The number of cannabis-related offences reported to police declined for the fifth straight year, Statistics Canada said Monday as it released its annual report on police-reported crime.

There were about 55,000 offences related to marijuana reported to police in 2016, about 6,000 fewer than reported the year before, despite the percentage of Canadians consuming the drug on the rise.

The agency said police charged 17,733 people with the possession of pot last year, a drop of about 3,600 from 2015.

The Liberal government has introduced legislation to legalize marijuana by next summer, but won't decriminalize simple possession in the face of NDP requests to do so in the interim.

Statistics Canada said the combined rate of drug-related offences for substances other than cannabis and cocaine, which has also been on the decline, has been increasing since 2010.

That included a seven-per-cent increase in the number of police-reported offences related to the possession of drugs such as prescription drugs, including opioids such as fentanyl, LSD and so-called "date rape" drugs in 2016.

Meanwhile, the national crime rate did not change in 2016. The national crime rate has been on a downward trend since the early 1990s, although there were increases reported in both 2003 and 2015.

Statistics Canada said there were nearly 1.9 million Criminal Code incidents — excluding traffic offences — reported by police in 2016, about 27,700 more than in 2015.

Severity of crimes on rise

However, the severity of the crimes increased slightly for the second year in a row.

The agency said the one-per-cent increase in its crime severity index in 2016 was largely driven by a continued increase in the rate of police-reported fraud, which was up by 14 per cent over the previous year. That includes identity fraud, which was up by 16 per cent, and identity theft, which was up by 21 per cent.

Rebecca Kong, chief of the policing services program at Statistics Canada, said growing awareness could have led to the higher number of fraud crimes reported to police.

"There have been a number of the Canada Revenue Agency-themed scams that have been reported to police," Kong said Monday.

"It could be also just an increase in awareness among victims and an increase in encouraging of reporting also," she said.

Violent crimes up

There were also reported increases in the rate of some violent crimes.

Among them was a 30-per-cent increase in police-reported incidents of sexual violations against children, which Statistics Canada said is likely due to harsher penalties that can contribute to an increase in official statistics.

Statistics Canada said there was also a large increase in the rate of police-reported non-consensual distribution of intimate images, with 815 reported incidents in 2016 compared to 340 the previous year.

The agency noted it is a relatively new crime, so the increase is likely due to 2016 being the first full year of data available, but also growing awareness and use by the police.

Statistics Canada also said the number of police-reported sexual assaults was 15-per-cent lower than a decade earlier, despite the self-reported sexual assault rate unchanged over roughly the same period.

"This demonstrates that, due to a range of factors, police-reported data can underestimate the nature and extent of sexual assault," the agency said Monday.

'Unfounded' sexual assault reports

Statistics Canada also mentioned how an investigation by the Globe and Mail revealed a wide variation in how police forces across the country record sexual assault allegations to be unfounded, which could also impact official statistics.

The agency noted it will again collect and release data on unfounded cases where police don't believe a crime has been committed, including sexual assaults, in July 2018.

Police reported 611 homicides in 2016, which is two more than the previous year, but because the size of the population grew, the rate actually decreased by one per cent to 1.68 homicides per 100,000 people.

The city with the highest homicide rate was in Thunder Bay, Ont., followed by Edmonton and Regina.