Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia hospitals see 'dramatic increase' in stab wounds

The Nova Scotia Health Authority is seeing a steady increase in the number of people coming to hospital with stab wounds some of which are life threatening.

ER doctor says he wants to know what's behind 'surprising' rise in stabbings

Police say many of the bladed weapons they seize are exceedingly sharp and dangerous. (Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC)

Robert Childs had a 40th birthday he'll never forget — for all the wrong reasons.

In October 2013, he was stabbed in the back after he accidentally bumped into a stranger outside a bar in Bridgewater, N.S. The unprovoked knife attack did serious damage.

"He punctured my lung, my spleen and my diaphragm. It went right through my lung and stuck into the other side into the rib, took a chunk out of the rib. He almost went right through me," Childs said in a recent interview. 

He was hospitalized and managed to survive, but he has never fully recovered. He was too weak to continue his 25-year career as a scallop fisherman. The damage to his lungs and diaphragm means he can no longer perform strenuous physical activity. 

"It ruined my life, pretty well," he said.

He's hardly the only one suffering. 

Dr. Robert Green is the medical director of Trauma Nova Scotia. (CBC)

There's been a "dramatic increase" in the number of stabbing victims across the province since 2015, according to Dr. Robert Green, an emergency department doctor in Halifax and medical director of Trauma Nova Scotia.

Statistics, he said, show the number of patients who need treatment is rising by 11 or 12 year over year.

"I am surprised that the numbers are escalating in our registry as much as they are," said Green.

There's been an average of 48 patients a year admitted to hospital with stab wounds in Nova Scotia in the last three years. Four or five of those patients would have major trauma that require resuscitation, Green said. 

"In my experience the majority are related to assaults," said Green, adding to some are also likely self-inflicted.

The Halifax Regional Police have about four boxes of ancient and unusual weapons in storage. Most of the weapons are destroyed after they are used as evidence, say police. These are some of the weapons police had in storage in 2018. (Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC)

Green said penetrating injuries like these are very common in the United States, but not in Canada, where most traumatic injuries involve car crashes or older people falling.

In Nova Scotia, there are 400 or so major traumas every year. While stabbing injuries only make up a small fraction of those, Green still wants to know what's behind the increase.

Neither the Halifax Regional Police nor the RCMP would do interviews with CBC News about stabbings.

However, the RCMP did provide numbers showing there were 103 incidents involving assault with a weapon causing bodily harm in the Halifax district in 2017, roughly the same the next year, and 88 so far in 2019. The data did not break down how many involved knives.

Statistics Canada does track weapons used in assaults, but it is not part of the regular data included on its website. The agency said it would take at least a month to compile the information.

Halifax Regional Police logged 133 incidents where a knife was used between January 1, 2015, and September 24, 2019, according to data released through freedom-of-information laws. That averages out to about 27 stabbings a year.

The Halifax police data, however, does not show any increase in stabbings in the areas they patrol.

Michael Boudreau is a criminology and criminal justice professor at St. Thomas University. (Jon Collicott/CBC)

The conflicting numbers from the health authority and the police don't surprise Michael Boudreau, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. 

He said sometimes stabbing victims don't report it to police because it happened while they themselves were doing something illegal. That same person may show up at a hospital for treatment, so the health authority records their injuries, however there is no corresponding police record.

Boudreau said hospitals are only required to report very serious stab wounds to police.  

Depending on the force used and where someone is hit, a knife wound can be as gentle as a scratch or as dangerous as a deadly blow, said Green. 

The most serious stabbings can take hours of surgery just to keep someone alive, while minor cuts can be patched in a matter of minutes. 

Halifax Regional Police said in 2018 they had seen an increase in people carrying metal and plastic punch knives shaped like cat faces on their key chains. (David Burke/CBC )

As for why the health authority is seeing more stab wounds in recent years, Boudreau said there are no clear answers. 

"It could be a multitude of factors, because unfortunately it's not something we necessarily track that closely in terms of motivation," said Boudreau, "We tend to track more why do people use firearms as opposed to knives."

Knives are used as weapons in arguments, domestic assaults and even premeditated robberies, said Boudreau. Many times knives are used because they happen to be handy. And drug dealers or others involved in other illegal activity carry hunting or combat knives as a form of protection.

And many stabbings involve people drinking too much alcohol, said Boudreau. 

Regardless of why more people are being stabbed, Robert Childs wants it to stop.

The man who stabbed him was found guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced to 66 months in prison, but that didn't help Childs recover.  

He said people don't understand how devastating a knife wound can be, both physically and mentally. He was depressed for about six months following the attack.

Childs said his family and friends worked hard to get him out of that funk, and he hopes anyone suffering with a stab wound will do their best to bounce back.

"Don't give up," said Childs. "Try to get back to work, build your muscles back up, do whatever you got to do."

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