Latest numbers crown Winnipeg as Canada’s murder capital

Winnipeg is Canada's murder capital again, and it ain't even close.

The Manitoba capital led the list of per-capita-homicides last year by a wide margin, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.

The full report is here, but here are the nuts and bolts:

  • There were 598 murders in Canada last year, 44 more than the previous year.
  • There were 39 murders in Winnipeg last year, 17 more than the previous year.
  • The city had a leading homicide rate of 5.08 (per 100,000 population). Leading, in this case, is a bad thing.
  • Halifax and Edmonton had the second and third highest murder rates of 4.41 and 4.07 respectively.

Winnipeg's homicide rate returned the tarnished title of "murder capital" to the city after Edmonton received the distinction last year.

Homicide rates in Canada up 7%The number of homicides in Canada rose to 598 in 2011, 44 more than the previous year, marking the first increase in three years, according to data released Tuesday.

This is the same concern, remember, that had Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis suggesting prayer would help fight crime. The comment, charged by some as inappropriately non-secular, related to the need for citizen engagement in the city.

Rick Linden, a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, says it is impossible to assess the city's crime problem based on year-over-year homicide numbers alone. Some incidents can inflate that number one year, a multi-fatality arson for example, while fortunate happenstance can deflate it, such as a victim who survives a near-fatal stabbing.

Iron out the peaks and valleys and Winnipeg averages about 30 murders a year, a homicide rate that still places it among the highest in Canada.

What is it about Winnipeg, then?

They key with Winnipeg is that it has a notable level of "social disadvantage" — a term Linden associates to low income, family dysfunction and low levels of education and health.

[ Related: Saskatchewan has 2nd highest homicide rate ]

Other cities that usually rank high on Statistics Canada's homicide report — Edmonton, Thunder Bay and Regina among them — are similar to Winnipeg in that way.

"They have extensive areas of poverty with high rates of child poverty. One of the things we know about murder and other kinds of violent crimes is that they are much more common in poorer areas of communities," Linden told Yahoo! Canada News on Tuesday.

"The larger areas like that that you have, the more likely it is that you are going to have high rates of homicide and other violent crimes."

Linden says Winnipeg police are wise to the cause-and-effect connection between poverty and crime and are working to integrate policing with social services to address it. The model has already seen success in Prince Albert, Sask., and a similar project has been launched in Toronto's Rexdale neighbourhood.

Linden says the success seen in New York City — where crime rates have dropped about 80 per cent over the past two decades — can be partly attributed to similar social programs.

"In terms of getting us out of this No. 1 murder position, as well as other kinds of crimes that are in those areas, that is probably our best hope. And steps have been set in motion by our new police chief and the provincial government," he said.

[ Related: Calgary homicide rate stable ]

So far this year, the city has 28 murders on the books — right on line to end up near the top of Stats Canada's list this time next year. Change can't come soon enough.