Even before an explosion in a seniors home this week left two dead, Edmonton was leading the country in a grim category – homicides.
The city has had 33 so far this year, possibly more pending autopsy results of the two seniors. It’s more than during all of 2010 and ahead of any other major Canadian community, including the much larger city of Toronto.
The dubious distinction as the so-called national homicide capital – one Edmonton has held before – is a problem for civic and provincial leaders. The relentless attention gives citizens the impression of a dangerous community: “Deadmonton,” as one local front page recently declared.
Many, however, say the concern is overblown. Police argue Edmonton’s high homicide rate is a one-off blip. And Canada’s overall police-reported crime is at its lowest level since 1973 – and few of the murders are random.
Over the past decade, Edmonton’s metropolitan area has averaged about three homicides per 100,000 residents, behind Winnipeg, slightly ahead of Vancouver and nearly twice the rate of Toronto. This year, the Edmonton metropolitan area is on pace for just over five homicides per 100,000. By comparison, FBI data shows some American cities deal with 50 homicides per 100,000 residents.
“There’s no discernible pattern to all these homicides. We don’t have a serial killer on the loose,” said Edmonton city Councillor Dave Loken, who sits on the Edmonton Police Commission. The police chief will present a violence-reduction strategy to the mayor next week. “When we get labelled as those types of things, as Deadmonton, it’s bound to keep people away and I think it’s an unfair shot at our city and our citizens,” Mr. Loken said.
The issue was thrust into headlines again Thursday, when former cabinet minister Gary Mar, now a leadership candidate for the provincial Progressive Conservatives, seized an opportunity to slam his party as soft on crime.
The Edmonton murder rate, he said, was unacceptable and came as the province “failed” in implementing its preventative crime-fighting strategy, dubbed Safe Communities. It’s no coincidence that Alison Redford, now a top leadership rival of Mr. Mar, spearheaded that program.
“Albertans want to know that they are safe in their communities … they’re not feeling safe,” Mr. Mar said in an interview.
Predictably, Ms. Redford shot back, noting Alberta’s violent crime severity index dropped significantly. “I just don’t understand where it’s coming from, other than it’s something that someone has decided to play politics with and I’m disappointed,” she said.
Mr. Mar said the province’s gang and youth strategies were de-funded in 2009. They weren’t. Interviews with provincial bureaucrats and a police force spokesman suggest he’s referring to the Safe Communities Innovation Fund, a $60-million program that expired this year.
Police say some of its funded programs, however, will continue. The Alberta Gang Reduction Strategy has a $1-million budget this year, according to an Alberta Justice spokeswoman. Provincial support for crime programs by Premier Ed Stelmach, Ms. Redford and others “was nothing short of incredible,” Calgary Police spokesman Kevin Brookwell said – he was careful not to directly call out Mr. Mar, but police certainly don’t share his concern.
“We will not criticize Premier Stelmach and his support of policing in this province,” Edmonton Police Association president Tony Simioni said. “There’s no rhyme or reason or possible justification for it, other than to say we’re going through a spell of bad luck.”
With a report from Stephanie Chambers in Toronto