By Kelsey Johnson
OTTAWA, July 22 (Reuters) - Canada's crime rate climbed 2% in 2018, the fourth consecutive annual rise, because of higher police-reported instances of fraud and sexual assault, data showed on Monday.
Statistics Canada said the number of sexual assaults increased by 13% in 2017 and by 15% in 2018, probably because of increased public awareness through campaigns like #MeToo.
The broader public discourse "may have had an impact on the willingness of victims to report sexual assault incidents to police," the agency said.
Nearly all of the 28,700 police-reported sexual assaults, (98%) were classified as level 1, meaning they did not involve a weapon or evidence of bodily harm. Every Canadian province and territory, excluding the Northwest Territories, reported an increase in sexual assaults, Statscan said.
Reported instances of fraud, including identity theft and identity fraud, was also up in 2018. Statistics Canada said the rate of police-reported fraud jumped for the seventh-consecutive year, increasing 12% in 2018.
Meanwhile, extortion in Canada soared by 44% in 2018, with every province reporting an increase. Asked about the 44% increase, Warren Silver, an analyst with Statistics Canada, said the rise in fraud might be a cause.
"We're seeing more frauds happening ... if there are threats involved, there might be extortion as a secondary violation," he said.
Police told the agency the increase in extortion was largely because of a digital shift to tactics including hostage-taking scams and ransomware.
But while fraud and sexual assault was up, Canada's homicide rate fell 4% in 2018, following an increase the year before. Statscan said police reported 651 homicides in Canada last year, 15 fewer than seen in 2017.
Of that, 22% of the victims were indigenous, a homicide rate five times higher than the rate for non-indigenous peoples. Indigenous Canadians only account for 5% of the Canadian population.
While several provinces, including Alberta and British Columbia, reported fewer homicides, Canada's most populous province (Ontario) saw 69 more homicides in 2018, thanks in part to three serious incidents in Toronto.
An April 2018 van attack in North York killed 10 people, while a July 2018 mass shooting on Danforth Avenue left three people dead. Police also discovered more victims of Bruce McArthur, a Canadian serial killer who pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in January 2019.
The national rates for both firearm-related (minus 8%) and gang-related homicides ( minus 5%) declined last year, the first time those rates had fallen since 2013 and 2014 respectively.
(Reporting by Kelsey Johnson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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