Spike in violent crime in Saskatoon sign of the times in Western Canada: police

A wave of violent crime in Saskatoon began on Valentine's Day with the city's second murder of the year.

Gangs and drugs the broad forces driving crime

It's been a violent month in Saskatoon. (CBC)

Police news releases in Saskatoon have been an unsettling smorgasbord of violent crime since the city's second homicide of 2018 was reported on Valentine's Day.

There have been home invasions, shootings, stabbings, beatings, drug busts, police chases and armed standoffs.

All this in less than a month.

'Nobody wants to be that person that gets reported as co-operating with the police,' says detective inspector Russ Friesen. (CBC)

Russ Friesen, a detective inspector with Saskatoon's criminal investigation division, confirms what the news releases suggest: it's been an ugly month in the City of Bridges. It may come as cold comfort, but he says we're not alone.

"In Western Canada, regionally, provincially, there's an upswing in drug and gang activity. And with that, unfortunately, is associated firearms and weapons offences," said Friesen, who has worked as a cop in this city for more than three decades.

"Past couple of weeks, we haven't really noticed a huge increase in the amount of incidents, but there has been what I would say is more severity of the violence that has been reported."

Victims reluctant to co-operate

In the broadest sense, Friesen said gangs and drugs are the drivers behind the violent crime. Keeping track of who is shooting whom, and why, is a full-time job complicated by witnesses and victims who do not co-operate.

On Feb. 21, a 35-year-old man was shot in a showdown in a parking lot on Preston Avenue. Police interviewed him in hospital, "however the victim is not overly co-operative," a release said.

Then, on March 1, a man was shot in the torso during an apparent armed robbery in an alley off 22nd Street. That investigation is ongoing.

"Nobody wants to be that person that gets reported as co-operating with the police. If you're a victim or a witness, it could be fear of retaliation for co-operating," Friesen said.

"Even though you may have a horrific injury as you just described you could opening yourself up for further violence."

Gangs signs are across the city. (CBC)
Friesen said the gang-related violence does not mean a full-blown gang war is playing out on the city streets.

Rather, he characterized it as "skirmishes" connected to jockeying for position in the lucrative drug trade. But even that explanation may not entirely cover it, he said.

"It is based on numerous things: competition for customers; competition for area; retaliation for maybe a slight against a gang encroaching on someone's territory. Drugs are a huge currency for the gangs in Saskatoon and in the western provinces, especially methamphetamine, and they're looking for customers and looking for territory," he said.

"There could be isolated incidents of a gang member just committing a random crime, a random robbery not associated to the gang. And then some of them could be associated to rivals."

About the Author

Dan Zakreski

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.