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Canada's mortality rate spikes, life expectancy dips for third straight year

For the first time last year, COVID-19 climbed into the third leading cause of death in Canada, behind heart disease and cancer
A new report from Statistics Canada says life expectancy for the average Canadian at birth has fallen for the last three years in a row, from 82.3 in 2019 to 81.3 years in 2022. | Rob Kruyt, BIV

Just under 335,000 people died in Canada in 2022, a 7.1% spike from the previous year in a trend that touched nearly every region of the country, according to the country’s statistics agency. 

The Statistics Canada data, released in a report Monday, extends a drop in life expectancy for a third straight year. It dipped from 81.6 years in 2021 to 81.3 years in 2022, with the decline more prominent among females than males.

Cancer and heart disease led all other causes of death in 2022, accounting for 41.8% of mortalities. Deaths from COVID-19 were there highest since the start of the pandemic, climbing to almost 20,000 from just shy of 15,000 in 2021. 

“This increase may in part be due to the exposure to new highly transmissible COVID-19 variants and the gradual return to normalcy,” wrote StatCan researchers.

COVID-19 deaths among Canadians over 65 years old rose more than 91% in 2022 — roughly equivalent to early pandemic levels — while dropping 8.6% for those under 65. The biggest spikes in COVID-19 deaths in 2022 were seen in the Atlantic provinces where they spiked seven-fold over the previous year. COVID-19 deaths increased by 38.3% in Quebec and Ontario and by 29.6% in British Columbia. 

For the first time, deaths from the respiratory virus vaulted COVID-19 ahead of accidents as the third largest cause of death in Canada. 

Among younger age groups, StatCan partly attributed the increase in deaths to those that are under investigation by a coroner or medical examiner — often drug overdoses, suicides or homicides that aren’t initially assigned a cause of death. 

Influenza and pneumonia deaths also saw a more than 45% increase from 2021, though deaths due to the two seasonal infections remained nearly 14% lower than in 2019. 

Together with strokes and a mix of other chronic diseases, like diabetes and Alzheimer’s, they were among the 10 leading causes of death in Canada, accounting for almost two-thirds of all mortalities.