JustResearch No. 14
Research in Profile (cont'd)
Criminal Victimization in Canada's Territories: Results from the 2004 General Social Survey
Jodi-Anne Brzozowski, Senior Analyst,
Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
In Canada, there are two primary sources of statistical information on the nature and extent of crime: police-reported surveys and victimization surveys. Until recently, self-reported victimization data were unavailable for Canada′s northern territories, leaving legislators, program and policy makers having to rely solely on police-reported crime data to inform policy decisions related to justice issues. Police data are limited, in that they only include incidents that come to their attention. According to the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS) on victimization, only about one-third of incidents are reported to the police.
For the first time, self-reported victimization data are available for the three northern territories from the 2004 General Social Survey on victimization. Because the GSS asks a sample of the population about their personal victimization experiences, it captures information on all crimes whether or not they have been reported to the police.
With this newly available data source, a study designed to supplement what is already known about crime in the territories was undertaken. The primary purpose of this study was to profile the nature, extent and characteristics of self-reported violence experienced by Northern residents and make comparisons to the experiences of provincial residents. The study also examined the extent of spousal violence experienced by respondents and reviewed some of the demographic, social and economic factors which could help explain the higher rates of victimization in the territories.
This study presents findings from a test collection of data from 1,300 households in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut from the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS) on victimization. Survey respondents who reported that they had been victimized were asked for detailed information. This included: where the incident occurred; whether the incident was reported to the police; the level of injury; and, the use or presence of a weapon. Data from the pilot survey were compared with victimization data collected from 24,000 households in the rest of Canada.
Compared to other areas in Canada, sampling and data collection in the territories pose additional challenges due to higher rates of incomplete telephone service and language difficulties. As a result, only 60% of the population in the territories is represented in the GSS sample, compared to the provincial GSS sample which represents 96% of the population in the provinces. Specifically, the GSS territorial sample underestimates the Aboriginal population, those whose mother tongue is not English and individuals living in rural areas. For this reason, the data in this study should be used with caution.
Self-reported victimization in the North
Residents of the North more likely to be victimized
According to results from the GSS, 37% of residents 15 years of age or older living in the northern territories reported being victimized at least once in the previous 12 months. This was much higher than the proportion of provincial residents who were victimized (28%) over the same time period. Territorial residents were also more likely than provincial residents to have been repeat victims of crime. Approximately 20% of residents from the territories reported being victimized multiple times compared to 11% for the rest of Canada.
Northerners were also much more likely than provincial residents to experience a violent crime such as sexual assault, robbery and physical assault. In 2004, for every 1,000 Canadians aged 15 years and over living in the territories, there were 315 incidents of violent victimization. This rate was almost three times the rate for residents in the rest of Canada (106).
Characteristics of offences against Northerners
Research has shown that in general, when a crime is committed, it is likely that the police will not be notified (Gannon and Mihorean, 2005; Besserer and Trainor, 2000). In 2004, victims in the territories reported 25% of violent incidents to police, a figure which was comparable to the population in the rest of the country.
Violent incidents committed against territorial residents were much more likely to be perpetrated by someone who was known to the victim (74%), such as a relative, friend, neighbour or acquaintance, compared to incidents committed against provincial residents (43%). In contrast, northern residents were victimized by a stranger in 20% of violent incidents, compared to 44% of incidents committed against provincial residents (Figure 1). This could be partially explained by the fact that northern residents tend to live in smaller communities where residents are more likely to know each other.
Figure 1: Violent incidents against northern residents more likely to be perpetrated by someone known to the victim, 2004
- Provinces include Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia
- Territories include Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut
- Someone known to the victim includes relatives, friends, neighbours, acquaintances or any other known relationship.
Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey, 2004
Violent incidents committed against northern residents did not commonly involve the use of a weapon. In 2004, the accused had a weapon in 27% of violent incidents committed against northern victims, a figure which was not statistically different from that in the provinces. Furthermore, victims in the territories were injured in 43% of violent incidents committed against them compared to one quarter of violent incidents in the provinces. Victims from the territories and the provinces believed the incident was related to the accused′s alcohol or drug use in over half of violent incidents committed against them (61% versus 52%).
Generally speaking, violent incidents are about twice as likely to occur in commercial or institutional establishments such as restaurants, bars, office buildings and shopping malls, than in the victim′s home or surrounding area (Gannon and Mihorean, 2005). Results from the GSS, however, show that there is no statistically significant difference with respect to violent incidents committed against northern residents. For example, 30% of incidents occurred in commercial or public institutions, compared to 27% at the victim′s home. The difference could partly be explained by the fact that northern residents are more likely to be victimized by someone they know. Also, many northern residents tend to live in remote areas, which are less likely to be surrounded by commercial establishments.
Spousal violence in the territories
Northern residents experience higher levels of spousal violence
According to the GSS, residents of the North experienced higher levels of spousal violence than their counterparts in the provinces. Approximately 12% of northern residents in a current or previous marital or common-law relationship reported being the victim of some form of spousal violence in the 5 years preceding the survey. This compares with 7% of the population in the provinces. There was no statistically significant difference in the rate of spousal violence against men (12%) and women (13%). Considering differences between the territories, residents of Nunavut were far more likely to have been victims of spousal violence (22%) than residents in Northwest Territories (11%) and Yukon (9%).
