The Winnipeg Police Service says a lack of resources available to newcomers in Winnipeg could be one of the root causes of the recent spike in gang activity in the city.
According to police numbers, one-third of the city’s homicides so far this year have been gang-related.
Inspector Max Waddell of the Winnipeg police says vulnerable newcomers can be preyed upon by gangs, who lure them in with a sense of belonging or money.
“With a large newcomer community coming to Winnipeg, and them not fitting in with society here in Winnipeg – at least initially – they’re looking for that bond, that mentorship piece,” Waddell said.
It’s a point echoed by Dorota Blumczynska, the head of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba.
“For many newcomer youth, aside from language being a significant barrier, they have a very hard time creating peer network, creating friendships, often those friendships come from within their own ethnocultural communities,” Blumczynska says.
“And for many, if not all, they live in tremendous poverty.”
Blumczynska believes the education system can offer more support to newcomer youth, such as more one-on-one time.
Waddell also said with violence rife in areas like Somalia, it’s “not out of the ordinary” for people coming from those areas to be involved in violent acts; which, he said can become amplified if a newcomer joins a gang.
“Some newcomers from countries such as Somalia, Kenya, Congo, those types of communities where they’ve come really from a very violent background, it’s not abnormal for them to have witnessed those types of violent acts when they do arrive in Canada,” Waddell said.
“For them to commit those types of violent acts is really not out of the ordinary for them to be a part of.”
The African Communities of Manitoba Inc. (ACOMI) says this isn’t a fair statement, one that undermines the fact that newcomers are seeking safety in Canada.
“That’s really a distorted message toward that community and it is a blaming message that is not helpful to those communities and the fact that they’re a law-abiding citizen,” ACOMI acting executive director Mandela Kuet said.
Community workers and politicians are also pointing to systemic gaps which may lead someone new to the country to join a gang, as violence in Winnipeg continues to climb.
However, some say the comments don’t reveal the entire issue.
“That takes away from the fact newcomers are seeking safety in Canada,” Kuet said.
“There aren’t enough services and support for newcomer’s kids to, first of all, prevent them from getting into that kind of lifestyle as well as support them exiting that lifestyle, and also educate the families.”
— With files from Amber McGuckin.