For nearly a dozen hours, Abdikadir Khan lay dead undiscovered, his blood soaking the fourth-floor stairwell of an old Toronto condo tower near the international airport.
He’d been shot in the head and body. Police found an expensive black leather jacket nearby, embroidered with the words: “Dead men tell no tales.” This wasn’t random.
Mr. Khan, 24, had been attacked in the Dixon towers two years earlier, involved in a brawl just before sunrise on June 7, 2009. He and another man survived their stab wounds, but their friend, 16-year-old Ayoob Aden, died after his abdomen was punctured.
Details of their untimely deaths are contained in a newly unsealed trove of police affidavits, more than 3,000 pages in all, submitted to court to request wiretaps, vehicle-tracking devices and search warrants in a sweeping year-long investigation known as Project Traveller. Toronto police did not respond to questions about the homicides this week. But the court-released documents reveal the killings of these two Somali-Canadian men may have been tied to a turf war between young and older members of the Dixon City Bloods gang.
The bloodshed in Toronto’s Somali diaspora had reached alarming levels by 2012, when Project Traveller was launched. The Somali-Canadian community was rattled, urging police and politicians to do more to stop the violence that was decimating too many families. In the past decade alone, about 50 young Somali-Canadian men have been killed in Ontario and Alberta.
In the Dixon gang, Toronto police believe they’ve found answers to some of the violence plaguing the Somali diaspora. The Project Traveller affidavits chronicle a pattern of cocaine and heroin dealing, regular trips to Windsor to buy illegal guns smuggled into Canada from the United States, and multiple stabbings and shootings that have wounded and killed young men in the Dixon neighbourhood and elsewhere.
The allegations laid out in the documents have not been tested in court. Most of the 60 or so people arrested in raids in June, 2013, have not had their trials and many won’t until next year.
In many ways, Project Traveller has unfolded in the shadow of the Rob Ford crack scandal and the ongoing police investigation into potential criminality in the mayor’s office. The Dixon City Bloods were practically unknown to the public until a year ago, when reports emerged that an accused gang member, Mohamed Siad, was trying to sell a video that allegedly showed Mr. Ford smoking crack cocaine at a bungalow near the Dixon towers.
The gang’s interactions with the mayor appeared to be fairly frequent, according to previously released wiretaps. In intercepted conversations, some gang members boasted about possessing numerous photos of Mr. Ford using illegal drugs.
The mayor, who is running for re-election, took a leave from his position this month to enroll in a rehabilitation program to address his “problem with alcohol.” His decision was announced after two Globe and Mail reporters viewed a new video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine from a copper-coloured pipe.
In the meantime, the neighbourhood that the Dixon City Bloods once occupied is recovering and rebuilding, trying to scrub off the tarnish left by the gang and the widely publicized police raids.
“It’s a long process,” says new property manager Mark Cianfarani. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Mohamed Siad, 28, went by several nicknames: Soya, Gotti and Warlock. Unemployed, the Somali-Canadian lived in one of the Dixon towers before moving to a rental apartment in a new condo building a few kilometres to the south. He had recently married and reportedly wanted to start a new life in Alberta.
Police began monitoring Mr. Siad’s phone conversations, and the communications of 58 others, on March 18, 2013 – about a month after Mr. Siad filmed the video of the mayor. It isn’t clear from the police affidavits what position Mr. Siad allegedly held in the Dixon City Bloods. He is charged with participating in a criminal organization and trafficking cocaine and firearms. He has no criminal record.
Many of the accused were recorded allegedly talking about drug and gun deals, using code names such as “software” and “white girl” for powder cocaine, “coffee” for heroin, “spinner” for revolvers, “teeth” for ammunition. The police documents also outline a series of violent incidents in connection to the Dixon gang: three homicides, one attempted murder, five shootings, four sounds of gunshots, and at least four seizures of firearms.
The gang’s firearm suppliers were based in Windsor, the affidavits show. The gang often dispatched females to pick up the guns, usually opting to transport the firearms to Toronto on passenger buses.
The gun smugglers found a novel way to bring the guns into Ontario from Michigan. Police allege they hid firearms and a GPS in the bumper area of vehicles belonging to unsuspecting Ontario drivers visiting Michigan for sporting events.
The smugglers then tracked the vehicles in Canada, removing the guns once the drivers were away.
