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Last year saw highest rate of gang-related homicides in 16 years: Statistics Canada

British Columbia counted among the provinces with large increases
Police tape is shown in Toronto, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. New Statistics Canada data shows there was an increase in homicides in 2021 and nearly one-quarter of the killings were connected to gangs.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

A report from Statistics Canada shows the national homicide rate has increased for a third consecutive year and nearly one-quarter of killings in 2021 were connected to gangs.

There were 788 homicides in the country last year – up three per cent from 2020. It marked the highest rate of homicides in Canada since 2005.

Saskatchewan saw both the highest rate of homicides and the highest rate of gang-related killings. The province’s homicide rate went up nine per cent from 2020.

Manitoba had the second highest rate, while Ontario and British Columbia also saw large increases.

Alberta and Nova Scotia had significant drops, with the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia contributing to its decrease the following year.

Homicides remain relatively rare in Canada, said Statistics Canada, and accounted in 2021 for less than 0.2 per cent of all police-reported violent crimes.

The cities of Regina, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, Ont., had the highest rates of homicides.

The data released Monday showed 184 of the homicides were gang-related. The agency said it’s the highest rate since data about gang killings was first collected 16 years ago.

In particular, there were 13 additional gang-related homicides in Ontario compared with the previous year. British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Yukon also saw increases in killings connected to gangs.

“We need to do something different if we really want to provide real safety,” said Kevin Walby, associate criminal justice professor at the University of Winnipeg.

He said people are facing more struggles with their social and economic conditions because of the pandemic and inflation. That can push people towards riskier lifestyles, Walby added.

In order to curb violence, he said there needs to be more social supports, job opportunities, antiviolence training and community support.

Walby said the numbers also show that investing in community supports is particularly important for people of colour, who are more likely to face the fatal outcomes of crime.

The rate of Indigenous victims across the country remained disproportionately high — six times higher than non-Indigenous people. Statistics Canada said it is connected to the ongoing legacy of colonization of Indigenous people.

Forty-five Indigenous women were victims of homicides in 2021 — three more than the previous year.

In Saskatchewan, 77 per cent of those killed were Indigenous people, who only represent about 18 per cent of the province’s population. Alberta and Manitoba also had a high number of Indigenous victims.

Black and South Asian people also had higher rates of being victims of homicide. Ontario recorded 138 homicides where the victims were racialized — 50 more than in 2020.

Statistics Canada said firearms were the most common weapon used in homicides. Toronto had the highest number of homicides involving a firearm at 61, followed by Vancouver, Montreal and Edmonton.

Stabbings accounted for 32 per cent of homicides.

Walby said record amounts of money have been put into policing across the country but that has not decreased the number of homicides in many areas.

“I’m not sure we have really developed policies or approaches to mitigating violence or transgressions that are working.”

—Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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