Murder capital no more
Once dubbed the Murder Capital of Canada, Abbotsford continues to shed that title, according to the latest homicide figures released Tuesday by Statistics Canada.
Now, the Abbotsford-Mission census metropolitan area (CMA) is among the 10 cities with the lowest homicide rates for 2011.
As well, the area is one of only two CMAs west of Ontario that did not have a gang-related murder last year.
Abbotsford-Mission recorded one homicide in 2011, but Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said that occurred in a local prison. This compares to four murders in 2010, 11 in 2009 and six in 2008.
The 2008 and 2009 figures sent Abbotsford to the top of the list for the most murders per 100,000 people.
Now topping the list of 34 CMAs is Winnipeg, with a rate of 5.08, followed by Halifax (4.41) and Edmonton (4.17). Abbotsford's rate is .56, compared to its 2010 rate of 2.28.
The national average is 1.73, which is up slightly from the previous figure of 1.62. The provincial average is 1.9, compared to the 2010 rate of 1.83.
MacDonald said the drop in Abbotsford's homicide rate can be attributed to a focused effort on reducing gang-related violence following the tragedies of 2008 and 2009.
The Abbotsford Police Department (APD) held an awareness campaign and made school presentations about the impact of gang involvement.
MacDonald said the initiatives were fully supported by the community, which was fed up with the violence that, in some cases, had been played out in city streets.
The department's gang suppression unit was formed in early 2010, and has focused ever since on arresting key players and intercepting and impeding criminal activity.
"It's really hard for people to do drug transactions if police are everywhere," MacDonald said.
However, although gang-related murders and violence have dropped, gangs are still an issue in the community, he said.
The Duhre Group, named by the APD in 2010 as the prevalent gang in the city, is still active but not as strong as it once was. Other gangs are battling for dominance, which creates a risk to the community, as evidenced by recent gang-related murders throughout the Lower Mainland.
"The volatility exists here, but we're doing everything we can to ensure it doesn't manifest in a violent way. But that's always a challenge and a work in progress," MacDonald said.
So far in 2012, there have been three murders in Abbotsford:
– Ryan Saint Ange, 21, was found dead in his home on 56 Avenue on Jan. 13. Robert Van Dusen and Shayne Vauthrin, both 27, have been charged with his murder. A date for trial has not yet been set.
– Jimmy Chau, 31, of Edmonton was found Feb. 18 in a field on Farmer Road in what is believed to be a gang-related murder. No suspects have been charged.
– Nirmal Bains, 80, was found dead on May 5 in a farmworkers' cabin on his family's raspberry farm on Huntingdon Road. No suspects have been charged.