Key Messages

  • Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest average homicide rate among the provinces between 2013 and 2015.
  • Overall, Canada ranks 13th among the 16 peer countries and scores a “B” grade with a three-year average homicide rate of 1.5 deaths per 100,000 population.
  • With an average homicide rate of 3.7, Manitoba is the lowest-ranked province, placing just ahead of the peer country with the highest homicide rate, the United States.

Putting the homicide rate in context

A sense of personal and community safety is essential to a high quality of life. Physical, psychological, and financial effects of crime reduce levels of trust in a society and therefore affect social cohesion. The Conference Board ranking analyzes statistics on crime against people (homicide rates) and against property (burglary rates). Both forms of crime have a major impact on the well-being of society.

The total economic costs of victimization for five major violent crimes (assault, criminal harassment, homicide, robbery, and sexual assault) was $12.7 billion in 2009—or $376 per capita. Homicide alone cost $3.7 billion. The total figure includes:

  • $171.6 million in criminal justice system costs (police costs, court costs, and corrections costs)
  • $3.5 billion in victim costs (medical costs and intangible costs such as pain and suffering)
  • $75 million in third-party costs (lost
    additional output to employers, social services operating costs, and funeral costs)1

Reducing crime would not only strengthen social cohesion but also free up funds for other programs to improve economic and social well-being—such as education and skills training, health prevention and promotion programs, investment in environmental protection, and investment in innovation and technology.

How do the homicide rates in the provinces compare to those of Canada’s peers?

Newfoundland and Labrador (0.8), with the lowest average homicide rate between 2013 and 2015, gets an “A” grade and is tied for 6th place along with peer countries Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden. The top-ranked overall is Japan, with a three-year average homicide rate of 0.3 deaths per 100,000 population.

Five other provinces also score “A” grades: Quebec (0.9), Nova Scotia (1.1), P.E.I. (1.1), Ontario (1.2), and New Brunswick (1.2). These provinces have average homicide rates comparable to peer countries the U.K. (1.0), Australia (1.1), Ireland (1.1), and France (1.2).

Overall, Canada ranks 13th among the 16 peer countries, scoring a “B” with a three-year average homicide rate of 1.5 deaths per 100,000 population. B.C. (1.9) is also a “B” performer, with a homicide rate above the national average and comparable to those of peer countries Finland (1.6) and Belgium (1.8).

Alberta (2.6) and Saskatchewan (2.9) are “C” performers. The worst-ranked province, Manitoba, scores a “D” grade with an average of 3.7 homicides per 100,000 population, only slightly lower than the United States’ three-year average rate of 4.3—the highest homicide rate among all the comparator regions.

How do the provinces perform relative to one another?

Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I. have the lowest homicide rates in the country, with an average 1.1 deaths or less per 100,000 population between 2013 and 2015. Ontario and New Brunswick also do better than the national average with an average homicide rate of 1.2 deaths per 100,000 population. Manitoba and Saskatchewan have the highest homicide rates among the provinces. Manitoba’s average homicide rate is 3.7 deaths per 100,000 population—two-and-a-half times the national average and almost five times the rate of top-ranked province, Newfoundland and Labrador.

How do the territories fare?

With an average homicide rate of 3.7 deaths per 100,000 population between 2013 and 2015, Yukon is a “D” performer. However, this relatively high three-year average homicide rate is due to the high homicide rate in 2014 of 8.1 deaths per 100,000 population. In 2013, there were no recorded homicides in Yukon.

Nunavut has the highest homicide rate among all the comparator regions. Between 2013 and 2015, the average homicide rate in the territory was 9.3 deaths per 100,000 population, over six times higher than the national average and two-and-a-half times higher than that of Manitoba, the worst-ranking province. N.W.T. also fares poorly, with an average homicide rate of 7.6, over one-and-a-half times higher than that of the United States, the worst-ranked peer country.

The actual number of homicides in each of the territories is low in absolute terms (for example, Yukon and N.W.T. had 3 homicides in 2014, while Nunavut had 4 homicides that year—Manitoba, in comparison, recorded 45 homicides in 2014), but high relative to the size of their populations, particularly in Nunavut and N.W.T.

The territories are not included in the overall provincial and international benchmarking calculations because data are not available for key indicators included in the overall society report card. The Conference Board is, however, committed to including the territories in our analysis, and so we provide information on territorial performance when data are available.

Are homicide rates in Canada decreasing?

Overall, Canada’s homicide rate has steadily decreased over the past 40 years, with the most populous provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. having seen their rates dropping since the early 1990s. In 2014, Canada’s homicide rate fell to 1.47 deaths per 100,000 population—the country’s lowest rate since 1966. The rate increased to 1.68 in 2015, with all provinces and territories—except P.E.I., Yukon, and Nunavut—seeing an increase in their homicide rates.

The downward trend in recent years is in large part thanks to a notable drop in Quebec’s homicide rate, which fell from 2.04 in 2000 to 0.85 in 2014.

Homicide rates have increased in Manitoba, the province with the highest homicide rate. In 2000, the homicide rate in Manitoba was 2.61. The province’s average homicide rate between 2013 and 2015 was 3.7 deaths per 100,000 population.

Among the territories, Yukon saw a remarkable improvement between 2000 and 2013. The territory had over 6 homicide deaths per 100,000 population in 2000; however, between 2011 and 2013, Yukon had no reported homicides. The territory’s homicide rate was high in 2014 though, at 8.11 deaths per 100,000 population. Keep in mind that for regions with small populations, such as Yukon, and the other two territories, homicide rates can be volatile, jumping significantly from year to year, and a high homicide rate does not necessarily reflect a high number of homicides in a given year. For example, in 2014, there were 3 reported homicides in Yukon.

