Is Ottawa Safe? Gun Violence in Ottawa

A survey conducted by H+Q Strategies in February found that two thirds of Canadians cite gun control as something that distinguishes Canada from the US. This was seconded only by publicly funded healthcare. In light of the recent gun control debates in the United States, Ottawa Life has decided to take a look at the statistics surrounding firearms and gun violence in Ottawa. We’ve found that our city has actually seen a significant increase in gun violence in the past year. Given the increase of gun-related crime over the last several years, this finding is particularly alarming.

Canada’s statistics are dwarfed by those of the United States. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 56,000 gun homicides between 2009 and 2013, while Statistics Canada reported only 977 in that same period. Iain Overton, however, is critical of Canada’s “smugness”. Overton is the director of investigations at the London-based charity Action on Armed Violence, and author of the book The Way of the Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of Firearms. He puts Canada on a scale along with countries in the European Union and examines the relative amount of gun violence in each. On his scale, Canada ranks fourth out of the 31 countries that make up the EU — only France, Germany and Italy precede us.

In Ottawa, Friday the 13th of April saw our 29th shooting of the year, with 7 of these resulting in deaths. By May of 2018, Ottawa has already reached the gun-related homicide rate of all of 2017, which saw 15 homicides total, 7 of which were related to gun violence.

Ottawa Police say that all the shootings have been targeted, and many are gang-related. They stated that the targets have been uncooperative with police investigations, which makes arrests difficult. The majority of these shootings involved illegal firearms. Neighborhoods including Centretown, St. Laurent, Herongate, Bells Corners, Kanata, Little Italy, and Overbrooke have been scenes of shootings.

In February, MacLeans Magazine published an interactive tool designed to rank Canadian communities based on crime rates. The data used is from Statistics Canada up until and including 2016. Ottawa ranks 96th out of 229, and you can see a significant increase in recent years.

Statistics Canada also published data on the average amount of gun related homicides in Ottawa per year. From 1985-2005, the average was 10 gun-related homicides. Since 2005 this average has crept up to 12.

The Ottawa Police has reacted to this surge of shootings in two different ways. In January they requested help from the public in their investigations into the shootings that were attributed to a turf war between rival gangs. No further explanation was provided as to the nature of these Ottawa-based gangs.

Ottawa Police have also reacted to the surge in gun violence by increasing the weight behind their proactive and preventative effort. In recent years, the Ottawa community had been voicing concern that many people only interact with police through 911 calls. Officers’ shifts are dictated by the volume of emergency calls, which many saw as a reactionary structure. In 2017, therefore, the Ottawa Police shifted more than 100 officers from specialized units to front-line duty. Any shift from punishment to prevention in the justice system is a welcome one, but Ottawa still has yet to see a change in our gun violence trends.