An in-depth look at gun crime statistics in Canada
Gun crime is an ongoing epidemic contributing to homicides, violent crimes, unintentional fatalities, and suicides. In Canada, gun-related violent crime is significantly lower than in other countries but has shown a general increase over the past several years.
- Guns were involved in the majority of some violent crimes in 2020.
- The Canadian Government has recently introduced strict measures to control the spread of gun-related crimes in the country.
- By 2022, most guns in Canada had come from the US.
- Around 1 in 5 Canadians were involved in sports like hunting and sports shooting by 2019.
- Between 2020 and 2021, gun crime went down significantly.
- According to a CTV News report, handguns and other firearms were involved in about 75% of violent robberies, 60% of homicides, and 54% of sexual offenses in 2020.
- In 2022, the Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief proclaimed that 86% of crime handguns were sourced from the US.
- The Department of Medicine of McMaster University reported in 2021 that around 4,000 deaths a year in Canada are caused by suicide, 16% of which involve firearms. Females are less likely to use guns, only in 3% of suicides, whereas males use firearms in an estimated 20%.
- The OFAH and CSAAA published a study in 2019 showing that 5.7 million of the Canadian population participated in hunting, angling, sport shooting, and trapping – making up about 17% of the total population.
- A Statistics Canada report estimated 405 fewer victims of firearm-related violent crime in Toronto from 2020 to 2021. This led to an overall 22% decrease in gun-related crime.
A Brief Look at the Gun Culture in Canada
Canada is considered a safe country regarding gun-related violence. In 2013, the Criminal Code legalized the use of firearms in self-defense. This amendment was criticized by the general public, who associated this law with American tradition, where gun ownership is considered a basic human right.
How easy is it to own a gun in Canada?
To legally own a gun in Canada, you must first get a license by passing the Canadian Firearms Safety Course. The government has taken strict measures for gun regulation and availability. Individuals must be over 18 to legally own a gun and have their license renewed every 5 years.
Canada’s proximity to the US – the largest source of firearms – significantly impacts the availability of guns. Firearm smuggling across the two regions is a common practice. In 2022, the Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief proclaimed that 86% of crime handguns were sourced from the US.
How many Canadians own guns?
According to a Small Arms Survey in 2017, there were an estimated 34.7 civilian firearms per 100 persons or 12,708,000 guns in civilian possession.
A survey by the Angus Reid Institute in 2020 showed that 13% of the 4 million respondents said they own at least one gun. The main aim of this survey was to determine the number of Canadians in support of or opposing the ban on civilian possession of assault weapons and handguns. The key findings of this survey were as follows:
- 65% of the respondents strongly supported the ban on assault weapons and handguns.
- 22% oppose a ban on assault-style weapons.
- Most gun owners are more likely to oppose such bans in contrast to former gun owners who strongly favor banning assault weapons.
Source: Angus Ried
In 2020, the Statista Research Department published a report with the exact numbers of individual firearms licenses held in Canada in 2020:
- Ontario: 624,448 individual licenses
- Quebec: 486,406 individual licenses
- British Columbia: 325,077 individual licenses
- Saskatchewan: 112,790 individual licenses
- Nova Scotia: 75,501 individual licenses
- Northwest Territories: 5,961 individual licenses
Gun-Related Sports Traditions in Canada
Gun sports have been prevalent in Canadian culture for survival and entertainment. In 1871, the first team representing Canada abroad participated in competitive shooting in Wimbledon, England. Since then, shooting clubs and rifle associations have continued growing and developing. According to the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association survey, Ontario residents spent $1.9 billion CAD on hunting and sports shooting.
Shooting sports are an all-time Canadian favorite. The survey mentioned above indicates that most of the Canadian population participating in competitive shooting are women. In 1984, Linda Thom, an underdog competing in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, secured the gold medal in shooting. This wasn’t the only Canadian achievement in shooting sports back then. Since 1896, Canada has participated in the Olympic shooting events and secured 9 medals altogether – 4 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze.
The culture of hunting in Canada dates back to the 1600s when indigenous groups were dependent on hunting for food, shelter, fuel, and clothing. As the Canadian Encyclopedia states, commercial hunting, fur trade, and trophy hunting were common activities back then. Now, hunting is seen more as a form of entertainment than a survival skill.
The OFAH and CSAAA published a study in 2019 showing that 5.7 million of the Canadian population participated in hunting, angling, sport shooting, and trapping – making up about 17% of the total population. However, a CBC News report shows that hunting is seeing a decline in recent years, except for Alberta. From 2016 to 2020, the number of hunting licenses grew from 127,020 to 151,724 in this province.
How Much Gun-Related Crime is There in Canada?
Statistics Canada estimated that less than 3% of police-reported crime in Canada is gun-related, with an average of 8,000 victims per annum. However, there has been a general increase in gun-related violence in recent years.