Figure 2: Northern residents experience higher levels of spousal violence, 2004
E Use with caution
Note: Excludes people who refused to state their marital status
Source: Satisitcs Canada, General Social Survey, 2004
Generally speaking, levels of spousal violence are much higher in previous relationships than in current unions (Mihorean, 2005). While this finding holds true for residents of the North, the difference between current and previous partner rates of violence is smaller. In 2004, approximately 20% of northern residents reported having experienced spousal violence by an ex-partner while 9% of residents suffered violence by a current partner. By comparison, 19% of provincial residents reported violence by an ex-spouse and 3% reported violence by a current spouse.
Female victims of spousal violence in the North were twice as likely as male northerners to suffer the most severe forms of spousal violence, such as being beaten, choked, threatened with or having had a gun or knife used against them, or sexually assaulted (57% compared with 23%). Women were also twice as likely to be injured as a result of the violence (59% versus 32%).
Victims of spousal violence from the territories were just as likely as victims from the provinces to say that their partner had been drinking at the time of the incident (37% compared with 35%).
Factors related to high levels of victimization in the North
Researchers have pointed to a number of demographic, social and economic factors which can elevate the risk of victimization and/or offending. Some of these factors are: being young (Lochner, 2004); living in lone-parent families (Stevenson et al., 1998); living common-law (Mihorean, 2005); having high levels of unemployment (Raphael and Winter-Ebmer, 2001); being an Aboriginal person (Brzozowski et al., 2006), and the consumption of alcohol (Vanderburg et al, 1995). These factors are all more prevalent in the North.
Northern residents, particularly those in Northwest Territories and Nunavut, tend to be younger in general than residents in the rest of Canada. For example, according to the 2001 Census, while the median age ranged between 35 and 40 years in the provinces, the median age in Nunavut was 22.1, compared to that in Northwest Territories (29.0) and Yukon Territory (36.9) (Statistics Canada, 2002a).
The territories have the highest proportions of lone-parent families in Canada. According to the 2001 Census, lone-parent families represented 26% of all families in Nunavut, 21% in Northwest Territories and 20% in Yukon. This compares to proportions of lone-parent families in the provinces ranging from between 15% and 17% of all families (Statistics Canada, 2002b).
Common-law families in the North are also represented in higher proportions than in the provinces, comprising 31% of all families in Nunavut, 26% in Northwest Territories and 23% in Yukon. With the exception of Quebec, which also had a relatively high proportion of common-law families (25%), each of the other provinces had significantly lower proportions of common-law families, ranging between 9% and 13% of all families (Statistics Canada, 2002b).
Unemployment rates are higher in the North, compared to rates in most of the provinces. Among the territories, in 2001 Nunavut held the highest unemployment rate (17.4%), followed by Yukon (11.6%) and Northwest Territories (9.5%). By comparison, the overall Canadian unemployment rate was 7.4% (Statistics Canada, 2003a).
In the territories, Aboriginal people represent a significant proportion of the population. According to the 2001 Census, Aboriginal people in Nunavut represented 85% of the territory′s total population, which was by far the highest concentration in the country. Aboriginal people represented more than half (51%) of the population in the Northwest Territories, and 23% of the population in the Yukon. By comparison, the provinces with the highest proportion of Aboriginal residents are: Saskatchewan (14%), Manitoba (14%) and Alberta (5%) (Statistics Canada, 2003b).
Residents of the territories are also more likely to report heavy drinking than provincial residents. The 2004 GSS asked respondents about the frequency in which five or more drinks were consumed at one sitting in a one-month period (used as a measure of heavy drinking). Territorial respondents were more likely to report having consumed five or more drinks on one or more occasion in the previous month compared to provincial respondents (53% compared to 37%).
The findings from this study represent the first comprehensive examination of details provided by Northerners themselves, about the nature and characteristics of their victimization offences. Generally speaking, northern residents experience much higher levels of criminal victimization and spousal violence than their provincial counterparts. While the reasons for the elevated rates of crime and victimization in the North are complex, they point to the need to examine crime in a broader social context. Specifically, a number of demographic, social and economic realities in the territories could help explain the North′s higher crime levels.
In addition to supporting the need for ongoing data collection activities on victimization in the North, it is hoped that this study will provide policy makers and criminal justice personnel with information that will allow them to better address the risk factors as well as the system′s response to crime in the North.
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- Brzozowski, J., Taylor-Butts, A. and Johnson, S. 2006. "Victimization and offending among the Aboriginal population in Canada" Juristat. Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE, Vol. 26, no. 3. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
- Gannon, M. and K. Mihorean, 2005. "Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2005" Juristat. Catalogue no. 85-002-XPE, Vol. 25, no. 7. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
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-  Adapted from de Léséleuc, S. and J. Brzozowski, 2006. "Victimization and offending in Canada′s Territories" Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile Series. Catalogue no. 85F0033MIE. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
-  The GSS on victimization captures information on eight types of victimizations. The survey does not capture information on crimes with no obvious victim, when the victim is a business or school, when the victim is deceased (e.g. homicides), or when the victim is under the age of 15.
-  This section includes incidents of spousal physical and sexual assault. For more information, see Gannon and Mihorean, 2005.
-  This section excludes incidents of spousal physical and sexual assault because detailed information on each spousal incident is not available.
-  Includes only violent incidents committed by a single perpetrator.
-  This section provides socio-demographic and economic characteristics associated with the risk of violent victimization. It does not, however, account for the possibility that these factors may be correlated with one another or with other factors that could further increase the risk of violent victimization.
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