Ottawa police chief responds to spate of drug-related 'extreme violence'

After five homicides so far in 2016 — one of them on a street that has seen three violent deaths in less than a year — Ottawa's police chief says the force is noticing a trend of young people "turning to extreme violence to settle even minor disputes."

Guns and gangs unit staffing permanently doubled, chief says

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau says staffing in the guns and gangs unit has been permanently doubled. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

After five homicides so far in 2016 — one of them on a street that has seen three violent deaths in less than a year — Ottawa's police chief says the force is noticing a trend of young people "turning to extreme violence to settle even minor disputes."

Some of those youths are gang members and others are involved in street-level criminal activity, Charles Bordeleau wrote in a public letter issued Monday.

"It used to be fist fights. But right now, what we've seen is that it's very minor and trivial conflict taking place — and they're shooting at each other, they're using knives to resolve that conflict," Bordeleau told Alan Neal on CBC Radio's All In A Day.

There have been 14 shootings in Ottawa so far this year, including four homicides. The fifth homicide was a stabbing.

5 homicides in 2016

Jan. 10, 2016: Mohamed Najdi, 28, shot dead in what police described as a targeted shooting near St. Laurent Boulevard and Hemlock Road.

Jan. 31, 2016: Marwan Arab, 20, shot dead at Shifa Restaurant on Cobden Road. His cousin, 22-year-old Ayyub Arab, was was seriously injured in the shooting.

Feb. 22, 2016: Mohamed Ali Hassan, 19, was stabbed to death in Lawson Park, near King George and Isidore streets.

Feb. 24, 2016: Taylor Morrow-Flint, 20, was shot and killed on Ritchie Street

March 8, 2016: Nooredin Hassan, 20, was fatally shot while walking along Jasmine Crescent.

Bordeleau wrote in his letter that the deaths of five young men so far this year is "a heartbreaking cause for concern." 

He added that violent crime is linked to street-level drug trafficking.

"The reality is that the demand for illegal drugs has not decreased and new, street-level traffickers are entering this high-risk world. Our enforcement efforts continue to target these offenders," Bordeleau wrote.

Guns and gangs unit staffing permanently doubled

In response to a record-breaking 49 shootings in the city in 2014, Ottawa police temporarily added more officers to its guns and gangs unit. The force enhanced the unit temporarily again in November 2015 after another spike in shootings.

The doubling of the guns and gangs unit has now been made permanent, Bordeleau said.

He said his force is working closely with Ontario Provincial Police and Canadian Border Services Agency to deal with the "issue of access to firearms." The Ottawa Police Service seized a record-breaking 85 guns in 2015, he added.

But at the heart of the issue is how quickly young men are resorting to violence, he said on All In A Day.

"They're telling us some stories, like, 'He dissed my girlfriend so I slashed him.' That's the kind of conflict that we're seeing. It's trivial but the phenomenon around resorting to violence, and extreme violence with firearms, is something that's disturbing to us," he said.

Listen to Bordeleau's full interview on All In A Day here.

'Work better as a community'

Bordeleau said that the police force needs to bring in more expertise to "work better as a community" to put an end to violent crime.

He said organizations — including Crime Prevention Ottawa, The Coalition of Community and Health Resource Centres, the Youth Services Bureau, the John Howard Society and Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization — have to contribute to a longer-term solution, echoing comments he made during the spike in shootings.

"This isn't just a police issue. And as I said in the letter, we can't arrest out way out of this issue. But there's a broader and deeper conversation that we need to have," he said.

Bordeleau called on anyone with information about crimes or gang activity to come forward either directly or anonymously through Crime Stoppers.

"Family members, brothers, sisters or friends may have knowledge that there are firearms in possession of individuals," he said.

Read Bordeleau's entire letter here.