Crime

NWT again has Canada’s highest crime rate (but it’s complicated)


For the 10th successive year, the Northwest Territories in 2019 had a higher crime severity index than any other Canadian province or territory.

The territory also maintained the highest crime rate in the country, a position the NWT has held for 22 years.

The crime rate is based on all criminal incidents reported to police. The crime severity index, reported by Statistics Canada every year since 1998, tracks changes in the severity of those crimes.

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Both rates are calculated per 100,000 people, whereas the territory’s population is less than half that size. Rates become less meaningful as measurements when populations get smaller, meaning there are complexities in interpreting what the data means for crime in the territory.

According to Statistics Canada’s newest figures for police-reported crime, the crime severity index in the NWT was 388.6 in 2019, compared to a national index of 79.5.

The territory’s crime rate was 51,236 – an increase of 22 percent from 2018 – dwarfing the national rate of 5,874. 

Statistics Canada analyst Warren Silver said that doesn’t necessarily mean crime is worse in the territory, however. He noted the relatively small population means a small increase in the actual number of crimes results in a huge increase in the crime rate.

“When you’re dealing with much smaller numbers, fluctuations seem a lot more extreme,” he said. 

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In total, there were 22,967 crimes reported to police in the NWT in 2019, 4,961 of which were violent offences. The report notes there was an increase in mischief; trafficking, production, and importation or exportation of cocaine; sexual assault; common assault; and uttering threats. 

Silver said it’s better to compare NWT rates to the Yukon and Nunavut rather than nationally. Each of those territories had a lower crime rate and severity index than those posted by the NWT.

In 2019, the Yukon had a crime rate of 23,792 and crime severity index of 215.7. In total, 9,720 crimes were reported to police in the Yukon, of which 2,088 were violent. The Statistics Canada report noted increases in the trafficking, production, and importation or exportation of cocaine; sexual assault; breaking and entering; mischief; and fraud. 

Nunavut’s crime rate in 2019 was 46,413 with a crime severity index of 361.3. A total of 17,999 crimes were reported to police, including 4,215 violent crimes. There was an increase in mischief, assault, uttering threats, and sexual assault. 

The number of homicides decreased in all three territories between 2018 and 2019, with Nunavut also showing a decrease in the number of break-and-enters. 

The report noted sexual assaults have been on the rise across Canada since 2015. It said, however, that could be because the definition for “founded” sexual assaults has changed to include all incidents where no credible evidence confirms an assault did not take place.

The report also said “considerable public discussion around sexual violence” may have impacted people’s willingness to report incidents to police in recent years.

Still, the report said, police-reported sexual assaults are “likely a significant underestimation of the true extent of sexual assaults in Canada” based on surveys of self-reported experiences of victimization.

Overall, the report found crime severity had increased five percent between 2018 and 2019 across Canada, but had decreased nine percent over the past decade. 

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