How Statistics Canada Shapes Gun Politics and Perceptions
TheGunBlog.ca — On Aug. 27, less than 24 hours before Canada’s prime minister ordered the examination of a “full ban” on more than a million guns owned by hunters, farmers and sport shooters, Statistics Canada published a special report: “Firearm-related violent crime, 2009 to 2017.”
On Sept. 4, StatCan Chief Statistician Anil Arora wrote to the prime minister’s office about the “Latest information on crime and guns,” according to a report to the House of Commons.
In between, on Aug. 30, the state media company published “Canada gun facts: Here are the latest stats on firearm deaths, injuries and crime.”
The following article looks at:
- Relations between the national statistics office in Ottawa and the federal government around the Aug. 27 report and the Sept. 4 letter.
- At greater length: How StatCan covers guns and shooting in its reports.
Why This Matters
Procedure. The government passed the Statistics Act of 2017 to give StatCan “greater independence” from the government. TheGunBlog.ca asked the agency this month about relations with the government, the Aug. 27 report and the Sept. 4 letter. StatCan’s full response is below.
Perceptions. The creation and interpretation of statistics shapes perceptions, politics, policy and culture. Collecting, analyzing, presenting and understanding data is complex. Stats are easy to misinterpret and easy to abuse.
Accurate stats can still lead to inaccurate perceptions and invalid conclusions.
- Imagine if the only stats available about mobile phones were their link to brain cancer and driving deaths, with no mention of their benefits. Or if the only stats on cars were how they kill people and the planet. If the data were valid, should we ban phones and cars?
- If you were a reporter assigned to StatCan’s crime reports, you could produce factual write-ups while leaving out important context. StatCan focuses on guns as tools of crime. You and your editors might not realize that millions of men, women and youth use firearms legally, responsibly and safely.
- Everyone exploits statistics, from activists to marketers to think tanks. They collect and create data to invent evidence. Then they can point to their “evidence” of a problem to sell you their solution.
Policy. Accurate, fair and balanced information on shooting and firearms is more critical than ever today as the government prepares to pass Bill C-71 as a law against legitimate gun owners. It’s examining new gun bans for licensed shooters beyond what’s in Bill C-71, and may make it a crime to keep firearms at home.
- Good stats won’t answer everything. Rights and freedoms don’t depend on data.
Politics. Politicians, police, the press and even doctors are misrepresenting statistics to criminalize honest hunters, farmers and sport shooters and take away their guns. They are distorting crime statistics to undermine civil liberties and public safety. This is dangerous for individuals and for democracy.
Overview: Just the Bad Stuff
- Statistics Canada analyzes firearms mainly in the context of crime such as in homicide, suicide, robberies and theft.
- It tracks firearm, ammunition and accessory imports and exports.
- It doesn’t collect data on the benefits or value of firearm use by millions of hunters, farmers and sport shooters who own more than 10 million guns, buy and sell about 2,000 guns each day, and fire roughly half a billion rounds of ammunition each year at some 1,400 target ranges. The federal police has some of these data.
Regular and Occasional Reports
StatCan discusses firearms in two annual crime reports:
- Homicide in Canada (Most recent: Nov. 21)
- Police-reported crime statistics in Canada (Most recent: July 23)
StatCan also publishes occasional reports, such as:
- Firearm-related violent crime in Canada (June 28)
- Firearm-related violent crime, 2009 to 2017 (Aug. 27)
Guns and Only Guns
Focus. Stabbing and shooting take turns as the No. 1 method of homicide, followed by beatings. StatCan reports on “firearm-related crime,” “firearm-related violent crime” and “firearm-related homicide.” It doesn’t publish similar analyses for knives, bottles, hands, feet, hockey sticks or other weapons.
Analysis. Guns and shooting are often the only weapon and method analyzed at length in the homicide and crime reports. (StatCan views guns, not bullets, as the weapon. It counts guns differently when they are used as blunt objects.)
Emphasis. In at least the past five editions of the homicide report, shooting has had its own section and the bulk of attention, even though total fatalities from stabbing have exceeded those from shooting.
- In the 2017 homicide report, StatCan said 41 percent of victims were shot to death, 31 percent were stabbed, 17 percent were beaten, and 4 percent were strangled or suffocated.
- Text analysis by TheGunBlog.ca found the report mentioned shooting-related words 122 times. Those included “firearm(s),” “gun(s),” “handgun(s),” “shotgun(s),” “rifle(s)” and “shooting(s).” It mentioned “stabbing” four times and made one reference to “knife/other piercing or cutting instrument.” It made two references to beatings and two to strangulation/suffocation.
Definitions. StatCan said it developed its definitions on firearms and crime with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, a group that lobbies for more prohibitions on gun owners. It has been listed as a member of the Coalition for Gun Control, which campaigns against civilian gun ownership.
