In the first eight days of November, Winnipeg police recorded 12 separate gun incidents in the city, including an apparently random shooting, a shotgun attack that left a woman blinded in one eye and two police standoffs in a single day.
From Nov. 1 to Nov. 8, a police spokesperson confirmed four shootings, four instances of shots being fired, three police standoffs, a gun seized in an arrest and two firearms arrests — including one that began as a traffic stop when a police officer saw a shotgun out in the open between the driver and passenger.
The string of incidents prompted one community group, the North End organization Meet Me at the Bell Tower, to start a conversation at its weekly community meeting Friday about how to address the violence.
“A lot of folks are having those conversations about being afraid,” said Michael Redhead Champagne, a co-founder of the group. “And so right now, we’re hearing a lot of people talking about the fear.”
Lacey Gamblin, one of the people who met at the Bell Tower on Friday, said she was troubled by the spate of incidents.
“I have three young daughters and they go to school at R.B. Russell. I go to school at Merchant’s Corner. So when I drive around and I see that there’s standoffs and there’s barricades, I see that the poverty is growing — it affects me every day,” she said. “Because it’s my people that are suffering.”
‘There’s no way out’: Former user, police link guns to drugs
At a Friday morning news conference, police spokesperson Tammy Skrabek said there’s a clear connection between guns and drugs in Winnipeg.
“If we’re looking into drug investigations they often involve firearms, and where we’re seeing firearms they’re often involving drugs,” Skrabek said.
Dane Bourget, a former meth user and founder of a peer support group for users called Jibb Stop, said that rings true to him. In his experience, being high on meth can cause paranoia. Combined with lack of sleep — meth can let you stay awake for days on end — and psychosis sometimes induced by the drug, it can push people to violence.
He believes perpetrators in that mental state may not even realize the damage they’re doing.
“You’re up for so long and the psychosis is so strong, that there’s no way out — you don’t feel like there’s a way out. And you just escalate and escalate,” Bourget said. “Before you know it, you’re in this terrible situation that you can’t get out of and you think that that’s your only option.”
As meth use spikes in the city, Bourget said he’s not surprised to see a rise in gun incidents. Without an increase in treatment options and support services for people trying to stop using, Bourget said he sees it continuing.
“There’s going to be a wave coming that — it’s not going to be stoppable unless they get in front of it right now,” he said.
Poverty, trauma root of problem: Community members
Before the Meet Me at the Bell Tower event on Friday, Redhead Champagne said violence isn’t new to his neighbourhood. He thinks overall, it’s been worse in the past than it is now despite the recent jump in gun incidents.
Redhead Champagne and another Meet Me at the Bell Tower co-founder, Jenna Wirch, said violence in their community stems from the socioeconomic situations facing residents as well as the intergenerational effects of trauma from residential schools and colonization.
“I think that as long as there is poverty, you’re not going to get rid of the violence, right? We need to understand what is poverty and what makes poverty, and how are we going to address the root causes of what makes people poor?” Wirch said.
“And stop pushing down these people who are in poverty, and who are creating this violence.”
They’re hoping to organize a medicine walk to nearby sites of recent shootings, bringing tobacco, prayers and songs for healing.
Event attendee Gamblin said in her eyes, the solution to the problem is in community initiatives like Meet Me at the Bell Tower.
“I think when you come together at the Bell Tower it gives people hope that things will get better, or at least things will change — like a shift and a wave.”