Canada's homicide rate has dipped to its lowest level since 1966, a decrease that Statistics Canada said is driven by fewer recorded killings in Western provinces.

Police across the nation reported 554 homicides in 2010, which is 56 fewer known deaths than the year before, said the data collecting agency on Wednesday.

While the decrease means that the homicide rate fell 1.62 per cent for every population of 100,000, the most notable drops were recorded in Western Canada where rates have traditionally been higher.

British Columbia recorded 35 fewer homicides in 2010 than the year before, data which caused the province's homicide rate to plummet to its lowest point since the mid-1960s.

B.C.'s neighbouring province Alberta reported 18 fewer killings.

Despite decreases, Canada's highest homicide rates were in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

While Manitoba recorded 12 fewer homicides in 2010, its capital of Winnipeg is on the cusp of a record number of homicides this year.

"If you look at the homicide rates overall, they've been going down nationally, but in Winnipeg they've been going the other way," said criminologist Michael Weinrath.

One of the 45 people killed last year in Winnipeg was Kyle Earl. He was 16 years old. His mother, Brenda Earl, remembers when the police gave her the devastating news.

"They came in and they said, ‘Sorry, but your son was shot this afternoon," she told CTV Winnipeg.

Police say the homicide rate is hard to predict year to year.

"Do you question it, or is it just one of those things that is?" said Const. Jason Michalyshen. "Right now we haven't had a homicide for I guess a month, and then we had a short period of time where we had multiple (murders).

In Saskatchewan, other cities continue to grapple with a high murder rate. Saskatoon and Regina recorded the second-highest homicide rates in Canada in 2010.

The title of Canada's deadliest city still belonged to Thunder Bay, which recorded the highest homicide rate in the nation for a second year in a row.

But Thunder Bay may be nudged out when Statistics Canada releases data for 2011 next year.

In mid-October, Edmonton reported an all-time record of 43 murders so far in 2011, a homicide rate which now leads the country.

Overall, Canada's urban centres recorded fewer killings in 2010.

For instance, in Vancouver there were 25 fewer homicides recorded last year. The decrease caused the Vancouver homicide rate to fall to 42 per cent, its lowest level since Statistics Canada started collecting this type of data for the city in 1981.

Spousal, partner homicides stable

While rates have shifted over time, the latest data suggests that the methods behind homicide in Canada remain varied.

The number of recorded deaths caused by a spouse or partner held steady in 2010.

Statistics Canada reported that 89 people were killed by an intimate partner in Canada last year, which is only one fewer victim than the year before.

Common-law spouses were behind 45 per cent of last year's so-called "intimate partner" homicides. They were followed by legal spouses and dating partners, both of whom were at 28 per cent.

Other forms of homicide in Canada saw a decrease in 2010:

  • Police across Canada recorded only 94 gang-related homicides last year, down by 30 deaths from the year before. Despite the decline, gang-related homicides have been creeping upwards since 1991.
  • There were 170 firearm-related homicides recorded in 170, down 180 from the year before. Statistics Canada attributes much of this decline to a decrease in killings involving rifles or shotguns.