Counting. StatCan includes offences committed without firearms under “firearm-related crime,” such as crimes committed with replica guns or toys, potentially even water pistols (See below). TheGunBlog.ca found more than a third of what Toronto police included as “crime guns” in 2017 weren’t firearms under Canada’s Firearms Act. StatCan data come from police.
Bigger Picture: Stats Are Complex
Complexity. Stats are imperfect. Definitions, methods and needs change. The firearm stats depend on tens of thousands of entries on police questionnaires, some of which are incomplete or inaccurate.
Context. StatCan provides more context. It opened a presentation last year by saying “gun crime” is less than 0.5 percent of all crime. The agency answered many questions from TheGunBlog.ca for this article, as in the past.
Not Their Job. StatCan isn’t responsible for presenting all data on guns and shooting, or for making sure everyone has a complete and balanced view.
Audience. StatCan serves specialist and non-specialist audiences. It does its best to answer the questions that people are asking.
Crime and Politics
The Globe and Mail reported in late July that the government was considering gun bans. CTV News hired Nanos Research to run an opinion poll on the subject from Aug. 25 to 27. The news organization published the results at 10 p.m. Toronto time on Sept. 2.
StatCan Key Dates
- Aug. 27: Statistics Canada publishes “Firearm-related violent crime, 2009 to 2017,” the first report of its kind. It was part of a series known as “Just the Facts.”
- Aug. 28: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau orders the examination of a “full ban” on handguns and what he called “assault weapons” owned by hunters, farmers and sport shooters.
- Sept. 4: Statistics Canada Chief Statistician Anil Arora writes to Gerald Butts, the principal secretary to the prime minister. The subject is listed as “Latest information on crime and guns” in a report to the House of Commons on StatCan’s correspondence with various government officials. (See one-page PDF excerpt.)
TheGunBlog.ca contacted StatCan on Feb. 1 to ask:
- Details on Arora’s letter to Butts, such as the subject or a copy. Whether StatCan coordinated with the government for the Aug. 27 report, and more generally if the agency supports the prime minister or other ministers in advancing their policies and proposals.
- Why StatCan has a singular focus on guns in its homicide reports, and excludes other weapons.
- Why StatCan focuses exclusively on illegal/injurious uses of firearms and ignores legal/beneficial uses (apart from imports).
Tracey Wilson of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights said Jan. 30 on Twitter the group is seeking information on the Sept. 4 letter under Access To Information and Privacy (ATIP), a common way to get government documents.
StatCan’s Full Response to TheGunBlog.ca (Feb. 6)
From: Statistics Canada
Date: Feb. 6, 2019
Subject: Response, Statistics Canada
This note is in response to your email to Statistics Canada’s Media Hot Line received February 1, 2019.
Media Relations is not in a position to respond to your question on the Chief Statistician’s correspondence. You may wish to file an Access to Information request (the procedure is outlined on the Statistics Canada website) to determine what information may be available.
Every year in July, Statistics Canada releases to Canadians updated detailed statistics and trends on crime and on specific firearm related crimes, namely firearm related violent crimes and on the presence of a firearm in the commission of a crime.
Every year in November, Statistics Canada releases to Canadians updated detailed statistics and trends on homicide and on specific firearm related homicides including details on the implication of gangs and organized crime. The homicide report includes tables outlining homicide rates involving guns, knives and beatings with a chart highlighting changes over time.
The production of the most recent firearm Juristat spanned a period of several months and built on the most recent releases of crime and homicide statistics. This report, entitled Firearm-related violent crime in Canada, 2016 was released on June 28th and was accompanied with an Infographic, highlighting key results.
After the release of the annual crime statistics in July 2018, we released updated firearm related statistics on the Statistics Canada website (2009 through to 2017) in the format of Just the Facts. The Just the Facts publication is intended to inform Canadians on recent trends that is responsive to requests that we receive from the media and public by providing short and focused tables related to current events.
The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics has the mandate to publish information on all aspects of the justice system. The sources for data on crime and homicides are the Unified Crime Reporting Survey and the Homicide Survey. Data are provided by police services across Canada and the timing of releases is generally guided by the time lapsed since the data were collected. We strive to minimize this lapse in order to ensure we provide timely and relevant information.
You make an interesting suggestion regarding other information on firearms. However, this information falls outside the mandate of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. You may wish to consult other sources which could provide this information.
Thank you for your interest in Statistics Canada.
Manager, media relations.
More Details on Guns in Crime Statistics
The following Q&A with StatCan is from a follow-up e-mail this week. TheGunBlog.ca edited the questions and formatting for clarity.
Guns, Crime and ‘Gun Crime’
What types of firearm and crime count as “gun crime”?
StatCan: Police reported data are collected through the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey. In this survey police are able to report two different weapon-related variables for violent incidents. These are:
- The most serious weapon present.
