Manitoba

'They're not disposable': Manitoba MLAs call for action after homicides, attacks on children

On a day when news of the city's 37th homicide of the year rippled through Winnipeg, an MLA from the inner city wiped away tears as she demanded action following a spate of violence, including brutal attacks that injured children.

Premier says recent events are troubling, but stats show violent crime rates are falling

Point Douglas MLA Bernadette Smith wipes away tears as she speaks about a spate of violence that has rocked her community. She and a colleague are hosting a community gathering next week to seek solutions to the violence. (Radio-Canada)

On a day when news of the city's 37th homicide of the year rippled through Winnipeg, an inner-city MLA wiped away tears as she demanded action following a spate of violence, including brutal attacks that injured children and teens.

"These are people's loved ones — they're not disposable. People care about them, and this shouldn't be happening," Point Douglas MLA Bernadette Smith told reporters on Thursday.

"We have the resources to be able to support people who are going through this, yet we're not providing them."

Winnipeg's 37th homicide of the year was reported on Thursday morning. Police descended on a home on St. Matthews Avenue, just off Arlington Street, for a report of suspicious circumstances, where they found a man in critical condition. He was pronounced dead in hospital. 

Winnipeg is now four homicides away from tying the record for the most homicides in a single year — and there are still two months to go in 2019.

Also on Thursday, police announced an arrest in the stabbing assault of a three-year-old boy, charging a Winnipeg man with attempted murder.

In response to the homicides and assaults, Smith and her NDP colleague, St. Johns MLA Nahanni Fontaine, announced a community gathering to address the violence that's shocked the city.

At a news conference Thursday, they invited the government's justice, health and family ministers, as well as Winnipeg's mayor and council, to attend the Nov. 6 gathering at William Whyte School at 6 p.m.

'Something needs to change'

"I think this is a call to our community, to our stakeholders, as well as our province and our city," Smith said. "Something needs to change."

She says she has spoken to family members of the three-year-old boy left critically injured after a Wednesday morning assault.

Just days before that, a baby was injured in a  shotgun attack that also sent three adults to hospital.

And in a single night last weekend, Winnipeg saw three homicides, including the death of a teenage girl.

Two people hug during a vigil outside Health Sciences Centre Wednesday night for a three-year-old boy in critical condition after being stabbed earlier in the day. A man was charged Thursday in connection with the attack. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Smith called on the government to address Winnipeg's meth crisis, which she said is fuelling violent crime.

Police have yet to publicly link any of the recent homicides or attacks to the drug.

Fontaine called the recent violence gripping Winnipeg an epidemic. 

"Everybody, including the chief of police, everybody agrees that there are parts of our city and parts of our province that is under siege right now," she said.

"This is a time that everybody comes together. This is not a time for mudslinging. This is an opportunity for us all to work together."

'Don't be a bystander': Bowman

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman called on any Winnipegger with the means to help their community by volunteering to do so.

"Get involved. Don't be a bystander in your community," he told CBC Manitoba's Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa.

"If you have the ability to participate in a meaningful way, choose an organization, a not-for-profit and give some of your time, because that's how we're going to … build bridges in our community."

Beyond the individual level, he said all levels of government need to address the root causes of violence. He's calling for more mental health and addictions support.

"The checks and balances that are in our society to protect our most vulnerable, they're broken and they need to be fixed," he said.

A police officer keeps watch Thursday at a St. Matthews Avenue home, where police investigated Winnipeg's 37th homicide of 2019. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitoba's premier says the recent spike in violence is worrisome, but the rate of crime is actually dropping.

"There's actually a decrease in violent crime, statistically, but any incident of violent crime is obviously a concern to all of us, and so of course we're looking at continuing action," Brian Pallister said Thursday morning, after a promotional event for the new women's hospital in Winnipeg.

"I thank our front-line police for the work they do. I thank our citizens who have involved themselves in providing ideas and suggestions."

Downtown review could expand: Pallister

Pallister said the Manitoba Police Commission is preparing a report on how to make downtown Winnipeg safer.

When pressed later about whether the police commission's review could be expanded beyond the downtown, since some of the violence has occurred elsewhere, Pallister said he expects the report's findings will be helpful across the province.

In a statement later in the day, Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said the government has also implemented at least a dozen initiatives to improve mental health and addictions service. 

The Manitoba Liberals, however, are calling for more urgency from the provincial government. 

Statistics Canada's violent crimes index shows violence rising in Winnipeg, well above the national average, the party said in a news release.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said incidents of homicides and property crime are up and thefts at Manitoba Liquor Marts and other retail outlets have become an epidemic.

"I've been at several community forums on crime. People want to hear what the plan is to reduce crime, but what they are told is that they need better locks and lights outside," Lamont said in a statement.

"It is not enough to ask homeowners and businesses to build a better bunker. We need a plan to drive crime down."

Winnipeg police investigate a homicide on Kinver Avenue last weekend, one of 37 homicides in the city so far in 2019. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Pallister also called Thursday for immediate action to address the hundreds of robberies that Manitoba's liquor stores are experiencing every week.

"I think it's a concern to all of us. It's a concern not only from a revenue standpoint, but more importantly, from a safety standpoint, for the people who are shopping in those stores," he said.

Pallister said he was aware of discussions between Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries and other jurisdictions to solve the problem.

"I want to see action taken," he said. "I think all Manitobans want to see action taken."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.