Once a gangster shooting gallery, Abbotsford, B.C., recorded no murders in 2011

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

It was Canada's murder capital in 2008 and 2009 but the small B.C. city of Abbotsford has another statistic to crow about now - no murders at all in 2011.

A city of about 137,000 in the Fraser Valley about 40 minutes from Vancouver, Abbotsford went from 11 murders in 2009 to four in 2010 and none last year, The Canadian Press reports.

Police spokesman Const. Ian MacDonald credits a concerted community effort to suppress the city's gangs for the homicide-free year.

"What we were fortunate to have was the support of civic leaders and the citizens when we brought forward the message, which was we've got a problem with gangs," MacDonald said.

"There are communities that will stick their head into the sand or will pour their money into a tourism campaign to try to convince people that, `Yeah, we've got a little bit of an issue, but it's still a place to come and visit.' "

Abbotsford relinquished its two-year hold on the murder-capital label (gratefully, I suspect) to Thunder Bay, Ont., in 2010. Although the Great Lakes city had only five murders that year, it's per-capital rate was a Canada-high 4.2, compared with Abbotsford-Mission's 2.3. The rate for 2011, of course, will be zero.

"We pitched a shutout this year," MacDonald told Postmedia News. "If you look at a couple of years ago we went from the homicide capital of the galaxy, to four in 2010 and none this past year."

When it comes to total homicides, Edmonton was Canada's murder capital last year with 47, according to The Canadian Press. That's more than Toronto, Canada's biggest city, which had 45 homicides last year, the lowest number since 1986 and well down from 61 in 2010, the Toronto Star reports.

Winnipeg, which ranks high perennially on the murder rate, recorded 39 homicides in 2011, the Winnipeg Free Press reports.

Montreal, which saw a flareup of old-school gang warfare, had 34 murders last year, the Montreal Gazette says.

Abbotsford was a hotbed of drug-fueled gang activity, home to the notorious Bacon brothers, a trio of tattooed thugs who dominated the scene a couple of years ago. One is dead and the other two in jail, the Vancouver Sun notes.

But the open gang warfare that marked Abbotsford's notoriety seems to have subsided in the face of the city's counterattack. An intense communication campaign sent the message to teens that the gang life might seem lush on the surface but ultimately ends badly.

Businesses, especially bars and restaurants, were recruited to discourage gangster patronage, and Abbotsford police set up their own anti-gang unit to take on the gangsters.