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Canada Cost of violent crimes topped $12-billion in one year: Justice Canada study

Police tape seals off a downtown Kelowna, B.C., street corner on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011.

CHRIS STANFORD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Violent crimes in Canada come with a huge financial cost, to victims and to the justice system, says a new Justice Canada report.

Five types of violent crimes that occurred in 2009 had an economic impact of $12.7 billion, says the detailed accounting of dozens of factors, from medical care and lost wages to court and social welfare costs.

The study is the department's fourth since 2011 to examine the grim price tags associated with crime in Canada, all of them focused on the burden placed on victims.

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The latest research, completed in December, looked at every case of assault, criminal harassment, homicide, robbery, and sexual assault and other sexual offences, that occurred in 2009.

Excluded were cases in which there was a spousal relationship, which was the special subject of a previous study. The project drew on police and court databanks as well as surveys from Statistics Canada.

By far the largest single cost — $4.8 billion of the total — was attributed to sexual assault and other sexual offences, crimes in which more than 90 per cent of victims were women.

Victims bore most of the costs for all five types of crime, $10.6 billion, with criminal justice system and third-party costs far behind.

"The victims bear the greatest burden of the impacts, much of it intangible, and family, friends and employers can also be burdened," the authors conclude.

"The impacts are eventually felt by all Canadians in the form of public spending on the justice system and social services."

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the 168-page report through the Access to Information Act.

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The research emerges from the Conservative government's strong focus on victims as it continues to implement changes to the justice system, including mandatory minimum sentences and tougher rules on pardons.

Previous Justice Canada studies, using the same methodology, examined the economic cost of all crimes that occurred in 2008 ($99.6 billion); of gun crimes in the same year ($3.1 billion); and of spousal violence that occurred in 2009 ($7.4 billion).

This area of research, pioneered in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, is touted as helping to show the potential economic effects of reducing crime, and to provide governments information to assign resources more effectively.

"Understanding and being aware of the costs of crime, particularly as they impact victims, can result in more effective and timely crime interventions," said department spokesman Andrew Gowing.

"The work helps program and policy makers understand where the greatest economic impact of crime falls for governments, businesses and those who have experienced violence."

"The knowledge helps to better allocate resources for victims of crime."

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Gowing added that the research helps fulfil Canada's commitments under the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

A consultant for the study, criminologist Holly Johnson at the University of Ottawa, said the methodology is first-rate, but she questions the value of such reports.

"It highlights a big figure and that gets public attention, but unless it leads to action to address the problem, I'm not sure that they've been all that beneficial," said Johnson, who studies violence against women.

"We know it's a big problem and now we know it's a big cost — so what are we going to do about it? ... They're doing so little to address it."

Justice Minister Peter MacKay has promised a victims bill of rights this year, after consultations throughout 2013, and the department says it has provided more than $120 million since 2006 for victim-oriented initiatives, some delivered by the provinces.

At the same time, the government has resisted demands for a full public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women — demands now louder after the killing in February of Loretta Saunders, a young Inuit student in Halifax studying the issue of violence against indigenous women.

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The Native Women's Association of Canada says one in 10 female homicides involve aboriginal women, even though they make up only three per cent of the population.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning Ottawa think-tank, last summer reviewed federal spending on female victims of violence and concluded there is "no coherent federal policy addressing violence against women."

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