In April 2020, a mass shooting in Nova Scotia resulted in the loss of 22 lives. It is the deadliest mass shooting in Canada in recent years. After the incident, the government passed strict laws to regulate gun ownership. They prohibited over 1,500 models of assault-style firearms, namely the semi-automatic rifles used for hunting.
According to a CTV News report, handguns and other firearms were involved in about 75% of violent robberies, 60% of homicides, and 54% of sexual offenses in 2020. Of all reported violent crimes that year, 51% were firearm-related.
However, the report addressed a few gaps in the data for gun-related crimes. Some information is not officially recorded due to a lack of consistent criteria for assessing whether a shooting actually occurred. Though this issue is being tackled, it may take a few years for changes to be fully implemented by the police force.
Statistics Canada reported that over the last 11 years, gun-related homicides have increased by 37%. The number of homicides caused by firearms rose from 26% in 2013 to 37% in 2020. Handguns were the weapon of choice in 59% of these firearm-related crimes.
In 2020, 277 out of 743 homicide victims reported to the police resulted from firearm violence. This is estimated to be 0.73 homicides per 100,000 population.
Though gun-related violent crime saw an overall decrease from 2020 to 2021, the rates of homicides increased in 2021. There were around 297 homicides caused by shootings, a 6% increase from the previous year.
According to Statistics Canada, 25% of female victims in gun-related violent crimes were attacked by a current or former partner. Contrary to this, in 2020, 2.2% of males were victims of intimate partner violence where a firearm was present.
Firearm-related violence towards women was most common in rural areas, mainly due to the higher availability of firearms in that region. Nearly 32% of female victims in the rural South and 38% in the rural North were abused in the presence of a gun.
A Statistics Canada report showed that in 2020, 6% of the cases related to gun crime were confirmed or suspected to be a part of gang-related activity. Almost 75% of these victims were male.
35% of reported violent crimes related to street gang activity involved a firearm, whereas 36% involved no weapon and 29% involved another type. As expected, handguns were the most commonly used weapons linked to organized crime at a high rate of 56%, followed by rifles and shotguns at 19%.
The Department of Medicine of McMaster University reported in 2021 that around 4,000 deaths a year in Canada are caused by suicide, 16% of which involve firearms. Females are less likely to use guns, in only 3% of suicides, whereas males use firearms in an estimated 20%.
According to Justice Canada, firearm suicides made up 35.6% of the total suicides in Canada in the 1970s. This decreased to 32% in the 1980s and 27.8% in the 1990s.
A BMC (BioMed Central) study showed that 62.8% of nonfatal firearm hospital visits were due to unintentional injuries. The rates were highest in the 20-34-year-old age group. In 1995, 4.3% of the total 1125 deaths caused by firearms were accidental.
A report by JSTOR showed that in a year, an estimated 50 incidents are unintentional firearm deaths, and nonfatal injuries due to accidental firearm discharge are 10 times more than other causes.
Has Gun Crime Decreased in the Past Few Years in Canada?
Here is a brief overview of the trend of gun-related crime between 2009 and 2021.
- Statistics Canada reported that from 2009 till 2013, firearm-related crime trended down until it spiked significantly in 2013. 26% of all homicides reported to the police in 2013 resulted from firearms.
- According to the same report, gun crime sharply increased between 2014 and 2015. This increase accounts for 2013 being used as a standard to measure.
- After gradually increasing, gun crime decreased by 5% between 2020 and 2021. The major contributor to this decline was the decrease in firearm crime in urban areas in Toronto (a 22% decrease from 2020 to 2021).
- In 2021, 2.6% of all victims of violent crimes occurred in the presence of a firearm.
Source: Statistics Canada
The Impact of the Pandemic on Gun Violence in Canada
According to Statistics Canada, there were 8,344 victims of firearm-related crimes during the first year of the pandemic. Gun violence generally increased in rural areas between 2019 and 2020. On the other hand, the statistics remained unchanged or decreased in urban areas.
Which Provinces have the Most Gun-Related Crime?
Gun-related crime tends to be more concentrated in densely populated provinces like Saskatchewan and Ontario. Statistics Canada published a report comparing the rates of firearm-related violent crime in two time periods – 2009 to 2014 and 2015 to 2020. The report showed the biggest increases in Saskatchewan, the Northwestern Territories, and Manitoba. Saskatchewan and Manitoba had high rates of gun-related violent crime mainly due to high rates of robbery and major assaults involving firearms.
Source: Statistics Canada
The crime rate in this densely populated province greatly affects the overall crime rate in Canada. From 2020 to 2021, there were 522 lesser victims of gun-related crimes in Ontario, according to Statistics Canada. This was a key determinant in Canada’s overall decrease in gun-related violent crime in this period.
Between 2010 and 2013, there was a 33% decline in gun-related crime (335 shooting incidents in 2010 to 255 in 2013) in Toronto. Meanwhile, the number of shooting incidents reported in 2018 was 2.5 times more than in 2014 (an estimated 428 shooting incidents).
