When photos of a gun-toting Justin Bourque spread around the world last week, Lexie Wilcox recognized him immediately.
The cab driver recognizes every fare she picks up; she had driven him before. “He’d never made any trouble for me,” Ms. Wilcox says.
In Moncton, people rarely make trouble for her. She always feels safe driving her cab, even in a city where few women drive the night shift. That hasn’t changed since Mr. Bourque allegedly shot and killed three police officers last week, nor will it. Moncton, to her, is always safe and welcoming.
“What I notice in my cab, from the highest city officials down to the very poorest of the people, is it’s all the same,” Ms. Wilcox says. “Everybody just talks to you like you’re neighbours.”
Until June 4, safety wasn’t really something people worried about in Moncton. After a series of shootings and a 30-hour manhunt, Mr. Bourque was charged with three counts of first-degree murder this month in the deaths of Constables Fabrice Gévaudan, Dave Ross and Douglas Larche.
The tragedy paralyzed the city, and its shock will be felt for years to come. But through collective grief, it also made a close-knit community even closer.
“We’re not going to let this define who we are,” Mayor George LeBlanc says in his fifth-floor City Hall office.
Monctonians now have a greater respect for their police officers – and spirit for their city – than ever before, he says.
Police can’t order a meal without someone grabbing the bill, or direct traffic without a half-dozen bystanders shaking their hand. Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for the families of the fallen officers. “The whole community was very, very quick to embrace the RCMP here, and make them feel supported and comforted and loved,” Mr. LeBlanc says.
The 150-member force – the entirety of which went on mental health leave for two weeks after the shooting – regularly responds to violence, but rarely is it severe. In 2012, Statistics Canada reported that the city had one of the highest rates of violent crime in the country, but that its severity is below the national average and doesn’t frequently cause victims serious injury.
The Moncton region also had one of the highest rates of gun-related violence in the country in 2012, according to the agency, though few people have died. The city’s police responded to 31 incidents where a firearm was present in 2012, but only three people were injured by guns that year.
While from 2009 to 2012, the force responded to an average of 29 incidents annually where a firearm was present, before this month’s shootings, there had been no deaths ruled homicides in Moncton since 2010.
“The community has always been safe,” says Superintendent Marlene Snowman, who heads the Codiac RCMP. “This incident is something that could have taken place anywhere. It’s just unfortunate that it took place here and took lives and destroyed families.”
A city where many don’t even lock their doors, Moncton and neighbouring Riverview and Dieppe usually only get media attention when hosting world-class events. The self-anointed “hub city,” adjacent to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, has more than a million people living within a few hours’ drive.
Concerts on Magnetic Hill draw as many as 90,000 spectators to watch the likes of U2 and the Rolling Stones, generating millions of dollars in economic spinoffs for the city. And while the planet’s eyes are glued to the World Cup in Brazil this month, the people of Moncton are quick to remind visitors that the city will co-host the women’s World Cup tournament a year from now.
Just don’t get anyone started about bringing a Canadian Football League team here.
Still, the region has had its share of tough times. This month’s shootings echoed the 1974 killing of a pair of officers here who’d been forced to dig their own graves. Like much of the East Coast, the economy has been shaky for more than a century – especially in the 1980s, as the city’s rail industry disappeared.
But, for the most part, it has been resilient, even growing over the past 20 years while the rest of Atlantic Canada sat stagnant. It was Canada’s first officially bilingual city, and thanks to l’Université de Moncton and the spectacular growth of neighbouring Dieppe, it has become a crucial gathering place for French Acadians. Moncton has grown into a “small town with a big-city feeling,” says Pascal Haché, a student executive at l’Université de Moncton.
Ethnic restaurants are popping up everywhere. Look hard enough on Main Street and you’ll even find a Bitcoin ATM.
Former premier Bernard Lord has lived in Moncton most of his life. Now head of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, he keeps an apartment in Ottawa, but Moncton remains his home base.
“I’ve been offered jobs in other parts of the country,” he says, “but this is where I want to live, where my family wants to live. It’s a great place to live, work and raise a family. This is home.”
Sure, there’s been tragedy. But selling Moncton, Mayor LeBlanc says, “is the easiest job in the world.” He doesn’t expect that to change.