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Canada's crime rate continued to fall last year, with the homicide rate dropping to the lowest level in 46 years.

Statistics Canada said the overall police-reported crime rate decreased 3 per cent, reaching the lowest point since 1972. The reduction was largely due to declines in some of the most common offences – from mischief to car theft.

The "crime severity index," which is a way of weighting offences, also fell 3 per cent. The measure dropped 28 per cent in the past decade.

Since peaking in 1991, the crime rate in Canada has been on a slow downward slide which experts say is the result of a host of factors, including simple demographics, policing strategies and social and economic conditions.

"I think the most significant factor is probably the demographic shift, but I think as a culture we've become a somewhat more civilized and somewhat more rights-conscious society," said Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University.

The federal Conservatives, who have made tightening crime laws a centrepiece of their agenda, sought to take credit for the findings.

"These statistics show that our tough-on-crime measures are working," Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, said in an e-mail.

The British Columbia city of Kelowna had the highest crime rate last year while Toronto had the lowest for the sixth year in a row. The territories had higher crime rates than the provinces, where Saskatchewan led and Ontario was at the bottom of the pack.

There were 543 homicides in Canada last year, down 10 per cent from 2011 – largely because of a drop in the West. The overall homicide rate was the lowest since 1966.

Vehicle thefts dropped 7 per cent and the rate of break and enters fell 4 per cent in 2012. The number of young people accused of a crime also decreased by 7 per cent. As well, there were fewer drunk driving offences, largely because of new rules in B.C.

While there were fewer overall violent crimes in 2012, Statscan noted spikes in certain offences, including extortion, violent firearm incidents and sexual violations against children.

Police also reported increases in identity fraud, arson and certain drug offences. Terrorism-related offences doubled to 114, mainly because of "an unusually high number of hoax" incidents during student demonstrations in Quebec in the spring of 2012, Statscan said.

The annual report from the federal agency counts only those crimes reported to police, leading critics to say that it paints an incomplete picture. Conversely, changing social attitudes can lead to more reporting of some types of crimes, making it appear there is an increase.

In all, police forces reported almost two million crimes, excluding traffic offences, last year, down by about 36,000 incidents from 2011. Four out of every five crimes were non-violent in nature.

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