There was a notable decrease in firearm-related violent crime from 2020 to 2021 in Toronto. According to Statistics Canada, there were 405 fewer victims of firearm-related violent crime, leading to a 22% decrease.
- Rural North
Statistics Canada also reported that the rate of firearm-related violent crime in Ontario’s rural North was 26.9 per 100,000, compared with 21.2 in urban Ontario and 11.9 in rural Southern Ontario.
With the highest overall increase in crime rates, Saskatchewan has shown a 129% increase in gun-related crime since 2015. In 2016, there were 56 victims of gun-related violence per 100,000 people. This increased to 35.5% of the total homicides caused by a firearm in 2021.
- Rural North:
Rural Northern Saskatchewan recorded Canada’s highest gun crime rate for the seventh consecutive year in 2021. However, it was a very slight decline from the previous year, with a margin of 2 victims.
Before 2013, Regina had the highest gun-related crime rate per capita, with 59 victims per 100,000 people, according to a CBC News report. The numbers doubled for the next three years and have continued to rise since then, as claimed by police officials in a CBC News report. They once found a loaded sawed-off rifle, a homemade zip gun, a taser, ammunition, and stolen property in the passenger seat of an abandoned car.
According to Statistics Canada, there was a notable decrease of 47 victims or a reduction in rate by 3% between 2020 and 2021. The rural South of Alberta accounted for most of this decline, with 100 fewer victims of gun-related crime during this time. Other cities of Alberta showed varied rates of gun crime in these two years:
- The city of Calgary showed a 7% increase.
- The city of Edmonton showed a 9% decrease.
- The city of Vancouver showed an 8% decrease.
- The city of Ottawa showed a 5% decrease.
Statistics Canada reported that British Columbia had 4% fewer gun-related violent crimes in 2021 than in 2020. The rural South played a major role in this decline, with 47 fewer victims or a 39% lower crime rate.
Over a 5-year study from 2012 to 2016 by Frontiers in Public Health, 108 deaths and 245 hospitalizations in British Columbia were caused by firearm violence.
Manitoba, along with Saskatchewan, is a province known for the most gun violence. In 2016, there were 48 victims per 100,000 people of firearm-related crime, according to a CBC News report.
In 2020, the Winnipeg police confiscated approximately 1,200 guns, of which 700 were used in an offense.
According to the Winnipeg CTV News, there were 61 homicides in Manitoba in 2021 or 4.41 homicides per 100,000 people. Out of these, 45 victims were reported from Winnipeg, which was the third-highest rate recorded in metropolitan areas that year.
Between 2020 and 2021, the amount of gun-related violent crimes increased by 15%. “Addressing the issues is not an easy fix,” said Bonnie Emerson, the superintendent of community engagement for the Winnipeg Police Service. “While enforcement is needed in some situations, not everything needs to be, nor can it be, driven by the police,” she stated.
Prince Edward Island
This province is particularly extra involved in hunting and shooting sports. In 2021, the Firearms Act banned the use and ownership of several types of firearms. Recreational shooting sports enthusiasts responded negatively to these amendments, which, they said, impacted law-abiding Canadians more than criminals.
CBC News reported that in 2021, Prince Edward Island received 1.55 million CAD to reduce gun and gang violence in the region. With the amendments to the Firearms Act, federal officials decided to reduce this funding to PEI and instead use it on new police equipment, training, and community outreach.
Rural vs. Urban Gun Crime
Data collected by Statistics Canada shows northern rural areas have higher gun-related crime rates than southern rural and urban areas in most provinces. This is mainly due to more firearm ownership in rural areas, where they are usually used for hunting and farming. In 2020, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Ontario were the only rural areas with lower rates of gun-related violent crime than urban areas.
The same report stated that in 2021, the rural North had the highest number of reported gun crimes, with 107.1 victims per 100,000 population. The rural South had rates four times lesser than the rural North, with 26.7 victims per 100,000 population and 24.8 in urban areas. This is a general trend seen over the years.
Can I Carry a Pistol in Canada?
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, although you may carry handguns in the country, they are considered restricted firearms. Therefore, you may need a permit or license for it.
What are the May 18 Gun Laws in Canada?
According to the Canadian Public Safety website, on May 18, 2022, new gun laws imposed an enhanced record-keeping regulation for non-restricted firearms in the country.
Can I Buy a Handgun In Canada?
According to Cult MTL, a news agency focused on Montreal, since October 2022, buying, selling, or transferring handguns in Canada has become illegal.
Can You Own a Gun without a License in Canada?
According to the Reuters News Agency, you must have a license to own a gun in the country.
Gun activity is an integral part of Canadian culture, both as a means of survival and entertainment.
Since 2013, the number of homicides, organized crime, suicides, and unintentional deaths caused by firearm violence have increased, especially in the densely populated provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan.
The pandemic saw a significant increase in the number of gun-related crimes.
Thus, the government has taken effective measures to regulate gun ownership, causing gun-related crime to decrease in recent years.