Robberies with guns down in Halifax, but police unconvinced it's a trend
‘In his pocket there is some sort of shape of a gun, so I didn’t want him to take that out’
Syed Zaidi's ideal of Canada collided head-on last year with a darker side when a masked man with a gun stormed into the pharmacy where he works and demanded drugs.
"My first horrified day in Canada," said Zaidi, who recently moved to Canada from Pakistan.
The robbery was at The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy on Lacewood Drive in Halifax where Zaidi works as a pharmacy technician. At first he thought the man was joking, and asked if he was serious.
"He pointed towards his pocket, in his pocket there is some sort of shape of a gun, so I didn't want him to take that out," Zaidi said.
Zaidi said he was worried about being shot or being held hostage. But he wasn't hurt, and the robber instead rushed behind the counter and stole several narcotics and left.
"My family was more concerned at my home. When I told them they were shocked, they said in Canada did it happen? I said it happened but it was a one-day thing."
It was the third time the pharmacy had been robbed.
But while frightening to the victims, the number of robberies involving guns in Halifax has dropped since 2015, according to data obtained from Halifax Regional Police through freedom of information laws.
There were 26 robberies in 2015 where it was confirmed there was a firearm, and 20 in 2016. As of July 31, there had been just eight this year with a gun — a fraction of the 93 robberies of all types recorded in the Halifax region in the first half of 2017.
"We're certainly encouraged by the sound of a downward trend in criminal activity of any nature," said Sgt. Peter Sonnichsen, who is in charge of the general investigative section of the Halifax Regional Police.
Even so, Sonnichsen is sceptical that his own force's numbers show a sustained downward pattern. The statistics may be right, he said, but there's nothing to indicate there are fewer guns on the street.
"It is a fairly short amount of data, a handful of data and we're only halfway through this year and it would be a challenge to draw any conclusions from it at this time."
Sonnichsen said it's even difficult to determine if a firearm is actually used in a robbery.
Unless a person is caught with a gun or DNA evidence can link them to one, it's very difficult to say whether a gun was used, he said. Many times people simply say they have a gun and don't end up displaying it.
In Halifax, it's mainly small businesses, convenience stores and gas stations that are hit by armed robbers, Sonnichsen said. He said people are often looking for cash to fuel a drug addiction.
Those who use firearms tend to favour something small, compact and easily concealed like a hand gun.
In the rural parts of the province it's a little different. RCMP said many robberies with firearms involve long guns like rifles and are usually home invasions.
There are about a dozen or so robberies with firearms a year in areas of Nova Scotia patrolled by the RCMP.
Sonnichsen said video cameras and notices saying a business has them are good ways to deter robbers and help police catch suspects. Other than that, he said store staff should hand over whatever a robber wants and shouldn't put their lives on the line to protect stock.
The Medicine Shoppe has a video system in place and the store's owner, pharmacist Jamie Flynn, said staff have been trained on how to deal with robbers.
Flynn said any drop in robberies involving firearms is "encouraging."
"Maybe the police have had some luck in catching people, hopefully they've had some success that way," he said.
"It's hard to run a small business, anyway, and to have this added on to it just makes it a lot more challenging and a lot more difficult."