Abbotsford-Mission is Canada's murder capital
By KIM BOLAN , Vancouver SunJuly 21, 2009
The Abbotsford-Mission area is one of three municipal regions in Canada that saw increases in 2008 of over 15% in their “Violent Crime Severity Index,” according to Statistics Canada. For the first half of 2009, the number of killings in the Lower Mainland rose, with Abbotsford recording more murders than it did in all of 2008.
Almost two decades ago, police warned about the growth of gangs in Abbotsford after teenager Kirby Martin was slain by a rival group.
Kirby, just 18 and with the Yale gang, was targeted by the rival Countess crew in a September 1990 shooting.
Another Countess associate at the time was Billy Rai, who became a 2009 murder statistic when he was gunned down in a targeted hit June 30.
Since those early shots were fired, the gang and drug problems in Abbotsford have grown exponentially.
The fledgling groups of two decades ago spawned gangs like the Red Scorpions and United Nations, international players in the drug trade linked to an unprecedented spate of murders.
Now Statistics Canada is calling Abbotsford-Mission the murder capital of the country, with a 2008 rate of 4.7 homicides per 100,000.
Abbotsford police say the statistics don’t tell the full story, as many smaller B.C. cities have higher murder rates that are not included in the StatsCan study.
But Police Chief Bob Rich is the first to admit there is a gang problem in his community that has led this year to Rai’s death and five other similar targeted hits.
By comparison, the murder rate for the rest of Metro Vancouver was 2.4 per 100,000, while Kelowna’s 2008 rate was higher at 3.4.
The national average is 1.8 per 100,000.
Not included in the stats are cities of less than 100,000 like Prince George, which had five slayings last year, equalling 6.7 murders per 100,000.
“To call us the homicide capital of Canada isn’t accurate and it isn’t fair. But that we have a significant problem that is resulting in gang violence is fair,” Rich said. “Where the homicides occur in Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley are almost accidents of two gangs managing to find each other.”
Rich, who was hired in Abbotsford from the Vancouver police last year, said he is constantly searching for the root causes of the gang problem in his new community and throughout the Lower Mainland.
“Abbotsford has a significant number of gang members that reside here,” he said.
“Ten years ago, we were not looking at these mid-level street gangs. Why do we have it now? I don’t have one complete answer to that question.”
Criminologist Darryl Plecas said crackdowns on marijuana-growing operations by police in Vancouver and Surrey have pushed the problem out to the valley.
There is a large addict population that provides clientele to the drug trade. Close proximity to the border, rural properties to grow pot and discreet mountain trails into the U.S. are all factors.
“Part of it is if you have gangs as we do, part of that is a fluke. They just happen to have grown up here. Those people are going to bring in people and get attached to people who are close to home,” Plecas said.
Abbotsford has also experienced huge population growth not reflected in the census figures used by StatsCanada, he said.
Rich said police were not on top of the gang issue a decade ago.
“I do think Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley were soft for a period of time and didn’t realize what was happening in allowing marijuana grow-ops to occur and that cash cow was a huge incentive,” Rich said.
And those who get involved are still enticed by the money and the perceived glamour of the gang lifestyle, Rich said.
“What we have got to look at as a community is how we intervene in the lives of kids who are 16 years old and we are actively trying to figure that out in Abbotsford,” Rich said.
One plan in the works is to get court-ordered peace bonds targeting at-risk youth so police can enforce curfews and prevent some associations.
“We are holding meetings with parents after we identify these groups of kids and we are looking at how you confront them,” Rich said.
Abbotsford was also cited by StatsCan for a 15-per-cent increase in violent crime in 2008 and some of the highest auto theft, and break and enter rates in the country.