Residents taking back Caldwell Avenue after daylight killing

The day after 20 year old Hamzeh Serhan was gunned down in the courtyard of a Caldwell Ave. social housing complex, the women in the community did something that had not been done before. They mobilised and marched.

Hamzeh Serhan, 20, was shot to death Wednesday in broad daylight as children returned from school

About a dozen mothers marched to demand better security at an Ottawa Community Housing complex Caldwell Avenue on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Days after Hamzeh Serhan was gunned down in the courtyard of a Caldwell Avenue social housing complex, about a dozen women in the community did something that had not been done before.

They turned poster paper into protest signs and marched down the middle of the street demanding better security for their children.

Patricia Neindabo was one of the mothers who stopped traffic while chanting "we want security" in French. When the shots that killed 20-year-old Serhan rang out, Neindabo ran outside and saw a young man lying on the ground bleeding from his stomach, receiving CPR from a bystander. 

"We can't stay in our lives like this. Our kids can't go outside to play. This area is not good for our kids. We need the cameras. We need security," Neindabo said.

Hamzeh Serhan, 20, was shot to death on Caldwell Avenue in broad daylight Wednesday. (Supplied)

As police continue their search for suspects, municipal politicians are trying to find ways to assuage the fear in the community.

River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington describes the spontaneous protest by the mothers as "raw and real" and is hoping to harness that emotion into a larger march next Wednesday to take back Caldwell Avenue from violence.

He said he wants to present a different side of the community to the rest of the city.

"There is a growing sentiment among Caldwell residents that they are portrayed in the media as a community where only bad things happen," Brockington said.

"There is a lot of good going on in this community — certainly it has its challenges, but we want to show that we're united and that we're working hand in hand in solidarity."

4 shootings in 2 years on Caldwell Avenue

Along with planning a march, Brockington wants to meet with small groups of residents around a dinner table, so he gets grassroots input on safety concerns instead of just relying on community leaders.

"I want people to know that they are being listened to and heard. And that real action will come about from what happened."

Ottawa Community Housing CEO Stéphane Giguère said he was proud of the mothers' decision to protest and take ownership of their community to push for a safer environment. There have been four shootings on Caldwell Avenue in the past two years, including this latest homicide, but Giguère said residents rarely reported anything beyond loud noises and bad parking.

Giguere says OCH will work with Caldwell Avenue residents to improve security.

Now, he hopes this protest will be the start of a more engaged community.

"[Mothers] are part of the solution for OCH and for the Ottawa Police Service. Having more information, more presence in the community and more ownership in the community can change the community, " Giguère said. 

One of the safety improvements residents have been clamouring for is the installation of surveillance cameras, but Giguère said there are already some cameras tucked away surreptitiously in the neighbourhood, but OCH will consult with the residents. 

Mothers who live at the Caldwell Avenue complex want security cameras installed to increase safety. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Cameras have made a positive impact in the Michele Heights neighbourhood, according to the councillor for the area.

In 2014, the community on Penny Drive was plagued by a rash of shootings including a close call where a mother and her teenage daughter were caught in the crossfire of guns as they took an evening walk in the snow. Just weeks after that shooting cameras were installed to watch over common areas, the parking lot, and back pathways where neighbours reported drug dealing.

Cameras don't solve all problems

Since the installation of the cameras, Bay Ward Coun. Mark Taylor said there hasn't been a shooting in Michele Heights, the amount of crime has gone down, and residents have regained their confidence.

"The cameras also gave people a sense of 'I'm not concerned anymore about walking this stretch or through this parking lot at night anymore,'" Taylor said. 

But despite the turnaround, Taylor said cameras alone without community engagement would not have worked.

"If it was just cameras it wouldn't have worked. Cameras are great tools, but they don't move. They don't follow people. The cameras are being recorded, but there are still lots of blindspots."