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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's murder rate rose by 2 percent in 2008 over 2007, due mainly to gang-related killings in two western provinces, Statistics Canada said on Wednesday.
Police reported a total of 611 homicides, 17 more than in 2007. The national murder rate last year was 1.83 per 100,000 people, up from 1.80 in 2007.
"After peaking in the mid-1970s, the homicide rate generally declined until 1999 and has been relatively stable since. Gang-related homicides, however, have been on the rise since the early 1990s and accounted for almost one in four homicides in 2008," Statistics Canada said in a release.
Police classified 138 murders in 2008 as gang-related, 20 more than in 2007. The overall rise in homicides was caused by increased gang-related killings in the western provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
There were 200 homicides committed with a firearm in 2008, 12 more than in 2007. The rate of homicides committed with a firearm has increased 24 percent since 2002.
Women accounted for 24 percent of homicide victims in 2008, the lowest proportion since statistics were first collected.
Statscan said the rate of spousal murders had been gradually dropping for the last 30 years and also noted the growth in gang-related killings, which usually involved male victims.
Canada's homicide rate remained relatively low by international standards. The murder rate in the neighboring United States last year was just under 6.0 per 100,000.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson