Ottawa·In Depth

Ottawa homicides continued to trend high in 2017

Ottawa's homicide rate continued to trend higher than average in 2017, but despite the heavier caseload police hope to lay charges soon in a number of unsolved cases.

Major crime unit getting close on several unsolved killings from 2016, previous years, staff sergeant says

Ottawa police cordon off a crime scene in the ByWard Market after two people were shot to death in June 2017. (CBC)

Ottawa's 2017 homicide rate fell well below the exceptionally high number of killings the year before, but is still trending higher than average.

There were 14 homicides in Ottawa in 2017, down from 24 in 2016.

Despite the heavier caseload, the Ottawa police major crime unit hopes to lay charges soon in a number of unsolved cases.

"I'm not comfortable commenting on which ones, but I can say definitively that, from 2016 and previous, those cases where we have got creative and utilized different investigative techniques, I'm optimistic that charges will be coming," said Staff Sgt. Ken Bryden, one of the two leaders of the unit, in a recent interview.

"If I had my way [those charges] would be [in 2018], but there's so many items and circumstances that are completely out of our control. We just need to be patient."

As for how many unsolved cases the unit is getting close to solving, Bryden would only say that it's more than one and fewer than 10.
Staff Sgt. Ken Bryden is one of two officers heading up the Ottawa police major crime unit. (Jacques Corriveau/Radio-Canada)

'Gradual increase' in homicides

From 1985 to 2005 there was an average of about 10 homicides in Ottawa per year. In the years since 2005, the annual body count has crept up to about 12.

"You can't deny, if you look at the statistics, that there is a gradual increase in homicides. We're a city of a million people, arguably. We're not immune to homicide events, terrorist events.... Population is growing, the accessibility to weaponry — and particularly firearms — is growing. It seems to be the tool of the trade now," Bryden said.

Ottawa police say firearms are more readily available on the street than they have been in the past. There are some of the firearms seized during a bust in December. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

"I can go back 20 years of policing foot patrol in the [ByWard] Market, where men and women seemed to take their beefs out with their fists. I've seen that progress into the use of knives or sharp objects or blunt objects, to firearms. Firearms seem to, in my humble opinion, be more readily available on the street, and that's unfortunately what they're choosing to use, whether that's over a drug discussion or just an individual beef between two persons for whatever reason."

Along with homicides the number of shootings in Ottawa has also increased steadily, with three of the past four years bringing new record highs.

2017 by the numbers

  • 3 killings considered gang-related.
  • 4 killings considered drug-related.
  • 4 stabbings.
  • 7 shootings.
  • 3 unsolved killings from 2017.
  • 7 unsolved killings from 2016.
  • 35 unsolved killings dating back to 1985.

Unit coping well

The increasing caseload coupled with 2016's high number of cases have made things busy for the major crime unit, but they've managed to "adapt and overcome" with existing resources, Bryden said.

As for morale, it hasn't been affected.

"I came in [2016] ... and I got to learn very fast just how knowledgeable and experienced the people in there are. As a supervisor, I'll be honest, I was quite nervous with the sheer volume of the calls that were coming in. ... There's a lot of pressure that goes behind those types of investigations, whether it's political pressure, whether it's internal police pressure from rank and file, the pressure from the community," Bryden said.

"But again, I very quickly learned just how capable and how knowledgeable those men and women are. So the morale ... is extremely tight for those reasons."

Ottawa homicides through the years

This year's cases in brief

1. Brian Boucher, 24, was stabbed to death at a home at 1155 Joseph Cyr St. at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 2. Police issued an arrest warrant for 23-year-old Awale Hussein the next day, and several days later he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

2. A 36-year-old woman — her name is subject to a publication ban — was found dead inside an apartment on Burnside Avenue just before 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 22. Her two-year-old son was found in the same apartment unharmed. The major crime unit took over the investigation and in July, 31-year-old Mohamad Barkhadle was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

3. Devon Labelle, 24, was stabbed to death in a targeted incident on Montreal Road near Bégin Street at about 3:20 p.m. on Thursday, April 27. In September, 22-year-old Kirvens Lamarre was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Brian Boucher was Ottawa's first homicide victim of 2017. The 24-year-old was stabbed to death at 1155 Joseph Cyr St. on Feb. 2 (Facebook)

4. Ahmad Afrah, 19, died when he fell off a highrise apartment building at 415 MacLaren St. just before 11 p.m. on Monday, May 15. Several days later, 29-year-old Liban Gure was arrested and charged with manslaughter and aggravated assault. A day after that, police issued arrest warrants for three people — 20-year-old Daniel Jean Charles, a 16-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl. The girl later turned herself in to police.

5. Terrence Phillips, 43, was shot to death in the ByWard Market just after 2 a.m. Saturday, June 3, after another man was shot and injured.

Terrence Phillips was the city's fifth homicide victim of the year. The 43-year-old was shot to death in the ByWard Market, and a friend of his was injured. (Facebook)

6. Ashton Dickson, 25, was shot to death after an argument inside the Mingle Room Bar and Grill at 470 Rideau St. spilled out onto the street at about 1 a.m. on Monday, June 26. In early August, police announced they were looking for seven potential witnesses. No arrests have been made.

7. and 8. Abdurahman Al-Shammari, 26, was found shot to death in a driveway on Tavistock Road near Elmhurst Street at about 8:45 a.m. on Monday, July 24. Later that same day, Dirie Olol, 26, was found shot to death in a car abandoned at the intersection of Aylen and Wayne avenues. Police issued an arrest warrant for 29-year-old Alam Gabriel Buoc two days later, and Bouc was arrested the following day. He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Alam Gabriel Buoc, 30, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder after three shootings July 24 that left Abdurahman Al-Shammari and Dirie Olol, both 26, dead. (Ottawa Police Service)

9. Esmail Sharifi, 36, was shot to death in the parking lot of a strip mall on the 2700 block of Iris Street at about 9:35 p.m. on Monday, July 31. Several days later, police issued information about a dark sedan seen driving erratically in the area. No arrests have been made.

10. Rachelle Mair, 66, was beaten to death in her apartment at 85 Range Rd. at about 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18. Her son, 29-year-old Steven Mair, was taken to hospital in distress and was later charged with second-degree murder. He was found not criminally responsible in court in December.

11. Hamzeh Serhan, 20, was shot outside a townhouse complex near 1500 Caldwell Ave. just before 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 20. An arrest warrant was issued for 20-year-old Farah Handule in October, but he has not yet been apprehended. The Toronto man has been charged with second-degree murder.

Zakaria Iqbal, 18, was stabbed to death Nov. 27. (Submitted)

12. Adrian Johnson, 45, was stabbed to death near the ByWard Market at about 5 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18. Damien Dubien, 33, was arrested several days later and charged with second-degree murder.

13. Zakaria Iqbal, 18, was stabbed to death in a parking lot near the intersection of Lajoie Street and Montreal Road at about 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 27. On Dec. 14, police announced they were looking for a potential witness. No arrests have been made.

14. Keith Fitzsimmons, 50, was shot to death at 255 Fréchette St. in Vanier at about 3 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 23. A 15-year-old boy, who cannot be named due to the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

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