SASKATCHEWAN – A recent Statistics Canada report about firearms and violent crime across the country in 2021 has noted some interesting trends. Firearm-related violent crime was down in urban areas and rural locations in the southern part of the country, however, the report found a spike in northern communities. In 2021, there were 107 victims of firearm-related violent crime per 100,000 population in the rural north, which is around four times higher than rates in southern rural areas and urban centres.
The provincial RCMP agree with this trend, and are not surprised with the report’s findings. Over the past five years, firearm-related violent offences in Saskatchewan have increased by 43 per cent (from 440 in 2017 to 627 in 2021). Aligning with the Statistics Canada findings, RCMP are reporting a 75 per cent increase in northern Saskatchewan (from 219 incidents in 2017 to 384 in 2021).
“Statistics tell part of the story, but only our Saskatchewan RCMP officers and the communities they serve experience the vivid and alarming truth of how firearm-related violence impacts northern and west-central Saskatchewan,” said C/Supt. Ted Munro, Saskatchewan RCMP’s Criminal Operations Officer in a media release.
One alarming trend police in this province are seeing is that of concealed weapons. It seems criminals are reaching for handguns and sawed-off shotguns more often.
“Our communities can tell you about the fear that firearms and gang violence create,” Munro said. “Our police officers will tell you they are seizing more dangerous firearms – including handguns and disturbingly, many sawed-off long guns. These concealable weapons, particularly the illegally-modified ones that could malfunction, present extra risk to our communities and police officers.”
Homicide rates highest since 1992
Over the course of 2021, provincial RCMP seized 1,377 dangerous firearms during investigations, and this year has noted 1,395 guns removed. Due to the danger to public safety, firearms-related calls receive top priority in terms of response. According to the information compiled by Statistics Canada, homicide rates are at the highest since 1992 across Canada.
“Sometimes we feel like we are putting out fires, but it is challenging to address the source of ignition at the same time,” Munro said. “With more staff and police officers, we would be more proactive rather than reactive. We would be more visible in communities. We could do true community policing: working more with youth, providing more crime prevention programming, and liaising more often with community leaders and partners to work together to address the societal realities that lead to firearms-related violence.”
He also praised the work done by provincial RCMP officers and the many successful investigations resulting in illegal firearms coming off the streets.
“But I will be honest – we could do more,” Munro said. “The firearm-related danger and investigational complexities have increased in Saskatchewan. Our resources have not.”
The upward tick in firearm-related violence is stretching RCMP resources, which according to Munro, results in a shift of priorities in response to non-violent crime.
“It means our officers carry an unreasonable workload and endure long hours – risking their well-being,” he said.
Across Canada, handguns are the most common type of firearm (57 per cent) in shooting homicides through 2021, followed by rifles/shotguns (26 per cent). The Statistics Canada report also found 95 per cent of homicides involving handguns occurred in urban areas. Many of the shooting homicides in Canada last year (46 per cent) could be traced back to gang activity.
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