OTTAWA — The rate and severity of crime both ticked up in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, according to Statistics Canada.
The national statistics agency said Monday the overall crime rate was up two per cent over last year, with over two million incidents reported by police in 2018. That works out to a rate of 5,488 incidents per 100,000 people.
The severity of crime also rose by two per cent, according to a Statistics Canada calculation called the crime-severity index.
But Statistics Canada noted both the rate and severity of crime were still substantially lower than they were a decade ago, both down 17 per cent compared with 2008.
The crime rate in Canada peaked in 1991 and has been in dramatic decline since then, falling by more than 50 per cent until 2014. Since 2014, however, the rate is up just over eight per cent. Most of the movement in the crime rate is the result of changes in non-violent crime.
A spokesperson for Statistics Canada stopped short of calling the increase since 2014 a "trend," saying the agency prefers to wait five years to determine whether something is a pattern.
But Rebecca Kong did say "we're definitely seeing a difference over the last few years" and noted that the overall year-to-year increases since 2014 have not always been driven by rises in the same crimes.
The increase in the severity of crime from 2017 to 2018 was largely because of higher rates of fraud, shoplifting, other thefts and sexual assault, according to the Statistics Canada report.
The class of sexual assault in question — incidents that did not involve weapons or evidence of bodily harm — was reported at a rate 15 per cent higher in 2018 than 2017. The increase was broad-based, with every province and territory except the Northwest Territories reporting higher rates.
The crime-rate numbers published by Statistics Canada are based on data from Canadian police forces, so they do not include crimes that weren't reported to police.
In an article accompanying the statistics, a Statistics Canada analyst said the rate of sexual assault reported is "likely an underestimation of the true extent of sexual assault in Canada."
Irvin Waller, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa whose work focuses on crime prevention, noted another Statistics Canada survey showed somewhere between 83 and 95 per cent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
When it comes to illustrating the level of victimization itself, "I don't think we should put too much store in [the statistics]" he said.
To actually reduce the number of cases, reported or otherwise, the focus should be on what's happening in schools and universities, Waller argued, and teaching young men to be less sexually violent.
"These [crimes] are preventable, but they're not going to be prevented by what policing does," he said.
Sexual assault, along with a 44-per-cent increase in extortion, was also a factor in an uptick of one per cent in the severity of violent crime, Statistics Canada said.
But while violent crime overall increased, the homicide rate reversed an upward trend over the last few years by declining by four per cent in 2018.
The decline in homicides was region-specific: big decreases were seen in Alberta and British Columbia, but Ontario homicides increased substantially.
And Indigenous people continue to disproportionately be the victims of homicide. Though they make up five per cent of Canada's population, they were 22 per cent of homicide victims. Indigenous people were killed in 2018 at a rate five times the non-Indigenous rate, Statistics Canada said.
Some already-announced funding from the federal government might help, Waller said, but more efforts could reduce Indigenous homicide rates at a much faster pace.
Strong outreach programs to young men at risk of joining gangs in key cities like Thunder Bay, Winnipeg and Edmonton, are one place to start, he said.
The issue of homicide in non-urban Indigenous communities is much harder to solve with the same tactics, Waller said, since the science on which his social-program-centric approach is based has so far focused on urban environments.
Also in the report, Statistics Canada noted a decrease in hate crimes in Canada, down 13 per cent after they spiked in 2017. That year there was a 47-per-cent increase in the number of hate crimes reported by police, with large increases in Ontario and Quebec.
Last year, hate crimes against Muslims fell by half, and there were also fewer hate crimes against black people and fewer crimes focused on sexual orientation. The number of hate crimes against Jews fell by 4 per cent.
Statistics Canada noted the rate of hate crimes continues to be higher than any other year since 2009.
Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press