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Northeast Calgary communities seek answers at town hall following recent public violence

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Northeast Calgary communities seek answers at town hall following recent public violence
WATCH: Community groups from northeast Calgary spent two hours with Calgary Police Service officials during a closed door town hall meeting on Wednesday. As Adam MacVicar reports, the hope is the discussion could help address public gun violence and trust in policing – Nov 30, 2023

Concerns over recent gun violence and public safety were brought directly to Calgary police at a closed-door meeting in the city’s northeast.

Wednesday night’s town hall meeting, held at a community centre in Marlborough, was invite-only for community association representatives and various stakeholders from wards 5, 9 and 10.

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot, who organized the meeting, said “uncomfortable but necessary” questions were asked.

“There was a lot of uncertainty about what was happening, what kind of work the police were doing, including some of their interventions … as well as some of the proactive work in their community to try and mitigate some of the criminal activity,” Chabot told reporters following the meeting.

It follows a recent span of gun violence across the city and in northeast Calgary neighbourhoods that police believe all had ties to organized crime, including a targeted shooting on Nov. 9 in Marlborough.

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Another shooting in the northeast community of Abbeydale was reported to police on Nov. 11, and then another days later in McEwan. On Nov. 13, police were called to the TransCanada Centre shopping complex in Marlborough Park, where Rami Hajj Ali, 23, was shot and killed in his car, and another two people were injured.

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Following that shooting, two brothers aged 14 and 18 were mistakenly arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

The charges were stayed and police acknowledged their mistake and apologized, but there have been no further arrests.

On Wednesday, police Chief Mark Neufeld confirmed the RCMP will undertake an independent review of the arrests. 

Jean-Claude Munyezamu, founder of Umoja Community Mosaic, said the situation has created challenges with trust in the community.

“These children have a connection to the community, they have friends they go to school with, they’re neighbours,” he said. “It doesn’t make it easy for us community people to work with police in order to make the neighbourhood safe.”

He said some in the community are apathetic when it comes to reporting crimes to police, with concerns it won’t lead to any solutions.

It’s a point not lost on Supt. Cliff O’Brien, who said community trust in policing is fragile and requires continued work and engagement.

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“We don’t always get it right and we know that,” O’Brien told reporters. “We asked the community here to help us, tell us where are the gaps, how to best communicate with you.”

Chabot said the nature of the closed-door discussion allowed more understanding of the “complexities of the job police are facing.”

Data presented to the Calgary Police Commission Wednesday showed, to date, shooting numbers are lower than the same time frame last year, and are “on-par” with the five-year average.

However, it’s the brazen violence in public spaces that remains highly concerning.

“We know that when we have these brazen attacks, it doesn’t matter if it’s a gun or a knife, but these brazen attacks in what should be a safe public space, we know it impacts everybody,” O’Brien said. “Even though the shootings may be targeted attacks, we know that bullets can go anywhere.”

According to Chabot, the plan is to inform community groups to help pass that information down to the general public about safety concerns and what is being done to address them.

He said he plans to discuss concerns he heard about crime reporting with members of the Calgary Police Commission to find improvements.

Munyezamu hopes the discussions can lead to progress in the community to address some of its concerns.

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“There’s a few things I call pushing the snooze button when something happens,” he said. “Then things are quiet and something happens again. I hope this is not another snooze button.”

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