As shootings continue to trend high, police say Ottawa's gun culture is changing

As Ottawa grapples with a record-breaking number of shootings this year, police say the source of the increased gun violence isn't just gangs.
Two shootings on Sunday brought the tally to 51 so far in 2016, breaking the annual gun violence record for Canada's capital, which was set in 2014. (CBC News)

As Ottawa grapples with a record-breaking number of shootings this year, police say the source of the increasing gun violence isn't just gangs.

Ottawa police Insp. Chris Renwick, who oversees the guns and gangs unit, said firearms are more and more accepted in the city.

"Ten years ago, 20 years ago ... there wasn't necessarily guns associated with street-level trafficking. There was violence but it wasn't gun violence. Now you're seeing more guns being used for enforcement or for intimidation, debt collection or protection," he says.

Renwick made a presentation Monday night at Crime Prevention Ottawa's board meeting, addressing a new Ottawa gang strategy report. It's the culmination of a three-year, multi-agency partnership to address street-level violence in the capital. 

Ottawa police Insp. Chris Renwick says more people are choosing to arm themselves, which has led to a change in gun culture in the city. (CBC News)

'Firearms being used to resolve conflicts'

According to Crime Prevention Ottawa's report, there were 46 shootings in 2015. Twenty-one of them were gang-related, eight were not gang-related and 17 were listed as unknown.

In 2014 there were 49 shootings in total, which broke the city's annual gun violence record. Thirty-two were gang-related, five were not gang-related and 12 were unknown.

So far in 2016 there have been 51 shootings in the city, and Renwick said the number of confirmed not gang-related shootings has increased.

"We see firearms being used to resolve conflicts," he said.

8 active gangs in Ottawa

Crime Prevention Ottawa's report said there are eight active gangs in Ottawa, and that police estimate about 435 people are associated with them.

"[They are] almost all exclusively male, between the age of 20 and 30," said Renwick, who points to the drug trade as the root cause of violence between gangs.

"We've been saying it since day one, all along ... the street-level drug trade ... that's where we're seeing the disputes that are leading to the shootings in the community. That's the main motivation for people involved in the criminal activity."

Compared to larger cities, Renwick said Ottawa is a safe place to live although police are still trying to get the troubling number of shootings down.

"It's a very small percentage of the people causing the biggest threat out there and we know who they are and the community knows who they are," he said.

"If we can get in there and apply tactics to get them away from that, to provide alternatives, to get them to realize it's a dark, dead-end road they're going down."