Counting crime in Canada

Crime statistics have become a hot topic of debate in federal politics recently. Here's a closer look at the numbers.

A closer look at the numbers

Investigators work at a crime scene northeast of Regina on May 6, 2008.

Crime statistics have become a hot topic of debate in federal politics recently.

The Conservative government has suggested that figures showing a declining crime rate  are not accurate because fewer people are reporting crimes committed against them.

"The crime isn't going down," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Oct. 6 at an announcement for a $155.5-million expansion of prisons in Ontario and Quebec. "It is still unacceptably high. Canadians should not be subjected to that kind of crime rate."

The Opposition Liberals, meanwhile, have accused the government of denying the statistics and trying to use crime to scare voters.

Here's a closer look at what the numbers say.

The crime rate in Canada — as measured by the number of reported Criminal Code violations per 100,000 residents — has generally been dropping for 20 years.

There were 6,406 criminal incidents per 100,000 Canadians in 2009, almost the same figure as in 1974. The rate was down three per cent from the previous year and was 38 per cent less than the peak year of 1991.

The numbers for violent crimes, such as homicides and assaults, and property crime such as theft and vandalism, mirror the overall trend. Decreases in violent offences, however, have been less steep over the past decade.

Unreported crimes

A wide-ranging survey on criminal victimization  was released by Statistics Canada in September 2010. Conducted every five years, it asks people to report their experiences with crime.

The survey suggested 31 per cent of criminal activity in 2009 was reported and 69 per cent went unreported.

The rate of reporting is down from 34 per cent in 2004 and 37 per cent in 1999.

Crimes reported

The percentage of crime reported to police in 2009 varied, depending on the offence:

  • Break and enter: 54%
  • Motor vehicle theft: 50%
  • Robbery: 43%
  • Vandalism: 35%
  • Physical assault: 34%
  • Household property theft: 23%

(Source: Criminal victimization in Canada survey)

Twenty-nine per cent of violent crimes, from assaults to homicides, were brought to the attention of police, compared with 33 per cent in 2004.

More than a quarter of Canadians 15 years and older said they'd been the victim of a crime in the 12 months before the survey. The figure was roughly the same five years earlier.

The victimization survey, based on data collected in Statistics Canada's General Social Survey, differs from the crime rate tallied by police in that it samples respondents and is designed to be representative of the entire Canadian population.

It's considered to be accurate to within 0.95 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Perceptions of crime

Top reasons victims give for not reporting crime

  • Offence not important enough
  • Police couldn't do anything about it
  • Incident dealt with another way
  • Incident was a personal matter
  • Didn't want to get police involved
  • Police wouldn't help
  • Insurance wouldn't cover it
  • No items were taken/recovered
  • Had no confidence in criminal justice system
  • Believed police would be biased
  • Feared revenge by offender
  • Feared publicity

(Source: Criminal victimization in Canada survey)

The overwhelming majority of Canadians feel safe when it comes to crime, according to the crime victimization survey.

Ninety-three per cent of respondents said they felt either very or somewhat satisfied with their personal safety.

Nine in 10 felt safe when walking alone after dark and 83 per cent were not at all worried about being home alone at night.

Almost six in 10 were not at all worried about taking public transportation alone at night, while 37 per cent were somewhat worried.

Crime severity index

Statistics Canada has also introduced a measurement in recent years called the crime severity index (CSI)  that attempts to measure the overall impact of the Canadian crime problem.

In the CSI, each police-reported offence is assigned a weight, based on sentences handed down by criminal courts. The more serious the average sentence, the higher the weight for that offence.

The index declined to 87.2 last year, down four per cent from 2008 and 22 per cent lower than in 1999. Manitoba and Nunavut were the only jurisdictions where the index rose in 2009.

CSI by province/territory (2009)

CSI for selected cities (2009)

The crime index varies widely from city to city, tending to be highest in the West and lower in Ontario.

 City  CSI  % change from 2008
 Regina  143.7  -12
 Saskatoon  132.1  -5
 Winnipeg  127.2  +2
 Kelowna  121.2  -2
 Edmonton  115.1  -7
 Vancouver  109.6  +1
 Halifax  97.2  +1
 Saint John  96.4  -6
 St. John's  90.6  +4
 Montreal  89.6  -2
 Calgary  78.4  -7
 Hamilton  73.5  -5
 Windsor  71.1  -5
 Ottawa  67.0  -2
 Toronto  61.9  -4

Go to Statistics Canada for the full list of all Canadian cities.