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Gun crime cost Canadians $3.1B in 2008: Justice Department

Crimes involving guns cost Canadians more than $3 billion a year, suggests an internal Justice Department study that may stoke the gun-control debate.

The newly released report examined all firearm-related crime in 2008, and calculated costs across a broad range, including the value of policing and prosecuting offenders, lost income and even burial fees for victims.

The total came to $3.1 billion, or about $93 for every person in the country, says the study, completed last year by two federal researchers.

The largest part of the total, about $2.5 billion, arose from so-called “intangible” victim costs, such as amounts assigned to pain, suffering and loss of life. These costs were calculated using broadly accepted values developed by courts, insurance companies and others.

Much of the remaining cost was incurred by the justice system, at $302 million; personal costs and health care, at $221 million; and third-party costs at almost $80 million.

The research was based on 8,710 incidents in which police reported a firearm present at or used in a crime. That works out to about $356,000 for each incident.

The unpublished report, by Justice Department experts Ting Zhang and Yao Qin, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The authors say the research is the first to examine the costs of “firearm-related violence specifically and comprehensively.”

The costing information, they say, can help governments set public policy: “For example, is a program that can prevent one robbery with a firearm better than one that prevents three assaults?”

A spokeswoman for the lobby group Coalition for Gun Control welcomed the new data, but noted the report does not account for all gun-related injuries and deaths, such as suicides and accidental shootings.

“This is important data, but by focusing only on the cost of the misuse of firearms in the context of crime, it underestimates the costs,” Wendy Cukier, president of the coalition, said in an interview from Toronto.

“Suicides and unintentional injuries or accidents are a substantial proportion of the people killed and injured every year.”

Even so, Cukier compared the $3.1 billion with the estimated $3 million it cost annually to run the gun registry, the long-gun portion of which was abolished by an act of Parliament earlier this year.

“The costs of gun violence and gun deaths and injuries in Canada on an annual basis dwarf the costs of our investments in gun control,” she said.

But a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, whose department was responsible for the now-defunct long-gun registry, dismissed any claim that the registry reduced crime.

“The long-gun registry did not stop a single crime or save a single life,” Julie Carmichael said in an email.

“Our Conservative government is clear — we will do what it takes to keep dangerous criminals behind bars where they belong, and that does not include a wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry.”

The federal government is currently locked in a legal dispute with Quebec, which has gone to court to preserve the long-gun registry data for the province.

Using methodology identical to that of the firearm report, Zhang produced an earlier study on the cost of all crime in Canada, estimated at $99.6 billion for the same reference year of 2008, suggesting gun crime is a fraction of the total. The Justice Department published that study in 2011.

In the latest study, Zhang and co-author Qin caution that the $3.1-billion cost is “likely to be a conservative estimate due to the unavailability of data in many areas.”

They also note: “Considerations from an economic perspective reveal only one dimension of this complex social problem.

“As such, costing analysis is not a substitute for policy formulation, but a complementary addition that could provide more objective evidence.”