Firearms use in robberies down while home invasions rise

Stephen Thorne
March 25, 2010
By Stephen Thorne
OTTAWA - Robbers are using fewer firearms while committing their crimes, according to Statistics Canada.

OTTAWA - Robbers are using fewer firearms while committing their crimes, according to Statistics Canada.

Firearms were used in 14 per cent of robberies in 2008, compared with 20 per cent a decade earlier, the federal agency reported Thursday.

Statistics Canada says the kinds of robberies has evolved as well with commercial robberies declining while home invasions have increased.

Police reported about 32,000 robberies in 2008, accounting for seven per cent of all violent crimes but, overall, the number of robberies was diminishing.

"Robbery" is defined as a theft that involves violence or the threat of violence.

Statistics have consistently shown that general crime numbers have been on the decline for years.

In its latest report, Statistics Canada says the police-reported robbery rate had dropped 10 per cent from 1999, with most of the decline between 1999 and 2002.

Statistics Canada says the downward trend began before the Canadian Firearms Registry legislation was instituted in 1995 and has leveled off in recent years.

"Between 1977 and 2002, the rate of robberies committed with a firearm declined steadily," the agency says. "Since then, the rate has remained stable."

The registry's effectiveness is still debated among law-enforcement officials.

The Canadian Firearms Centre says police consult the system more than 13,000 times a week, while 92 per cent of police officers told a survey it conducted that they use it, often in domestic violence situations in which they want to establish whether firearms are in the home.

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino has criticized the registry, however, saying it is "long on philosophy and short on practical results."

Edgar MacLeod, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, has defended it, saying it "works and provides a valuable service," despite embarrassing cost overruns almost a decade ago tallying in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The StatsCan study says robberies committed with weapons other than firearms - most commonly knives - accounted for 29 per cent of all incidents in 2008.

No weapon was involved in the remaining 57 per cent.

Police-reported residential robberies, often referred to as "home invasions," increased 38 per cent between 1999 and 2005, and have stabilized since.

There is no Criminal Code offence of home invasion, the study notes, but it is generally defined as a residential robbery in which force was used to gain entry and the accused was aware that someone was home. Police reported 2,700 home invasions in 2008.

The vast majority of robberies were committed by young men - almost nine in 10 of suspects in 2008 were male and nearly two-thirds were between the ages of 12 and 24.

Money was the most common item reported stolen (37 per cent of all robberies), followed by personal accessories such as jewellery (18) and electronic devices like computers, cell phones and personal music devices (15).

The report says three provinces - Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba - have driven the overall decline in the rate of police-reported robbery over the past decade.

Between 1999 and 2008, the rate fell 30 per cent in Quebec, 22 per cent in British Columbia and 20 per cent in Manitoba.

Robberies increased in all of the remaining provinces, with the largest increase reported in Newfoundland and Labrador, where they more than doubled while remaining well below the national average.

Despite the declines, Western Canada, particularly Manitoba, recorded the highest rates of police-reported robbery in the country, similar to the pattern for overall violent crime rates.

The highest city rates were all in the west: Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Edmonton. The only cities in Central and Eastern Canada with above-average robbery rates were Montreal, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Halifax and Hamilton.

Some other facts:

  • About half of all robberies were committed on the street or in another outdoor public location such as a parking lot or public transit facility in 2008. Another 39 per cent took place in commercial establishments like convenience stores or banks. The remaining 10 per cent were residential robberies.

  • The overall decline in robberies since 1999 resulted from a decrease in the rate of commercial robberies. In particular, bank robberies fell 38 per cent, while robberies of gas stations and convenience stores were down 32.

  • Robberies occurring in public transit facilities have doubled since 1999, although at four per cent they continue to account for a relatively low proportion of all incidents. The highest rates of public transit robberies were reported in Edmonton and Montreal.

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