‘Ottawa’ What is Going on in Ottawa? 2016 Shatters Shooting Record, Approaches New Homicide Mark
Soha Kneen was in her home this weekend when she heard what sounded like two or three gunshots ring out.
Minutes later, the three-unit Ottawa Community Housing building next door on McLeod Street was swarming with paramedics and police, and Lee John Joseph Germain, 32, was dead. Sunday at noon, police reported that a Canada-wide warrant had been issued for the arrest of Steven Michael Frenette, who faces a charge of first-degree murder.
This is the kind of shocking violence that is apparently no longer rare in Ottawa.
There have been more than triple the number of homicides in 2016 than last year. There have been more homicides in this city in 2016 than in any year in the past three decades, with the exception of 1995, when 24 people were slain.
For the past 15 years, the average has hovered around 10. In 2001, there were only three killings.
The spike has Ottawa residents and police alike reeling and asking why. What has changed, seemingly overnight? Kneen doesn’t know the victim or the accused in the homicide next door. But she knows it’s not normal for her quiet street — or for Ottawa.
“There are people who have lived here for 40 years. We have block parties. I don’t know what can lead to this. But it’s not normal for this neighbourhood,” she said. “It’s surreal. But I wonder why there’s so much more of this.”
What happened next door was not the only homicide this weekend.
Only hours after Germain’s death, 20-year-old Abdullah Al-Tutunji, became the city’s 22nd homicide victim of 2016. The Carleton University engineering student was stabbed outside a McDonald’s restaurant at Meadowlands and Prince of Wales Drive around 2:50 a.m after a dispute in the restaurant spilled outside.
Many are asking Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau what the city is doing about it.
Police have also logged 65 shootings in 2016 — such “shootings” being recorded whether or not a person was actually hit by a bullet. Investigators believe gang members are renting out guns from illegal gun traffickers for shootings.
In an interview Sunday, Watson said there is no easy answer.
“It’s disturbing neighborhoods in all parts of the city are feeling unsafe,” he said. “My hope is that this is a very abnormal year. ”
One thing is clear — there were not only more homicides, they were often over very trivial matters. The police chief said seemingly minor disputes are being settled with guns or knives.
“For some reason we’re seeing individuals resorting to violence and extreme violence,” Bordeleau said. “People are carrying guns and knives and they’re way quicker to use them.”
Why? “We’re trying to wrap our heads around it,” Bordeleau said. “Is it a broader societal issue? The way to resolve conflict is to carry a weapon. And it’s minor conflict. It’s puzzling. It can be very trivial.”
Bordeleau said he has talked about the sudden explosion of violence with his counterparts in other large Canadian cities. Knives have always been easy to find, but firearms are being smuggled into Canada, and they’re becoming easier to access.
Eli El-Chantiry, the chair of the Police Services Board, said the uptick in homicides is being reported in other large Canadian cities.
“The killing is senseless. Its about small amounts of money, territory, drugs, girls.”
Police hired 25 new officer last year, hired another 25 this year and plan to hire 25 more next year. But El-Chantiry said the police alone can’t solve the problem.
“The police is the community and the community is the police,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you’re calling the police, the social safety nets are not working.”
Police are wrestling with the distrust of some communities. “It’s very difficult to combat crime if the community is not in support of the police,” said El-Chantiry.
Last week, veteran officer Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar was demoted for three months for posting “insulting and racist” comments online about the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook. On July 24, Abdirahman Abdi, 37, died following what witnesses alleged was a violent arrest. His death is being investigated by the provincial police watchdog.
Watson believes that some technologies, including red light cameras and photo radar in school zones, will help free up police officers from traffic duty to concentrate on high-priority investigations.
The province also plans to introduce legislation that will allow for the hiring of lower-cost auxiliary police and special constables to take care of traffic infractions, giving police departments more money for other priorities.
But the public also plays a role. “The public is the eyes and ears of the police. We can’t possibly have a police officer on every corner,” Watson said.
“We have to get family members and victims to be more co-operative with police. I cringe every time I hear a report that says a victim wasn’t co-operative.”
Kneen has no intention of moving out of her neighbourhood.
“Yesterday I was pretty freaked out,” she said. “Today it’s more like: ‘What can we do to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again?’ This is a wonderful neighbourhood. No one expected this. There’s no reason to be afraid. This is a one-off thing.”