National sexual assault rate highest since 1996, violent crimes up: Statistics Canada

The rate of police-reported sexual assault in Canada has reached its highest level since 1996, according to Statistics Canada data released Tuesday.

There were more than 34,200 reports of sexual assault countrywide in 2021, an 18 per cent increase from 2020, according to the newly released numbers.

While reports decreased in 2020, the rate of sexual assault has otherwise steadily increased for five years.

Despite an increase in public discussion of issues around sexual violence, Statistics Canada said the number of sexual assaults reported to police is still likely to be a significant underestimate.

The agency cited data that showed in 2019, only six per cent of sexual assault incidents experienced by Canadians 15 and older in the previous year had been reported to police.

Overall violent crime increasing

The sexual assaults account for a third of an overall five per cent increase in reports of violent crime, with homicides, criminal harassment, hate crimes and firearm offences also on the rise

In 2021, police reported 788 homicides, 29 more than in 2020, representing a three per cent increase across the country.

Ontario and British Columbia both saw more homicides than last year, while there were fewer in Alberta and Nova Scotia, where a mass shooting took place in 2020. Provincial homicide rates were highest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

While fewer Indigenous homicide victims were reported in 2021, the homicide rate for Indigenous people was still nearly six times higher than in the non-Indigenous population, Statistics Canada said.

Criminal harassment was up 10 per cent in 2021 from 2020; non-consensual distribution of intimate images was up eight per cent; indecent or harassing communications were up four per cent; uttering threats was up three per cent.

Hate crimes on the rise

Statistics show that hate crimes increased 27 per cent from 2020 to 2021, after a 36 per cent increase the year before, with crimes targeting religion and sexual orientation seeing the most dramatic increases.

Both violent and non-violent firearms offences were more frequent last year than the year before, with violent gun crimes increasing by four per cent and police-reported rates of “discharging a firearm with intent” up eight per cent.

For the first time since 2006, violent crime and non-violent crime are trending in opposite directions overall.

Non-violent crime is down three per cent across the board, with lower rates of breaking and entering and thefts under $5,000.

Break-ins were down 10 per cent nationally, with the rate falling nearly 40 per cent over the past decade, though more than 125,500 incidents were still reported. Theft of under $5,000 was down four per cent after a 19 per cent decline last year.

Robbery, which is categorized as a violent offence, was also down by five per cent in 2021 after a 18 per cent drop in 2020.

Statistics Canada cited the Public Health Agency of Canada in stating that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the public health crisis of opioid overdose deaths and hospitalizations.

There is unsurprisingly a commensurate increase in opioid-related offences, including possession, trafficking, production and importation or exportation of opioids, which went up 13 per cent in 2021.

Provincially, the highest rates of opioid offences were reported in B.C., while Lethbridge, Alta., and Kelowna, B.C., had the highest rates among the country’s census metropolitan areas.

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