Abbotsford was declared the “murder capital of Canada” for its homicide rates in 2008 and 2009 – at the height of a drug war between the Red Scorpions and UN gangs.
Now, a different gang conflict is putting the city back in the running for the grisly title.
The Abbotsford-Mission census metropolitan (CMA) area tallied 10 murders in 2017, nine of them in Abbotsford. Charges have been laid in only two cases.
Each July, Statistics Canada releases the previous year’s homicide rates for 33 Canadian CMAs.
Last year’s murder toll would put the Abbotsford-Mission CMA’s rate for 2017 at 5.53 per 100,000 people (based on a population of 180,518 in the 2016 census).
The only other CMA across the country that could top the local CMA, according to preliminary figures, is Thunder Bay, Ont., with a rate of 5.8.
That compares to a national average in 2016 of 1.68.
The Abbotsford-Mission CMA was at the top of the list for its 2008 rate, when it had 10 homicides (six in Abbotsford), and again in 2009, when there were nine (all in Abbotsford).
Many of those were gang-related killings related to the battle for drug turf between the Red Scorpions – then headed by the notorious Bacon brothers of Abbotsford – and the UN Gang.
Police at the time said initiatives focused on preventing gang violence, combined with the arrests or deaths of several key gangsters, resulted in a drop in those homicide numbers in the ensuing years.
Between 2010 and 2015, there were no more than four murders in any given year. In 2011, there were none.
But a new gang war began to emerge in late 2014, when 18-year-old Harwin Baringh was shot and killed while in his vehicle on Sparrow Drive in west Abbotsford.
The following year, the Abbotsford Police Department began talking about a conflict between two opposing groups, primarily made up of young South Asian men.
Police dubbed it the “Townline Hill conflict” – after the area of west Abbotsford where the majority of the violence and drive-by shootings were occurring.
As the conflict progressed, police indicated a gang war was underway, and more targeted killings began occurring.
Last year, the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) said the local issues were part of a bigger regional problem, which they now identify as the “Lower Mainland gang conflict.”
That conflict reached a peak last year in Abbotsford, with seven of the murders being attributed to gangs or drugs.
Sgt. Casey Vinet said the escalation in gang activity and homicides is “very concerning” to the APD, given the threat it poses to public safety.
“We are in a very bad period right now,” he said.
He said gang violence tends to come in waves and, although police have a “good handle of what’s going on in the region,” preventing violence and holding the players accountable is challenging.
Vinet said one of the barriers is a lack of co-operation from witnesses and victims.
He said the APD is undertaking, or continuing, several initiatives aimed at prevention, intervention and suppression.
These steps include gang-and-drug talks to every Grade 8 student in the district, after-school programming and support for at-risk kids.
As well, the APD will soon be forming a gang crime unit, with a focus on intervening and suppressing gang activity on a local level, Vinet said.
He said the APD will also continue to work with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit and other agencies on investigations and prevention.
Vinet said it’s hoped that a combination of tactics brings a reversal to the homicide numbers, as they did following the spike in 2008 and ‘09.
“No one approach by itself will solve this issue,” he said.