The Economic Impact of Firearm-related Crime in Canada, 2008

Executive Summary

The present study provides estimates of the economic and social costs of firearm-related crime in Canada. In this study, firearm-related crime is defined as crime committed with a firearm present or used during the commission of an offence, of which all are considered violent crimes. The impact of firearm-related crime can be both wide-ranging and long-lasting as it directs a society's resources to address the problem and causes unquantifiable pain and suffering to victims and their family members. Examining the financial impact is not a new approach in understanding crime. An understanding of the economic costs of crime can lead to important insights and policy decisions, both in terms of criminal justice policy and in terms of other social problems that compete with crime for government funding and resources.

In 2008, the total economic and social costs of firearm-related crime in Canada were approximately $3.1 billion. This amounted to a per capita cost of $93 in that year. However, this is likely to be a conservative estimate due to the unavailability of data in many areas. For example, victims may develop mental health problems, such as depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance abuse and suicidal behaviour. The associated costs are not included in this report due to data limitations. The costs outlined herein are borne by the criminal justice system, victims and third parties in general.

The costs pertaining to the Canadian criminal justice system in 2008 amounted to approximately $302 million. A breakdown of the total criminal justice costs by sector reveals that policing services used the majority of justice expenditures on firearm-related crime (69.5%), followed by corrections (29.7%), courts (0.3%), prosecution (0.3%) and legal aid (0.2%).

Victims bear the most direct and significant impact of crime. Many costs incurred are a direct result of victimization of firearm-related crime, such as health care cost, productivity losses and value of stolen/damaged property. The total victim costs were $2.7 billion in 2008, including both tangible and intangible costs. The majority were intangible costs (91.9%) for pain, suffering and loss of human life. The remaining $221 million was incurred as tangible costs, of which productivity losses represented 69.8%, followed by personal costs (26.9%) and health care costs (3.2%).

The third party costs capture the impact of firearm-related crime on other people and society in general. In 2008, the total costs borne by the third-party were approximately $79.5 million. About 59.9% were intangible costs measuring the loss of affection/enjoyment to family members of victims who were killed in the crime. Tangible costs cover funeral services (2.0 %), other persons who were harmed or threatened during the incidents (2.4%), social services (5.6%) and other related government expenditures (30.2%).

Note that placing a monetary value on intangible items is subject to considerable uncertainty and controversy. In this present report, intangible costs include pain and suffering to the victim(s), value of lost life to victim(s) and loss of affection/enjoyment to family members of deceased victims. Although no study has been able to produce estimates for intangible costs without much critique, the consensus remains that intangible costs are often the most expensive component of victim costs. In this study, the total intangible costs were about $2.5 billion, accounting for 82.1% of the total costs.

Estimates of the economic and social costs of crime can play an important role in demonstrating the impact of crime in terms of resources expended. These numbers could increase the awareness of both policy-makers and the public of the full impact of crime on society and the potential gains that could result from crime reduction. In Canada, we do not have consistent, national sources of data in many areas that are required for comprehensive costing estimates. Key stakeholders are engaged to find ways to improve data collection and reporting practices. Therefore, work on costing is continually evolving. Estimation in this report is reliable based on the data available to us at the time the report was prepared. Results of the estimated criminal justice, victim, and third-party costs are presented in Table 1.

Table 1 - Estimated Costs of Firearm-related Crime in Canada, 2008

Criminal Justice System Costs
Cost Category $CAD
1. Police $209,772,812
2. Court $1,024,667
3. Prosecution $837,909
4. Legal Aid $565,637
5. Corrections $89,795,351
Total Criminal Justice System Costs $301,996,376
Victim Costs
Cost Category $CAD
1. Health Care $7,149,138
2. Productivity Losses $154,527,373
3. Personal Costs $59,576,443
4. Intangible Costs $2,496,351,000
Total Victim Costs $2,717,603,954
Third-Party Costs
Cost Category $CAD
1. Funeral Service Expenses $1,563,660
2. Loss of Affection/Enjoyment to Family Members $47,640,000
3. Other Persons Harmed/Threatened $1,899,466
4. Social Service Operating Costs $4,422,508
5. Other Related Expenditures $24,000,000
Total Third-Party Costs $79,525,634
Total Costs $3,099,125,964