More than half of Canadians killed through domestic violence in recent years were Indigenous, immigrants or refugees, lived in rural, remote or northern areas, or were children, according to a first-ever report led by a U of G researcher.

The inaugural report titled One Is Too Many: Trends and Patterns in Domestic Homicides in Canada 2010-2015 is part of the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations (CDHPIVP).

The study made national headlines with stories appearing in The Globe and Mail, the National Post, Toronto Star, CTV News, CBC NewsLa Presse and City News.

The report found that 476 people in Canada were killed through domestic violence — 76 per cent of them female and at least 53 per cent representing one of the vulnerable populations mentioned above.

“These vulnerable populations have enhanced risks or unique barriers that are leading to higher rates of domestic violence and homicide for some due to historical and ongoing colonization, oppression, and discrimination as well as lack of access to resources because of geography, language, culture, age or poverty,” said Prof. Myrna Dawson, director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Response to Violence and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Public Policy in Criminal Justice. “We need to learn more about the nuanced needs of these groups if we want to manage risk and promote safety planning. We need to do so by working with them.”

Among vulnerable populations, where possible to identify, 42 per cent of homicide victims lived in rural, remote and northern areas; 26 per cent were immigrants or refugees; 17 per cent were Indigenous; and 15 per cent were children.

Co-directed by Dawson, the CDHPIVP is a five-year project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to study domestic homicides in Canada – particularly among vulnerable groups — and identify protocols and strategies to reduce risk, enhance safety and share information.

Domestic homicide is defined as the killing of a current or intimate partner, their children, or others such as new partners, family members, friends or bystanders.

After accounting for population size, the report reveals that more of these crimes occur in provinces with more rural, remote and northern areas.

Based on population size, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have the highest rate of domestic homicide. Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island all exceed the national homicide rate; Quebec has the lowest rate in the country.

“One of the reasons for the higher rates of domestic homicides in rural, remote and northern areas could be the availability of guns,” said Dawson, who co-directs the initiative with University of Western Ontario Prof. Peter Jaffe. “It’s known that gun ownership is strongly linked to domestic homicides. Another factor is the lack of access to resources in these areas.”

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Prof. Myrna Dawson (University of Guelph)

The report shows Indigenous domestic homicide rates were twice those of non-Indigenous domestic homicide rates.

“Their risk is further compounded because they also often live in rural, remote or northern regions and so face the challenges of living in such regions as well,” said Dawson.

The report also found that some of the most common risk factors for vulnerable populations were an impending separation between the victim and the accused and an age difference of nine years or more.

“Right now, the focus has been on individual and relationship factors, but we are still missing the higher-level community and societal-level risk factors. The goal is to develop and implement more nuanced and population-specific, culturally informed practices and policies.”

By the numbers

  • From 2010 to 2015 in Canada, there were 418 cases of domestic homicide involving 476 victims. There were 427 adult victims (90 per cent) and 49 victims aged 17 and younger (10 per cent).
  • Females comprised 79 per cent of the adult victims and males comprised 21 per cent. Among child victims, females represented 53 per cent and males represented 47 per cent.
  • The majority of adult victims were 25 to 34 years of age (28 per cent). The average age was 39. Among child victims, ages ranged from less than one year to 13 years with an average age of six.
  • There were 443 accused identified in 418 cases of domestic homicide. The majority of accused were male (86 per cent). Of the 443 accused, 21 per cent died by suicide and another 7 per cent attempted suicide following the homicide.
  • The majority of the accused were aged 25 to 34 years (25 per cent). Overall, the average age of the accused was 40.
  • The majority of victims were in a current intimate relationship with the accused (61 per cent) and 26 per cent were separated or estranged.
  • Among 61 per cent of cases in which the victim and accused were in a current relationship, 21 per cent had evidence that separation was imminent or pending. Of those, the majority involved female victims and male accused (91 per cent)
  • Thirty-seven children were killed within the context of domestic homicide; 70 per cent were biological children of the victim and/or accused and 24 per cent involved stepchildren.
  • In the 418 cases, 13 per cent involved the homicide of third parties, such as family members, neighbours, new partners or other bystanders.
  • When information was known, most victims died as a result of stabbing (38 per cent), followed by shooting (24 per cent), strangulation (11 per cent) or beating (11 per cent).
  • Most victims were killed in the home that they shared with the accused (44 per cent), in their own home (19 per cent) or in the home of the accused (10 per cent).
  • Second-degree murder was the most common initial charge laid (50 per cent) followed by first-degree murder charges (37 per cent), manslaughter charges (7 per cent) and other charges related to the homicide such as criminal negligence causing death, accessory after the fact and failure to provide the necessities of life (2 per cent).



Prof. Myrna Dawson

Prof. Peter Jaffe