Newly released figures reveal that the number of police-reported homicides in Canada climbed to 598 last year, the nation’s first increase in three years.

Following suit, Canada’s homicide rate grew by seven per cent in 2011, according to the latest batch of data released Tuesday by Statistics Canada.

Just a year ago, Canada had marked its lowest homicide rate since 1966. That level, however, has since climbed to 1.73 deaths for every population of 100,000.

The agency has pinned much of the increase on Alberta, which reported 32 more killings in 2011, and Quebec, which reported 21 more homicides than the previous year.

Despite the increases, it was Manitoba that once again claimed the dubious honour of having the nation’s highest homicide rate for the fifth year in a row.

Winnipeg, the province’s capital, has been scourged with similar troubles. It recorded the highest homicide rate when compared to other major metropolitan areas in 2011.

The development comes as the city’s newest police chief Devon Clunis officially settles into his job. Clunis made headlines earlier this year for suggesting that prayer could help reduce crime in Winnipeg. He later clarified his position, stating he wasn’t advocating for mandatory prayer.

Further east, in Ontario, there were 28 fewer police-reported homicides in 2011. That decline helped the province’s homicide rate sink to its lowest point in 45 years.

Lowest firearm-homicide rate in 50 years

Also in Statistics Canada’s latest missive was the revelation that the number of killings committed with a firearm had dropped to its lowest level in almost 50 years.

Earlier this year, both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty had brainstormed ways to get tough on gun crimes, in the wake of a mass shooting at a Toronto block party. Two young adults were killed and at least 23 others injured during the spree.

At the time, Harper had lamented that courts were trying to “strike down” some “tough penalties.” According to The Canadian Press, it sounded as if the Prime Minister was referring to decisions that rendered mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes unconstitutional.

Data released by Statistics Canada, however, shows that the number killings linked to firearms has been dropping since the mid-1970s. More specifically, the rate of homicides committed with a handgun has been decreasing since topping out in 1991.

The data-collecting agency went on to note that it was stabbings, not shootings, largely accounted for 2011’s increase in homicides. There were 39 more stabbings reported last year.

Types of homicides in 2011:

  • Stabbings (35 per cent)
  • Firearm-related (27 per cent)
  • Beatings (22 per cent)
  • Strangulation (7 per cent)