TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's crime rate fell to its lowest in almost 40 years, Statistics Canada reported on Thursday, extending a two-decade trend even as the federal government vows to get tough on offenders.
Crime last year dropped a further 5 percent from 2009 to the lowest rate since 1973, the government agency said. The crime severity index, which measures the serious of incidents reported, fell 6 percent.
Most of the decline came in the categories of thefts under $5,000, mischief, auto thefts and break-ins. Out of the nearly 2.1 million incidents reported last year by Canadian police, 79 percent were non-violent.
Violent crimes, including homicide, attempted murder, serious assaults and robbery, were also lower.
"The decline that we are seeing in 2010 statistics are common across many jurisdictions," said Anthony Doob, professor of criminology at the University of Toronto.
"If you look at comparable data in the U.S., you'd see the same type of thing."
He said there is no simple explanation for the trend, though demographics may partly account of the decline. Put simply, a smaller proportion of the population is young and male. Crimes committed by youth aged 12 to 17 fell 7 percent.
The report did show higher instances of some crimes, including sexual assault, criminal harassment, child pornography, firearm use and drug offenses.
While the crime rate has steadily declined in recent years, the new majority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed to get tough on offenders.
The Conservative government has committed substantial federal spending to expand penitentiaries, and introduced legislation that will increase levels of incarceration.
Prison sentences are generally lighter in Canada than in other countries, especially the United States.
Reporting by Trish Nixon; Editing by Frank McGurty