- The weapon that caused the most injury to the victim.
Firearm-related violent crime includes victims of violent Criminal Code offences where a firearm was fired or used as a threat, and/or where a firearm was present and not used but the presence of the firearm was relevant to the incident, according to the police. By their nature, for police to categorize a crime as a violent crime, there is an element of threat or harm.
Police can report firearm data according to the following categories:
- Fully automatic firearm
- Sawed-off rifle or sawed-off shotgun
- Other firearm-like weapon (capable of propelling any object through a barrel by means of gunpowder, CO2, compressed air, etc.).
Police can then classify these are real or facsimile.
These definitions and concepts have been developed in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, these definitions are included in UCR scoring manuals used by all police services. Online training is available through the Canadian Police Knowledge Network (CPKN) and constantly updated as required.
In addition to the firearm-related violent offences listed above Statistics Canada also captures information related to non-violent criminal incidents that involve firearms examples of these are as follows:
- Breaking and entering to steal a firearm
- Breaking and entering to steal a firearm from a motor vehicle
- Offences related to firearm transfers or serial numbers
- Firearms documentation or administration
- Unsafe storage of firearms
Examples of What Counts (or Not) as ‘Gun Crime’
- Brandishing, pointing, discharging a firearm?
- StatCan: Yes.
- Possessing, transporting without a licence or expired licence?
- StatCan: Yes, this is captured but not as a violent crime.
- Robbing a bank with a replica gun or toy gun (water pistol)?
- StatCan: Yes.
- Person commits suicide by hanging, and police find a gun in the home:
- StatCan: No, this is not a crime.
- Arson investigation, police find guns in the rubble (“most serious weapon present”?):
- StatCan: No. Arson is a property crime. The UCR Survey does not collect weapon data on “most serious weapon present” for property crimes. [Editor’s Note: StatCan lists fire as the fifth most-common method of homicide, with 14 cases in 2017.]
Homicide by Bullet and ‘Gun Crime’
When police (or anyone) legitimately (non-culpable) shoots someone to death (e.g., self-defence, public safety), is that counted as “firearm-related” homicide?
StatCan: The Homicide Survey collects police-reported data on the characteristics of all culpable homicide incidents, victims and accused persons in Canada (homicides committed by or against Canadians in other countries are not included). Homicides that are deemed non-culpable are not an offence as per section 222 (3) of the Criminal Code, therefore these incidents are not in-scope.
The Homicide Survey was established by Statistics Canada in 1961 when it began collecting information on all first and second degree murders in Canada, as per the Criminal Code. Cases of manslaughter and infanticide were added to the survey in 1974.
Is all homicide by bullet (culpable and non-culpable) counted as “gun crime”?
StatCan: Only culpable homicides are reported in crime statistics and homicides by shooting are included in firearm-related crime.
Suicide by Bullet and ‘Gun Crime’
If someone shoots themselves to death, is that always counted as “gun crime”?
StatCan: No, only culpable homicides are reported in crime statistics. Suicides are not counted as homicides.
Homicide Rate, Licensed vs. Unlicensed Gun Owner/User
What is the total homicide rate by adults with vs. without a firearm Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL)? Would it be possible to analyze “apples to apples,” e.g., 100 percent of PAL holders are adults, about 90 percent are male.
StatCan: Because of the high proportion of unknown variables, it is not possible to calculate such rates and it does not currently release data about the licensing status of accused in firearm related homicide.
As well, currently in Canada there is no complete data on the total number of people who own a firearm, licensed or not.
Although information on ownership, legality and origin of a firearm is occasionally available without recovering the firearm or without identifying an accused, it is ideal to have a recovered firearm and an accused identified in order to get complete data on these topics.
Since 2005, the first year in which the recovery status of the firearm was collected in the homicide survey, the firearm was recovered and an accused was identified in 33.6 percent of firearm-related homicides. The firearm was recovered in 38.1 percent of homicides and an accused was identified in 57.4 percent. This illustrates a high proportion of unknown variables, significantly impacting the ability to present a complete picture on the firearm licensing status of accused in firearm related homicide.
Subscribe to TheGunBlog.ca to get our e-mails with more info, intel and insight.
- TheGunBlog.ca’s Facts & Stats
- Statistics Canada: Firearm-Related Crime in Canada (Presentation to Senate Committee reviewing Bill C-71, Feb. 19, 2019)
- More Than a Third of Toronto Police ‘Crime Guns’ Aren’t Firearms
- Is Statistics Canada Overstating ‘Firearm-Related Homicides’?
- Stabbing Is Top Method of Homicide, So Why Such a Focus on Guns?
- Gary Mauser: Comments to House of Commons Committee Studying Bill C-71
- Gary Mauser: Justice for Gun Owners