in Ottawa on Dec. 29, 2009. ((Chris Wattie/Reuters))

In 2008, 34 per cent of 611 homicides reported by police were committed with knives, a seven per cent increase from 1999 and more than double the approximately 15 per cent level of 1974, the first year for which homicide data is available.

The proportion of homicides involving guns, meanwhile, dropped significantly — from approximately 48 per cent in 1974 to 34 per cent in 2008. 

The report did not suggest why the increase has occurred.

Among Canada's larger cities, Calgary and Edmonton had the highest proportions of knife-related homicides, at 40 per cent. Toronto (26.8 per cent), Ottawa (26 per cent) and Vancouver (23.4 per cent) had the lowest proportions.

Almost half of knife-related homicides between 1999 and 2008 occurred between acquaintances and most commonly during an argument, the report said.

Family members committed 35 per cent of stabbings, while strangers committed the remaining 16 per cent.

Overall violent knife crime holds steady

Despite these increases, the use of knives to commit violent crimes generally has remained steady for a decade, the report said.

In 2008, violent crimes committed with a knife accounted for 6.2 per cent of the 23,500 incidents reported by police, the report said, and were most likely to have been used in homicides and attempted murders.

The level of violent crime committed with knives was highest in Western Canada, with Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton reporting levels of about 10 per cent.  Those communities are among the 32 census metropolitan areas used in the study.

Youth and young adults are most likely to use knives in violent crimes, the report said.

Those aged 12 to 24 years accounted for 50 per cent of the people accused of a violent crime with a knife, compared to just 39 per cent accused of non-knife-related violent crimes.

This might be because it's easier for youth to access and conceal knives than it is for them to access or conceal firearms, Statistics Canada suggests.