Unlike police affidavits connected to Project Brazen 2 – an ongoing probe focused on the mayor and his friend Alessandro Lisi, who faces drug and extortion charges – Project Traveller documents make no mention of the Ford video. The name “Princess” and the address 15 Windsor Rd. appear in relation to calls with two alleged Dixon gang members. Princess, according to previous affidavits, is Elena Basso, a long-time friend of Mr. Ford. Police believe the Ford video was filmed inside her bungalow.
The bungalow was one of about 50 properties searched in predawn raids last June. The takedown of the Dixon City Bloods has left its mark.
On a recent sunny afternoon in Dixon, a handful of children squealed as the melodic chime of an ice-cream truck grew louder. In the fenced daycare, toddlers played on swings and slides, while older kids kicked around soccer balls in the courtyard.
Nearly a year after the police raids, Dixon feels different. A group of community police officers, known as the Somali Liaison Unit, are here nearly daily, part of a two-year commitment to keep the neighbourhood from slipping back to a marketplace for gangs, drugs and guns.
“We’re trying to make this area better,” says Sergeant Chris Laush of the liaison unit. “We’ve got to keep it going.”
Police veteran Ron Taverner, superintendent of 23 Division, notes violent crime has dropped significantly in the neighbourhood since Project Traveller, although the sound of gunshots was reported in the park recently.
Condo owners have also advocated for safety improvements. The board overseeing the beige-brick towers numbered 320, 330 and 340 had nearly 300 security cameras installed after the raids and hired in a new property manager in November.
Mr. Cianfarani, with Vista Property Management, knows the area. His father managed the towers from 1976 to 1997, while Mr. Cianfarani has looked after the neighbouring cluster of towers since 1997. (The value of units in the identically built towers next door is at least double.)
His security manager, who has worked in Dixon since the 1970s, notes: “Project Traveller was a long time overdue. It was the land of the lawless here. There was no one steering the boat.”
The view from residents isn’t so clear cut. Some welcomed the police raids, others didn’t. And some feel Dixon’s transformation is not happening fast enough.
“It’s a bit changed. It was very bad here. You could not go out late at night,” says a taxi driver who lives at 320 Dixon Rd. He didn’t want to be named because he worries for his teenagers’ safety. “There’s still things that need to be changed. There’s still some kind of [drug] activities going on.”
But long-time resident Ayan Omar contends Dixon was safe before the raids, and still is. Ms. Omar, who helped create a library and computer centre in one of the condo towers, believes the intense media coverage of the Project Traveller raids and the Dixon City Bloods focused too heavily on the neighbourhood and on Somali-Canadians. Ms. Omar says she’s hearing from a lot of frustrated youth who can’t get a summer job because their address is Dixon.
“Now we are seen as drug dealers and that’s not true,” she says. “The people they arrested, they weren’t all from Dixon. Let’s be honest. They weren’t all Somalians.”
June 23, 2012: At 6:48 p.m., Toronto police are called to an upscale condo tower in the north end, near Yonge Street. Hussein Hussein, 28, was already dead, killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest. The Somali-Canadian’s death remains unsolved, one of about 50 unresolved homicides of Somali-Canadian men in Alberta and Ontario over the past decade. In the same month, Toronto police begin Project Traveller, an extensive probe focusing on the Dixon City Bloods gang and its ties to the Toronto drug trade and gun smugglers in Windsor.
Oct. 1, 2012: Toronto police obtain warrants to search for text messages, photos, video and incoming and outgoing calls on a BlackBerry and iPhone belonging to a 28-year-old man arrested two months earlier for gun trafficking. As a result of their data mining, police identify 11 people they want to track, including Mohamed Siad.
April 3, 2013: A woman nicknamed Princess calls Abdullahi Harun, 23, an accused member of the Dixon City Bloods. Unknown to the gang, police have been monitoring its phone conversations since March 18. Police allege Princess, identified as Elena Basso in police affidavits, asks Mr. Harun to sell her a half ball of cocaine. Ms. Basso is a long-time friend of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. The cocaine, Mr. Harun says, belonged to Anthony Smith, killed outside a downtown night club just days earlier. The money will allegedly be used to help Mr. Smith’s family.
June 13, 2013: Toronto police descend on the Dixon towers before dawn, busting into 14 apartments, searching for drugs, guns, cash, phones and computers. Numerous other homes in Toronto and Windsor are also searched in the Project Traveller raids, along with a residence in Edmonton. About 60 people are arrested, including Mr. Siad, Mr. Harun and two brothers of the slain Mr. Hussein. In a media conference on the take down of the Dixon City Bloods, police announce they seized $3-million worth of drugs, 40 guns and $572,000. – Renata D’Aliesio