Random shootings raise questions of safety

Winnipeg safe despite latest shootings, potential gang activity

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Recent shootings in Winnipeg are concerning but do not put the wider community at risk, Dr. Marta-Marika Urbanik, an associate professor of sociology and criminology, says.

Urbanik teaches at the University of Alberta, and her research focuses on how neighbourhood revitalizations impact gangs and criminal structures. She says the Oct. 16 drive-by shootings that injured one person in the Exchange District may be linked to gang initiations.

Point Douglas had the highest rate of violent crimes in 2022, according to the Winnipeg Police Service’s (WPS) statistical report. In their latest quarterly report, the WPS dispatched officers to 680 calls involving firearms. Thirty-five involved gunshots.

Urbanik says any incidents like these are tragic and scary, but the average person is not at risk when it comes to gang and gun crimes.

“Most of us can still live our lives safely and can still navigate most city areas with relative ease and comfort,” she says.

Gun-related violent crime accounts for 2.8 per cent of violent crime reported in Canada by police in 2020. Rates of crimes involving guns were higher in rural areas than urban centres in most provinces and territories, including Manitoba. Violent crimes in urban centres are more likely to involve firearms, according to Statistics Canada.

Gang activity fluctuates, but an increase in related crimes can happen for one of two reasons, Urbanik says. The first includes competition between groups wanting control of an area.

The second happens when a leader loses authority or is absent, causing other members to compete for power. These situations can increase gang activity to involve a wider area.

“When we see indiscriminate gun violence and shootings against random civilians on the street who are just going about living their lives and trying to spend time with their friends or family, it’s really concerning, because usually this violence shouldn’t spill out into spaces that most of us consider and expect to be safe,” Urbanik says.

The Exchange District shootings ended in the arrest of two youths. The incident happened two days after six other teens were arrested for pointing guns at vehicles going by a downtown parkade.

Downtown resident Tamara Hogue saw gunshots in the lane behind her apartment complex on Ross Avenue the night of May 25. Hogue says she was in the kitchen when she and her partner heard what they thought were fireworks.

The incident made them feel unsafe. They considered moving after roughly two years of living downtown. Ultimately, they decided to stay.

“We do have faith in the area, and I do love living in the Exchange,” Hogue says. “But it’s really concerning.”

Hogue believes much of the crime in the area stems from social issues, including a lack of supports for those using substances or experiencing houselessness.

Urbanik says younger unhoused people who are marginalized, have no family support or are dealing with otherwise challenging family dynamics face pressure to join street-based gangs. They may rely on gangs for protection or fear for their safety if they push back against the group.

“It’s unclear what happened in (the drive-by shooting), but we should also just recognize not all of these behaviours are a clear choice for individuals,” Urbanik says. “Some are indeed pressured to participate in things they may not want to do just to protect themselves.”

WPS could not provide comment at the time of publication.

Published in Volume 78, Number 08 of The Uniter (November 2, 2023)

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