This composite image by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability shows the 160 women and girls killed in Canada in 2020.

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A woman or girl is killed in Canada on average every 2 ½ days, a number that remains “persistently stable,” according to the third annual University of Guelph-led report on national femicide rates.

The #CallItFemicide report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) found a total of 160 women and girls were killed by violence in Canada. When accused were identified, the deaths of 128 women and girls involved a male accused (90 per cent).

The Globe and Mail covered the research.

Although violence against women prevention advocates and police forces have reported an increase in reports of domestic violence since COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders began, report authors say it is difficult to gauge the effects of the pandemic on femicide numbers.

Dr. Myrna Dawson holds a microphone and speaks at a podium
Dr. Myrna Dawson

An assessment of longer-term trends will be needed to understand the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, said Dr. Myrna Dawson, lead author of the report and director of U of G’s Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence.

“What the COVID-19 pandemic has done is bring to light for many the ‘other pandemic’ that has existed in Canada for much longer – the pandemic of male violence against women and girls.”

The pandemic has focused government attention on the problem of violence against women and girls, including millions of dollars of emergency federal funding provided for groups responding primarily to women and children experiencing violence, said Dawson, who holds a U of G research leadership chair.

It’s unknown whether this extra funding helped prevent femicide deaths in 2020, she said.

“However, the question should not be whether deaths increased or decreased but whether the emergency funding can be turned into much-needed and sustained funding in the future, after the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.”

Many women and girls were already being victimized and killed by men, and inadequate resources were available to respond, a situation that needs to change, Dawson added.

Key findings in the 88-page report, which is available in English and French, include:

  • Women aged 55-64 years comprised the largest proportion of victims (19 per cent), followed closely by those aged 25-34 (17 per cent) and those aged 35-44 (16 per cent).
  • The highest rates of women and girls killed by male accused were in the Northwest Territories (13.68 per 100,000 women), followed by Nunavut (5.21) and Nova Scotia (3.0).
  • A greater proportion of women and girls were killed in non-urban regions of the country (54 per cent) compared to urban centres (46 per cent), despite the greater representation of urban dwellers in Canada.
  • The relationship shared between the victims and accused, which was available for only two-thirds of the cases, showed 50 per cent of these involved men who were current or former partners and 26 per cent involved men who were family members.

Despite more attention paid to domestic violence over past decades, killings of women and girls are still seen as isolated, sporadic events between individuals, rather than manifestations of misogyny and societal norms about violence against women and girls, said Dawson.

“The role of misogyny – and male entitlement – continues to play a role in women’s deaths. Yet, still today, we continue to witness resistance to acknowledging this role,” she said. “This is why we use the term ‘femicide’ to underscore that women and girls are killed because they are women and girls – because of their sex or gender, because of a hatred toward women. It is this misogyny at all levels of our society that the CFOJA wishes to highlight.”

The report compares killing of women to homicides of men to underscore why the term ‘femicide’ is needed to distinguish these deaths. Among documented differences are:

  • Women and girls were more likely to be killed by an intimate male partner or family member. Men were more likely to be killed by male friends or acquaintances.
  • Women and girls were more likely to be killed by a single accused than male victims.
  • Multiple victims were more common in the killings of women than in homicides.
  • Women and girls were more often killed in private locations; men were more commonly killed in public locations.
  • Women were more often killed in non-urban locations than men.
  • Excessive force – often called “overkill” – was more common in the killings of women and girls than in homicides.

The CFOJA was established in 2017 to create a national focus on femicide in Canada by documenting incidents as they occur.

The observatory relies mostly on data collected from media reports to determine whether a death can be considered a femicide. As the researchers have noted earlier, official police and government data often do not provide the full context of the killings, making deaths difficult to categorize.

“This situation is getting worse despite growing awareness and education about sex or gender-related elements in male violence against women and girls,” said Dawson. “Access to reliable and valid data is crucial to building and sustaining prevention or intervention initiatives.”


Dr. Myrna Dawson