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

4. Criminal Justice System CostsFootnote 12

As one of the social responses to crime, the criminal justice system plays the role of deterring, attending to and punishing crime. The associated costs considered in the present study include expenditures on policing, court, prosecution, legal aid and correctional services. Several expenditures such as non-legal aid defence costs or criminal code review board expenditures are not covered due to data limitations. Table 5 summarizes the total criminal justice system costs.

Table 5: Criminal Justice System Costs for Firearm-related crime, 2008
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
5.1 Incarceration $88,341,558
5.2 Conditional Sentence $44,448
5.3 Probation $1,409,920
5.4 Fine ($575)
Total $301,996,376

4.1 Police Costs

In 2008, about $7,441 million was spent by police on crime.Footnote 13 In that year, there were a total of 2,485,207 incidents under Criminal Code violations and Federal Statute violations.Footnote 14 As no information is available regarding the police costs by specific offences or individual incident, we seek to allocate the total expenditures among different offences according to their severity weight by assuming that a more severe type of offence would normally require more resources for investigation. Statistics Canada assigns a weight to each offence according to the severity of crime. For example, the weight for homicide is 7,042 whereas the weight for robbery is 583.Footnote 15 To estimate the police costs per incident, we first calculate the proportion of total crime severity attributable to each offence using severity weights provided by Statistics Canada. Next, we multiply the weighted severity proportion of each offence by the total police expenditure ($7,441 million), which yields the police expenditures spent on each specific crime. Lastly, we divide the offence-specific police expenditures by the number of incidents of the offence to obtain the police costs per incident for each offence. We assume that this cost is the same for all the incidents of that offence regardless of the presence or use of a firearm. Without further information, it is believed that the estimation using this weighted average method is superior to the one using a simple average.

In 2008, there were about 8,885 police-reported incidents where a firearm was present or used during the commission of the offence.Footnote 16 Offence categories, defined by the Canadian Criminal Code, range from homicide to uttering threats. Multiplying the above estimated per incident police cost by the number of incidents for each offence, we estimate the total police costs for firearm-related violent crime that have come to the attention of police to be $209,772,812. See Appendix A.1 for detailed calculations and sources.

Table 6 presents the estimated average per incident police costs, and the number of incidents where a firearm was present or used by offence type, for selected firearm violent offences. A complete table including a full list of firearm-related violations is presented in Appendix A.1.

Table 6: Police Costs for Selected Firearm-related Violent Crime
Offences Costs per incident Firearm-related incidents Polices costs for firearm-related incidents ($'000)
Homicide $291,595.31 187 $54,528
Attempted murder $62,688.65 259 $16,236
Aggravated sexual assault - level 3 $46,526.24 4 $186
Assault with weapon / causing bodily harm - level 2 $3,438.03 1,601 $5,504
Common assault - level 1 $1,041.01 257 $268
Robbery $25,901.60 3,667 $94,981
Extortion $10,174.04 38 $387
Criminal harassment $1,999.27 40 $80

The most recent official information on court expenditures was collected by the Courts Personnel and Expenditure Survey in 2002/03. Expenditures covered in this survey include salaries and wage for all court personnel as well as benefits. It is estimated the average court cost per case in that year was about $1,028. As both the average number of appearances per criminal case and the average elapsed time per criminal case have increased by approximately 23% in 2008/09 as compared to 2002/03, we assume that there has been a general trend towards lengthier, more complex cases. These changes should be reflected in the associated court costs. Therefore, we use a multiplier 1.23 for the increased complexity. Moreover, the average cost is adjusted for inflation (inflation rate is 13.31%). Following this, it estimated that the average court cost per criminal case in 2008 was $1,433.

The CCJS reports that there were a total of 631 cases for firearm-related offences processed in criminal courts in 2008.Footnote 17 About 78.6% were adult cases. Table 7 presents the Criminal Code offences that are included.

Table 7: Criminal Code Firearm-related Violations
Criminal Code Section Offence Description
85 Use of firearm or imitation, commission of offence
220(a) Causing death by criminal negligence - firearm used in commission of offence
236(a) Manslaughter - firearm used in commission of offence
239(a), 239 (1) (a) and (a.1) Attempted murder - firearm used in commission of offence
244 Causing bodily harm with intent - firearm
272(2)(a) and (a.1) Sexual assault with a weapon - firearm used in commission of offence
273(2)(a) and (a.1) Aggravated sexual assault - firearm used in commission of offence
279(1.1)(a) and (a.1) Kidnapping - firearm used in commission of offence
279.1(2)(a) and (a.1) Hostage taking - firearm used in commission of offence
344(a), 344 (1) (a) and (a.1) Robbery - firearm used in commission of offence
346(1.1)(a) and (a.1) Extortion - firearm used in commission of offence

However, this number is an undercount of the actual total number of cases containing at least one firearm-related charge that occurred in 2008 due to the following reasons:

  • First, municipal and superior court data in Quebec, superior court data in Ontario, and superior court data in Saskatchewan are not reported to the ACCS . According to the CCJS, the missing data from the three jurisdictions approximately account for 5% of the national counts.
  • Second, offenders accused with murder where a firearm was used in the commission of the offence are recorded as either first-degree murder or second-degree murder (under the Criminal Code of Canada) regardless of whether a firearm was present or not. This is because murder alone is severe enough to be given a life-time custody sentence. As a result, this group of firearm-involved cases is not shown on this data.
  • Third, in some cases, offenders might plead guilty to another charge that was part of their case, but was not a firearm-related violent offence. This is because firearms-related violent offences normally carry a mandatory minimum sentence. Pleading guilty to the non-firearms charge might result in the firearms charge being stayed or withdrawn.
  • Finally, there might be an undercount of firearms-related cases in Ontario, as there is an indication of certain coding issues with respect to firearm-related offences. If the police officer who charges the accused records the Criminal Code section as the overarching section (for instance simply as robbery instead of robbery with a firearm), this is the data that is provided to the CCJS. Therefore, it is possible that in these cases, the true number of firearm-related charges is not accurately recorded. While this issue might be more specifically in Ontario, it might also be prevalent in other jurisdictions.