What accounts for the high homicide rates in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, N.W.T., and Nunavut?

Aboriginal people are particularly vulnerable, and this is evident in the provincial and territorial statistics. In 2014, the homicide rate for Aboriginal people was six times higher than the rate for non-Aboriginal people in Canada.2 Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the territories have the largest shares of Aboriginal populations in the country. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, over 15 per cent of the populations are Aboriginal. In Yukon, N.W.T., and Nunavut, the proportions of the populations that are Aboriginal are 23, 52, and 86 per cent, respectively.3

A number of interrelated socio-economic factors help account for unacceptably high crime rates among Aboriginal populations: higher unemployment, poverty, and lower educational attainment all play a role, as do substance abuse and trauma, which are all linked to a history of displacement and residential schools.4

Regardless of race or culture, the consumption of intoxicating substances, in particular, has been associated with homicides and is likely a contributing factor to the higher homicide rates. Alcohol and/or drug consumption has been linked to the majority of homicides in Canada since 2003. Between 2003 and 2013, nearly three-quarters of individuals accused of homicide were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at the time of the incident.56 Among the provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have the highest shares of the population with substance abuse issues—in 2012, of the population 15 years and older, 30 per cent in Manitoba and 31 per cent in Saskatchewan reported having a substance use (alcohol or drug) disorder at one point in their lifetime.7 In 2014, 33 per cent of the population in the N.W.T. and 28 per cent of the population in Yukon were reported to be heavy drinkers.8

The murder of Aboriginal girls and women is particularly alarming and has been garnering attention in recent years. An RCMP study on reported incidents of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada found that between 1980 and 2014, 16 per cent of female homicide victims in Canada were Aboriginal (where the Aboriginal identity was known—the identity of 2 per cent of the female victims was reported as unknown).9 This is an over-representation of Aboriginal females as victims of homicide given that only 4 per cent of the overall female population in Canada is Aboriginal.10 Between 2001 and 2014, the homicide rate for non-Aboriginal females in Canada was 0.81 deaths per 100,000, while the homicide rate for Aboriginal females was 4.82, almost six times higher. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the territories have the highest Aboriginal female homicide rates.11

Homicides of females in Canada are most frequently committed by family members, including current and former spouses. But the rate is lower for Aboriginal women than for non-Aborginal women: between 1980 and 2014, of the solved cases, 53 per cent of Aboriginal female homicides were committed by family members, and 60 per cent of non-Aboriginal female homicides were committed by family members.12

What can Canada’s provinces and territories do to further reduce crime?

Approaches to crime prevention that address the root causes of crime are typically the most successful. A Conference Board of Canada analysis of successful programs in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. yielded the following recommendations:13

  • Begin with an understanding of the community and its problems.
  • Develop programs and policies to deal with these problems in their community context, and focus on crime reduction.
  • Learn from and build on successful prevention programs developed elsewhere.
  • Stay focused—prevention programs will not succeed without a great deal of effort.
  • Secure commitment from senior government officials.
  • Provide adequate resources.
  • Ensure cooperation and coordination among organizations targeting crime reduction.
  • Take a comprehensive approach to prevention and develop multi-faceted strategies.

Crime rates among disadvantaged populations, such as those living in certain Aboriginal communities, can only be improved if there is a concerted effort to improve their socio-economic conditions. Tackling long-standing issues such as poverty and substance abuse, as well as improving educational outcomes, is key to reducing crime in these regions.

The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the socio-economic and historical factors that result in higher crime rates for Aboriginal populations: “To be clear, courts must take judicial notice of such matters as the history of colonialism, displacement, and residential schools and how that history continues to translate into lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide, and of course higher levels of incarceration for Aboriginal peoples.” (Justice LeBel for the majority in R. v. Ipeelee, 2012)14


1    Josh Hoddenbagh, Ting Zhang, and Susan McDonald, An Estimation of the Economic Impact of Violent Victimization in Canada, 2009 (Ottawa: Department of Justice, 2014).

2    Statistics Canada, Homicide in Canada, 2014.

3    Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, Number and Distribution of the Population Reporting an Aboriginal Identity and Percentage of Aboriginal People in the Population, Canada, Provinces, and Territories, 2011.

4    Ibid.

5    For which information on the consumption of an intoxicating substance was available to police.

6    Statistics Canada, Homicide in Canada, 2013 (accessed May 11, 2016).

7    Statistics Canada, CANSIM table 105-1101, Mental Health Profile, Canadian Community Health Survey—Mental Health (CCHS), by Age Group and Sex, Canada and Provinces (accessed June 11, 2015).

8    Statistics Canada, CANSIM table 105-0501, Health Indicator Profile, Annual Estimates, by Age Group and Sex, Canada, Provinces, Territories, Health Regions (2013 Boundaries), and Peer Groups. (accessed May 11, 2016). Heavy drinking refers to males who reported having five or more drinks, or women who reported having four or more drinks, on one occasion, at least once a month in the past year.

9    Statistics Canada, Homicide in Canada, 2014 (accessed May 11, 2016).

10    Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview.

11    Statistics Canada, Homicide in Canada, 2014.

12    Ibid.

13    Rick Linden and Trefor Munn-Venn, Making Communities Safer: Lessons Learned Combatting Auto Theft in Winnipeg (Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada), 2008.

14    Office of the Correctional Investigator, Backgrounder: Aboriginal Offenders—A Critical Situation.