The shocking wave of deadly violence sweeping across Winnipeg in the past week has prompted Mayor Brian Bowman to request a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Brian Pallister.
Bowman told reporters Tuesday that for the sake of the families affected by the killings and the community at large, the three levels of government need to work together to find solutions to the root causes of crime.
"I’ve reached out today to the prime minister and the premier to respectfully request an urgent meeting between the three of us so we can discuss the events over the last week, so we can discuss how we can better work together to build a healthier community to deal with the root causes of crime that we’re seeing," Bowman said.
"We’ve reached a point where a face-to-face meeting between the prime minister, the premier and I, is absolutely warranted so we can ensure we are as aligned as possible to co-ordinate and focus our resources in ways that will make a meaningful difference in the short and long term in our community."
Six slayings in the past week, including the stabbing deaths of a 14-year-old girl at a Halloween party and a three-year-old boy who was attacked while he was sleeping, have brought the unofficial total of homicides in Winnipeg to 40 for the year — one short of the record set in 2011.
The latest occurred late Monday, when police responded to a condo unit at 25 Tim Sale Dr., where they found the body of a man who'd been shot to death.
It’s unclear if either Trudeau or Pallister will sit down with the mayor. The premier told reporters at a news conference at the Health Science Centre Tuesday that he’s meeting with the PM Friday in Ottawa, and Bowman’s letter will be on the agenda.
The Prime Minister's Office redirected questions about Bowman's letter to the office of Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair, whose spokeswoman said Blair would meet with Bowman. The PMO would not clarify whether Trudeau also plans to meet with Bowman.
"Minister Blair's office has been in contact with Mayor Bowman's to set up a meeting between the two to discuss the situation in Winnipeg and how we can better work together to better protect our communities," Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux, Blair's senior communications adviser, stated in an email to the Free Press.
Pallister said he is looking forward to working with Bowman "on endeavours that we’re pursuing," adding he’s waiting for Manitoba Police Commission chairman David Asper’s proposals on how to leverage the private sector to improve safety in downtown Winnipeg.
"I'm very excited to see what Mr. Asper’s research has shown and our ministers will continue to work co-operatively with the mayor and all other municipal governments because it’s an issue that concerns all of us," he said.
“We need to find a way to reduce the calls for service and the demand on our Winnipeg Police Service so we can ensure those calls don’t need to be made in the first place.” - Mayor Brian Bowman
When Pallister was asked if he agreed that Winnipeg is in a crisis, he replied: "I agree with getting results for Manitobans and safer streets for what Manitobans who abide by the laws of our province deserve to have."
Last month was the worst for homicides in Winnipeg in more than two decades.
The Winnipeg Police Service homicide unit investigated eight cases last month. The Free Press reviewed homicide records going back to 1997 and could not find any month where more than seven people were killed in the city.
The homicide total for October does not include the horrifying attack on three-year-old Hunter Straight-Smith, who police say was repeatedly stabbed by his mother’s on-again, off-again boyfriend last Wednesday. He died Saturday — Nov. 2 — after he was taken off life support.
Bowman said he wouldn't use the requested meeting as an excuse to pry additional funding from either Pallister or Trudeau to hire more police officers, adding the problems facing the city cannot be solved by increasing the size of the police force.
"The Winnipeg Police Service can’t be everywhere all at the same time. They are not in the health-care field. Mental health, addictions, families in crisis cannot rest solely — nor should it be resting on the shoulders — of the Winnipeg Police Service," he said.
"We need to find a way to reduce the calls for service and the demand on our Winnipeg Police Service so we can ensure those calls don’t need to be made in the first place."
Before telling reporters he had asked for the meeting, Bowman outlined several initiatives city hall has put in place to deal with crime: the Winnipeg Indigenous Accord, responding to the calls for action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry; implementing the downtown safety strategy and a city-wide neighbourhood safety plan; and various security enhancements for Winnipeg Transit drivers and passengers.
Bowman said municipalities can only do so much, adding they lack the resources available to the provincial and federal governments.
"We need to work together to deal with mental health, addictions and families in crisis in a more co-ordinated and focused manner," he said when asked what he had in mind for the meeting.
"The question is, what are they prepared to do in addition to what they are already doing, and I want to hear from them about their ideas on moving forward."
— With files from Ryan Thorpe and Dylan Robertson
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 at 5:44 PM CST: full write-thru, new photos, headline, formatting