A quick perusal of the news pages leaves the impression that the world, already a dangerous place, is becoming increasingly so. Impressions can be misleading.
According to Statistics Canada's most reliable benchmark of violent crime – the number of murders and attempted murders – this country is the safest it's been since the mid-1960s. The murder rate dropped last year – again – and that drop is part of a long-term trend; Canada's homicide rate spiked in the 1960s and early '70s, but has been falling steadily since. In Quebec, the rate is the lowest since official records started, more than 50 years ago. In fact, most of the slide in last year's national murder – there were 505 homicides in Canada, 38 fewer than the previous year – owes to the decline in Quebec.
The rate of this most violent of crimes has been dropping consistently for decades, seemingly independent of policy. One area of the Statscan report, however, does hint at some degreee of policy success.
Though the number of stabbing deaths ticked upward in 2013, homicides involving firearms have receded to their lowest level since 1974; the number of murders involving handguns fell to its lowest total since 1998. Since 2005, remembered in Toronto for the Summer of the Gun, the incidence of hand-gun homicides has been chopped nearly in half.
Toronto and Edmonton, in particular, saw sharp decreases in gun-related deaths in 2013. There is also a marked decline in gang-related murders, which are at their lowest level in a decade.
The numbers also confirm some less happy facts: Regional disparities still exist – murder rates are highest in the West – and nine of 10 victims died at the hands of someone they knew.
We live in an extremely safe country – safer than the Canada of the 1990s, '80s, and '70s. But lest Canadians lapse into self-congratulation, it's worth pointing out that homicide rates are still slightly higher than they were in 1961, when data collection started. Last year's 505 homicides aren't yet a record low. And they're still 505 too many.