Gun violence is on the rise in Calgary, but here's how the organized crime landscape has changed

·6 min read
Police say organized crime-related shootings are on the rise over previous years. On May 23, a young man in his late teens was shot in the 17th Avenue S.W. district. (Submitted by Scott Carpenter  - image credit)
Police say organized crime-related shootings are on the rise over previous years. On May 23, a young man in his late teens was shot in the 17th Avenue S.W. district. (Submitted by Scott Carpenter - image credit)

When a stray bullet recently hit the Calgary Police Service District 6 office, it was one of 60 shots fired at a scene just down the road and one of two daylight shootings that took place within hours of each other and which investigators have connected to organized crime.

The brazenness of that scenario is symbolic of the escalating organized crime gun violence playing out on Calgary streets this year.

From January to June, Calgary saw 63 shootings — double the five year average over the same time period, according to statistics provided by the Calgary Police Service (CPS).

CPS says it has added staff and reorganized units to prioritize the "reckless" gun violence.

'They double-cross'

So far in 2022, CPS officials say five people have been killed in connection with organized crime.

And while police use words like "organized crime," "groups," "networks," and "allegiances," they are loath to use the term "gang war."

That's partly because "gang" isn't the term used in the Criminal Code and partly because this time around, once airtight allegiances are much more fluid, says Insp. Jodi Gach with CPS's organized crime section.

"It's not the same as it used to be; before you would see conflict between two groups, so you were either on side or you were on Side A or Side B. That's not the way it is right now," says Gache.

"Historically, allegiances didn't change as much as what we're currently seeing."

CBC
CBC

One police officer who's been involved in these investigations said group members are known to "change sides within a week."

"They double-cross and flip flop," said the officer, who is not authorized to speak on behalf of CPS.

"It's tough to stay ahead of these guys."

The role of honour

The fluidity of the groups adds an "extreme complexity" to investigations, says Gach.

Conflicts are sparked for a number of reasons, explains the inspector. There are the traditional battles involving drug distribution networks and greed.  And then, Gach says, there are the personal conflicts.

"When people are not honourable within a group, then there becomes conflict that we see play out … by gunplay and reckless violence," says Gach.

Colleen Underwood/CBC
Colleen Underwood/CBC

Police station hit by bullet

On May 23, two daytime shootings took place on the Victoria Day holiday Monday. One in the southeast neighbourhood of Acadia, the other on 17th Avenue S.W., one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the city.

Two young men, both in their late teens, were taken to hospital suffering from gunshot wounds.

The teens are known to each other, according to sources who are familiar with the investigations but not authorized to speak on behalf of CPS.

But Gach says at this point in the investigation, it would be misleading to say the shootings were connected.

"There's multiple ways people can be linked … I wouldn't be confident in saying that they are linked offences based on some initial thought."

Bystander killed

During the Acadia shooting, 60 rounds were fired into the neighbourhood around 11:30 a.m., according to Supt. Cliff O'Brien.

Aside from the teenage victim and a parked car, the nearby District 6 police station was also struck by a bullet, according to officers who received a briefing note about the situation the next day.

It seems to be luck or chance that kept the other 57 bullets from hitting a bystander.

Angela Mckenzie didn't have that luck.

On May 10, the driver of a stolen Chevy Silverado was shooting at a man fleeing gunfire in a Volkswagen Jetta. The pursuit ended with two uninvolved vehicles being struck in an intersection in the southeast neighbourhood of Forest Lawn.

Well-known gangster wanted

Mckenzie was killed in that crash. Her death left five children orphaned.

Talal Amer, 29, a gangster previously convicted of organized crime offences in Calgary's last street war, is wanted on Canada-wide warrants for manslaughter, attempted murder and weapons offences.

Calgary Police Service
Calgary Police Service

Amer is well known to Calgary police and played a role, alongside his brother and two cousins, in Calgary's 2015/2016 gang war that was marked by family ties and gun violence.

In 2016, Calgary police arrested eight men in connection with at least 10 attempted murders,  including Amer, two of his brothers and two cousins, Badar and Abdul Amer.

Ultimately Amer pleaded guilty to lesser offences and was handed a three-year prison sentence which expired five days before he's accused of killing Mckenzie.

5 organized crime homicides

Mckenzie's homicide is counted by police as being one of the five so far in 2022 that are organized-crime related.

The others are:

  • Eric Riendeau, 36, was shot in an alley in the southwest community of Sunalta on Jan. 6. He had an extensive history with the courts.

  • Ali Al-Aqal, 21, was stopped at a red light at the intersection of 16th Avenue at Fourth Street N.W. on March 21 when a man got out of another vehicle, approached the victim's Chevy Avalanche and fired shots at the driver.

  • On April 1, Majed Ahmed Zulfiqar and a friend bought food at Jerusalem Shawarma and then got into their vehicle parked in the alley behind the restaurant. The vehicle was approached by a person who fired several rounds at Zulfiqar, kiling him.

  • Police were called to the northeast community of Saddle Ridge on April 20 after neighbours reported hearing gunshots. Hisham Ahmed was found dead in a vehicle.

People 'know who the shooters are'

Mackenzie's is the only one of the five homicides where charges have been laid.

Part of what police are grappling with is the struggle to get information from members of the shooters' communities.

There are people who know who the offenders are, but they're not talking.

"I honestly I can't express that enough is that we know that there are people out there that know who the shooters are," said Gach.

"We know that the community can help us right now. In order for us to do our jobs, we need the community's help."

Gach says people aren't cooperating for a number of reasons — a mix of fear, loyalty and reliance on the protection that some of these group members offer.

To address the increased number of in shootings, CPS says it has added staff to its operations, response and intelligence units within the organized crime section.

It has also enacted a formalized shooting response and the service has beefed up its monitoring of those under court-ordered conditions.

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