OTTAWA - Canada's police services are once again reporting fewer crimes, a continuing trend that has cut the national crime rate to its lowest level since 1972.
But the latest figures from Statistics Canada don't mean the job of fighting crime is done, says Peter MacKay, who took on his new role as federal justice minister one week ago.
The police-reported crime rate fell by three per cent in 2012 compared with the previous year, Statistics Canada reported Thursday.
The severity of crimes committed was also down by three per cent in 2012, according to StatsCan's Crime Severity Index (CSI).
Police-reported crime has been on a steady decline since peaking in 1991.
Police services reported nearly two million incidents involving criminal activity in 2012, roughly 36,000 fewer than in the previous year.
"The police-reported crime rate has followed a downward trend, and, in 2012, reached its lowest level since 1972," Statistics Canada said in its latest report.
"The CSI was down 28 per cent over the 10 years since 2002."
Although there has been a trend toward a reduced crime rate and fewer severe crimes, spending on criminal justice continues to rise.
Also, the Conservatives have introduced at least 30 bills designed to crack down on crime since Prime Minister Stephen Harper won power in 2006.
Per capita spending on criminal justice — including federal and provincial jails, court costs and policing — climbed 23 per cent over the last decade, the parliamentary budget office reported in March.
The report put the price tag at $20.3 billion in 2011-12, with roughly three-quarters of that total carried by the provinces and municipalities.
MacKay, in Edmonton on Thursday meeting with victims of crime, said the government has been putting more resources toward improving efficiency in the justice system, which he said would prevent delays that can result in charges being stayed.
The government also wants to improve laws to protect victims, MacKay said, pointing to an announcement Wednesday in British Columbia for child advocacy centres, which he said provided more support for victim advocacy and victim support services.
"We have, in fact, I believe, improved the way in which the system is functioning to some degree, but I don't believe we should stop ever trying to improve our justice system," MacKay said.
"I think it is so fundamental to the functioning of our society that we have to continually strive for improvement."
MacKay is expected to introduce a crime victims' bill later this year.
Both the police-reported crime rate and the CSI fell in most provinces last year, although rates increased in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the territories.
Saskatchewan reported the biggest decline in its crime rate, but still had the highest rate and CSI among the provinces.
Crime rates, and the severity of crimes as in previous years, were higher in the territories and the western provinces.
Ontario police services reported the lowest crime rate and CSI.
Having reported a seven per cent drop in its police-reported crime rate in 2012, Toronto, Canada's biggest city, can boast the lowest rate among the country's census metropolitan areas for the sixth consecutive year.
Quebec City had the second-lowest crime rate while also recording the lowest CSI.
Kelowna, B.C., had the highest crime rate in 2012, the result of a six per cent jump in its police-reported rate from the previous year.
Regina, which had the highest crime rate in 2011, dropped to second spot as its 2012 rate fell by 10 per cent. However, it retained the highest CSI in the country.
Crime severity was also up in 2012 in Windsor, Guelph, Brantford and St. Catharines-Niagara in Ontario, as well as in Gatineau, Que., and Moncton, N.B.