Manitoba

Winnipeg homicide record broken with 42nd killing in a year

Winnipeg has broken its record for the most homicides in a single year, with two weeks left in 2019.

Stabbing deaths of 3-year-old boy, 14-year-old girl among 2019 homicides

Hunter Straight-Smith's mother is comforted at a vigil outside Winnipeg's Children's Hospital. The three-year-old boy was stabbed in his sleep. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg has broken its record for the most homicides in a year, with two weeks left in 2019.

Police announced on Wednesday the 42nd homicide was recorded on Oct. 31, a disheartening statistic in a city dealing with a number of random killings and shooting deaths.

"It certainly is remarkable," criminologist Frank Cormier said. "It's hard not to notice something like that."

The new record was set after police deemed a house fire on Pritchard Avenue, between Andrews and Powers street, as a homicide. A 23-year-old woman is charged with second-degree murder. 

For months, Winnipeg appeared destined to eventually pass the homicide record of 41 set in 2011. The city saw more killings by June this year than it did in all of 2018, when there were 22.

Jaime Adao and his wife Imelda hold a portrait of their son Jaime Adao Jr. at what would have been his high school graduation ceremony. Their son was slain in what police called a random attack while he was at home with his grandmother. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Many of the slayings this year have deeply disturbed Winnipeggers:

Police say it was "unprecedented" when 11 homicides happened over 30 days in the fall. The total is now 12 homicides due to the Oct. 31 arson.

On the front lines, Winnipeg police say they're under siege. They reassigned 74 police officers to temporarily handle a homicide caseload that became insurmountable without the extra resources.

'Profound impact'

"Every homicide brings a grieving family, an impact on the community and a significant amount of work," police spokesperson Const. Jay Murray said last month

"Just a single homicide can have a profound impact on the community. It's awful."

Police say no "underlying theme" is driving the number of killings, but "there's certainly a number of social issues that have contributed to the homicide count this year, including alcohol and drug use," Murray said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"We've also seen a disproportionate number of homicides that involve gun violence or methamphetamine use."

In 2011, the previous record year, a turf war between two outlaw motorcycle gangs caused much of the mayhem, and the number was driven up when five people died in a rooming house fire that was deliberately set. 

But within two years, Winnipeg's average homicide total dropped to nearly half that, "and we were never asked why that was," Murray said.  

Of the 42 homicides this year, 36 were men or boys and six are women or girls; four were under age 18.

A shooting was confirmed in 16 of the deaths, while 10 people died after being assaulted and 10 were stabbed. There were just three gun homicides in all of 2018.

Winnipeg police have laid charges against a total of 43 people in 33 of the homicides. Seven of those charged are youth who cannot be named.

Cormier, a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, said one year of alarming violence does not mean this is the new normal. 

"It's really important that we don't only concentrate on the remarkable [year], because the remarkable by its very definition is unusual, and it's not what we should expect to happen in the future," he said.

From 2007 to 2016, Winnipeg averaged 29 homicides per year, Statistics Canada says.

The agency says Thunder Bay, Ont., recorded the highest homicide rate in the country in 2018 — 6.38 murders per 100,000 people. Winnipeg's rate was 2.69 per 100,000 people last year, which is bound to increase this year.

Police officers are stretched thin dealing with the workload from homicide investigations. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

More attention should be focused on the long-term trends of violence, Cormier said.

Though there has been a recent spike in violent crime, the violent crime severity index, as calculated by Statistics Canada, was lower in 2018 than it was a decade or two earlier.

"We should always have a certain level of concern or caring about crime and particularly violent crime," Cormier said.

"We need to balance that out with a recognition that still our [violence] rates are significantly lower than they were 20 years ago."

Winnipeg is still a safe place for the average citizen, as long as people stay away from a lifestyle prone to violence, he said. The vast majority of homicides happen between people who already know each other, he said.

Broader problem

Winnipeg is dealing with mounting homicides as it grapples with rising violent property crime fuelled partially by methamphetamine use.

The growing violence of all kinds is a symptom of poverty, said Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, assistant professor in criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg.

Social services are suffering, welfare amounts are insufficient and well-paying jobs are lacking, she said.

"If this increasing homicide rate can get us to take seriously some of the broader conditions of violence and stress that people are living under, then I guess we can talk about the homicide rate," she said.

While the number of homicides is unnerving, Dobchuk-Land said the fluctuating total isn't the only indicator the city needs help.

Disadvantaged people have struggled in Winnipeg for a long time, and more policing isn't the answer, Dobchuk-Land said.

"I think people have been suffering in Winnipeg and their suffering has been heightened in the past few years."

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.

With files from CBC's Darren Bernhardt