The first two limitations can be corrected through certain data adjustment. However, information regarding the latter two limitations is not available, which prevents us from understanding how much the number was undercounted. According to the CCJS, there were 58 offenders in 2008 charged with murder where a firearm was present or used in the commission of the offence.Footnote 18 By taking into account these murder cases and by adjusting for the 95% coverage, the total number of cases for firearm-related crime is revised to 715. Following this, at the average court cost of $1,433 per case, it is estimated that the total court costs were $1,024,667 in 2008. See Appendix A.2 for detailed calculations and sources.

4.2 Prosecution Costs

Similar to the court expenditures, the most recent official information on prosecution expenditures was collected by the Prosecutions Personnel and Expenditures Survey in 2002/03. Using the same logic, we estimate the average prosecution cost per case in 2008 was about $1,172. It follows that the total prosecution costs for firearm-related violent crime in 2008 were $837,909. See Appendix A.3 for detailed calculations and sources.

4.3 Legal Aid Costs

In 2008, the total legal service expenditures on criminal matters were approximately 373 million. With a total caseload of 472,100 processed in criminal courts in that year, the average legal aid cost per case was $791. Multiplying this average cost by the number of firearm-related cases yields the total legal aid costs for firearm-related offences, which were $565,637 in 2008. See Appendix A.4 for detailed calculations and sources.

4.4 Correctional Services Costs

The conviction rate for the firearm-related violent offences in 2008 was about 48%, slightly lower than the overall conviction rate (53%) for all violent offences.Footnote 19 Among those convicted offenders, 71% received custody as the most serious sentence, followed by probation (13%) and conditional sentences (2%). About 13% of convicted offenders were given other types of sentence as their most serious sentence, including absolute discharge, restitution, prohibition, seizure, forfeiture, compensation, pay purchaser, essays, apologies, counselling programs and conditional discharge.Footnote 20 Sentences under this category are not considered in this study due to a lack of data. Note that it is possible for convicted offenders to receive more than one sentence. Table 8 presents the distribution of sentence types for firearm-related offences by gender in 2008.

Table 8: distribution of sentence types for firearm-related offences by gender, 2008
  Custody Conditional sentence Probation Fine Other
Male 233 5 135 1 171
Female 10 1 14 0 9


In terms of custody, offenders who receive a sentence of 24 months or more will spend their sentenced time in federal custody and offenders whose sentence is less than 24 months will serve the sentence in provincial institutions. To capture the distinction that the average cost of keeping a federal inmate is much higher than that for keeping a provincial inmate, the estimations for federal and provincial incarceration costs are conducted separately. As a part of custody, offenders might be released earlier either on parole or statutory release.Footnote 21 All of these factors are taken into account.

In 2008, there were 109 male offenders and 3 female offenders admitted to federal custody for firearms-related offences. Note that there is a significant difference in the length of custody sentence between those convicted of firearm-related murder and other firearm-related offences (non-murder). For other firearm-related crime, the average length of federal custody for male inmates was 1,734 days whereas the length for female inmate was 1,923 days. The full parole grant rate for federal female inmates was significantly higher than the rate for federal male inmates (76% vs. 41%).

With respect to offenders convicted of firearm-related murder, about 37% had at least one parole application under the faint-hope clause before their parole ineligibility period, and of these offenders, 51% were successful in having the parole ineligibility reduced.Footnote 22 Specifically, those convicted of first-degree murder spent, on average, 18.4 years (6,737 days) in prison before first parole release where the original length of parole ineligibility period was 25 years (9,131 days). Those convicted of second-degree spent 17.7 years (6,474 days) before parole release where the original length of parole ineligibility period was 21.2 years (7,762 days).

It is important to note that holding a female offender in federal custody costs almost double that of keeping a federal male inmate. In 2008, the average daily federal incarceration cost was $287 for males and was higher at $542 for females.

In addition to the 112 federal offenders, 131 offenders were admitted to provincial custody. The average daily cost of provincial incarceration in 2008 was about $160. It is assumed that people who succeeded in their parole application served 1/3 of their sentence before parole release. For offenders who were not granted parole, they would be released on statutory release after serving 2/3 of their sentence.

In this way, the total custody costs for firearm-related crime in 2008 were $88,341,558, where the majority was borne by the federal custody system ($85,414,540).

Conditional Sentence

About 6 firearm offenders received conditional sentence as their sanction in 2008. The average sentence length was 234 days for male offenders and 219 days for female offenders. As supervision in the community only costs about 20% of the provincial incarceration cost, the average daily cost was about $32.Footnote 23 Therefore, the total costs associated with conditional sentence for firearm-related crime were about $44,448.


In 2008, a total of 149 offenders received probation as their sanction. The average probation length was 472 days for male offenders and 484 days for female offenders. Compared with conditional sentence, probation is less serious and hence, may require fewer resources. We assume that the daily probation cost is lower than daily conditional sentence cost, at $20 per day. We estimate that the total probation costs were $1,409,920.


Only one offender received fine as sanction. It is estimated that the associated fine amount was about $575, which is considered as revenue to the criminal justice system.

Therefore, the total cost for corrections were $89,795,351. See Appendix A.5 for detailed calculations and sources.

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