Manitoba

36 killed in 2019: Winnipeg's homicide toll hits highest count since 2011

Seven homicides in three weeks have propelled the number of killings in Winnipeg to the second-highest recorded in a calendar year — and there's still two months to go.

Rising homicide rate doesn't mean city is more dangerous, criminologist says

The Winnipeg Police Service identification unit was at a house on Riverton Avenue east of Stadacona Street on Friday afternoon. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Seven homicides in three weeks have propelled the number of killings in Winnipeg to the second-highest recorded in a calendar year — and there's still two months to go.

Three of those homicides came in the span of four hours this weekend, from Saturday night into Sunday morning, in what police spokesperson Const. Rob Carver called a "shocking, horrific" stretch of violence.

As of Monday morning, there have been 36 homicides in the city this year. That's just below the record of 41, which happened in 2011.

Carver said he was feeling "a little emotionally worn out, as are probably most of my colleagues" from the latest rash of violence.

Police often have busy weekends loaded with routine crime calls but this one was marked by "the calls we all hope don't come — a series of murders and then a very shocking shooting," Carver said.

A 14-year-old girl died and an 18-year-old woman is still recovering in hospital after they were stabbed at a Halloween party Saturday night in the Tyndall Park neighbourhood. 

Const. Rob Carver says he's feeling 'a little emotionally worn out, as are probably most of my colleagues.' (Travis Golby/CBC)

In a separate incident, two men are dead after they were found suffering from upper-body injuries in a rear lane near Ross Avenue and Isabel Street early Sunday morning in the city's Centennial area.

On Sunday afternoon, someone blasted a shotgun inside a North End home, injuring a baby and three adults. All victims are in hospital and expected to survive.

Asked what he believes is driving the violence, Carver said there is no "underlying theme" like in 2011, when a turf war between two outlaw motorcycle gangs caused much of the mayhem.

"We don't see that as the case this year," he said.

Dangerous city?

If there is a positive, it's that the general public should not feel threatened, Carver said.

When there are gang wars, the violence can spill into all areas of the community and endanger everyone. But in the case of this year's homicide surge, the vast majority of deaths are contained to lifestyle choices, he said.

"If you're not involved in gang life, if you're not involved in criminal activity, if you're not buying or selling drugs, the reality is you're pretty safe in this city," Carver said.

Criminologist Frank Cormier agreed, saying a rising homicide rate doesn't necessarily mean the city is more dangerous.

"These rates do fluctuate and our personal safety is really not at any greater risk, provided that we aren't involved in the very risky lifestyles that are tied to the potential to be a victim of violent crime," said the head of the department of sociology and criminology at the University of Manitoba.

Most homicides are not random, with 85-90 per cent involving people well-known to one another, either as friends, relatives or intimate partners, Cormier said.

"The only thing predictable about homicide trends is their unpredictability. They do go up and down for no apparent or necessarily identifiable reason from time to time."

Frank Cormier says a rising homicide rate doesn't necessarily mean the city is more dangerous. (CBC)

Sometimes it's just luck, he said.

There are a great number of stabbing injuries in the city that don't make headlines but a tiny change — an inch or two in another direction — could have easily turned a number of those into deaths instead, Cormier said.

The young age of some victims also should not be a surprise, he said.

"I know it can feel especially upsetting and especially tragic when it's a teenager or a young person who's involved in something like this, but there's never been a shortage of younger people being involved in violent crimes, so we shouldn't think that this is a brand new thing," Cormier said.

"The fact is, though, as younger people become involved with alcohol and/or drugs — which are very strongly correlated with violent behaviour and certainly with homicides — it won't only be adults that are involved."

Of the 36 homicide victims in 2019, 30 are male and six are female.

Shooting has been confirmed in 11 of the deaths, while 10 people have died after being assaulted and eight were stabbed.

The cause of death in seven cases has not been disclosed by police.

Police have laid charges against 33 people in 25 of the homicides. Seven of those charged are youths who cannot be named.

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