Society

FROM THE PRINT EDITION: Rival gangs keep neighbourhoods under pressure

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

Gun violence between rival gangs is casting a shadow over one neighbourhood in Ottawa’s  south end. Judy Trinh looks at the allure of semi-automatic handguns and what police are doing to keep residents safe  

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Illustration by George Michael Haddad

 

From a distance, the two apartment towers on Cedarwood Drive appear to hold promise. Surrounded by green space, bike paths, and a play structure, a cacophony of voices — young and old, in a variety of languages — drifts out of the 15-storey towers. Yet on a warm Saturday afternoon, not a single child can be seen climbing the monkey bars. Perhaps they’re enjoying the swimming pool in the community recreation centre between the towers? Nope. There are no children — just broken lounge chairs, a ladder, and empty paint cans.

It was outside the pool that I ran into Daniel Mayville pushing his walker to the bus stop. He was in a rush to get his errands done before sundown. “Eight p.m., that’s when the trouble starts.” Mayville is on a disability pension. When he moved into the apartment building six years ago, he thought he had won the residential lottery. He got a spacious ground-floor apartment with a large bedroom and an enclosed porch. But within the first year, bullets flew through his bedroom window, and the same thing has happened three times since. Mayville no longer sleeps in his bedroom, preferring a mattress on the floor, away from the windows.

As of early September, there had been 30 shootings in Ottawa in 2014. Guns were found in only two of the incidents; one was in a green bin after a June shooting in the townhouse complex beside Mayville’s apartment. While neighbours took cover from stray bullets, the targeted man was shot in the forehead. Despite being hospitalized and requiring surgery, the shooting victim won’t tell police who fired the gun.

So far, no innocent bystander has been hit by a bullet in the city,
but there have been some frighteningly close calls.

That’s no surprise to detective Chris O’Brien, an Ottawa police officer who is now working with the Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit. He says these shots are often fired by individuals who feel disrespected in some way, who lash out to “settle petty beefs.” “They live in the moment,” O’Brien says. “They don’t think about the consequences of their actions.”

So far, no innocent bystander has been hit by a bullet in the city, but there have been some frighteningly close calls. In 2011, as an officer with the Guns and Gangs Unit, O’Brien recovered a bullet that had come to rest on a pillow beside a sleeping seven-year-old girl after it pierced through the second-storey wall of a house in Barrhaven. The possibility of innocents being caught in the crossfire looms ever larger — O’Brien says a “mini arms race” is going on between various street-gang cliques who are fighting over their piece of the neighbourhood drug trade. (more…)