Montreal

Montreal on track for historically low number of homicides in 2016

The year isn't quite over yet, but if the numbers hold, the island of Montreal will record its lowest number of homicides in more than 40 years.

So far, there have been 23 homicides this year, previous low was 28

Prior to this year, the lowest number of homicides occurred in 2013 and 2014. (Charles Contant/CBC)

The year isn't quite over yet, but if the numbers hold, the island of Montreal will record its lowest number of homicides in more than 40 years.

With only one day to go, there have been 23 homicides on the island. The year's first homicide occurred in March.

It's a far cry from the numbers seen through the later part of the 20th century, and even the early 2000s.

Here's a look at numbers provided by Montreal police showing the number of homicides per year, dating back to 1972, the first year police began recording statistics. 

As the chart shows, homicides peaked during the 1970s, 80s and even 90s, when slayings involving members of organized crime were at their height.

Prior to this year, the lowest number of homicides occurred in 2013 and 2014, when 28 people were killed.

Montreal police provide service to Montreal's 19 boroughs as well as the demerged cities.

Link between trauma care, homicides

In an interview earlier this year, Montreal police major crimes unit Cmdr. Vincent Rozon attributed the decline of homicides in recent years to several factors, including the work of police investigators.

"Out of 29 homicide cases in 2015, 21 have been solved, a 72 per cent success rate, an excellent rate. Important players are put away, which means they can't commit any other crimes and it calms that trail of violence," Rozon said.

He also mentioned another factor – advances in medicine. Hospitals play a key role in homicide numbers, because a homicide is only a homicide if someone dies.

Dr. Tarek Razek, director of trauma services at the McGill University Health Centre, said the key to saving lives is rapid access.

"One of the biggest risks of dying after injuries are brain injuries and bleeding, and they're both unfortunately very time-dependent so we have to get you into that specialized care to deal with those problems very quickly," he said.

Montreal police say advances in medicine have, in part, helped decrease the amount of homicides that happen in the Montreal area because fewer injuries are fatal. (Associated Press)

In 1993, Quebec implemented a province-wide trauma system, designating specific hospitals to handle major trauma cases. On the island, that hospital is the Montreal General.

Before that reorganization, the death rate for someone who showed up at a Quebec hospital with what is categorized as a major injury was 50 per cent.

Five years later, that number had dropped to 18 per cent. Today, it's at five per cent for the Montreal area.

Same changes, same results

Montreal modelled its system after hospitals in the United States. Razek said every city that has undertaken the same kind of reorganization has had the same results.

And the numbers match up, to an extent – while it hasn't quite been a steady decline, in 1993, there were 71 homicides in Montreal. That number hasn't been reached since.

The challenge now, he says, is access for people who live outside the city. Everyone knows of how challenging it can be to get around in Montreal, and Quebec's hospitals don't have coordinated helicopter rescue teams, an issue Razek has spoken out about in the past.

"If you're up in the Laurentians, or you're in the Eastern Townships, or just in the suburbs, you're going to have a little bit slower access because we don't have the same transport mechanisms that most other cities have, and that has consequences," he said.

with files from Radio-Canada's Benoît Chapdelaine

now