Photo: Halifax Examiner

Saturday night was the kind of a perfect summer evening you might have dreamed about for months. Finally, warm enough after five to still wear shorts and a cotton top or T-shirt comfortably. Clear skies stretching the hours of daylight into a glorious sunset for the finale. 

Friends had invited us to join them for supper outdoors on Bedford Row. In the search for ways to address the mismatch between consumer demand and safe food service accessibility, the former through-street had been turned into patios for patrons of local restaurants like McKelvie’s and pubs like The Old Triangle. After months of varying degrees of confinement, it seemed almost too good to be true.

It was.

When we reached the beginning of Hollis Street just before 6:30pm, we saw a police car blocking one of the two lanes with its lights flashing. A few blocks ahead, we could see more police cars and what appeared to be a tow truck. We hung a right onto Duke up to Barrington and took a more circuitous route to our destination. Our friends reported that earlier, they had seen police with guns drawn.

Sunday’s police blotter provided the terse details to news outlets of what we didn’t see. 

August 2, CBC News: Three people are facing charges after a daylight armed robbery in downtown Halifax. At about 5:50pm Saturday, police say three males wearing masks entered a business (NSKD Clothing on Hollis Street) with a gun. They took cash and merchandise before fleeing the area in a car. 

Guns. Again. While Nova Scotia news cycles have been dominated for months by COVID-19, calls for inquiries (into deaths at Northwood and the mass murders in April), and Black Lives Matter marches, I’d noticed what seemed to be a steady drumbeat of shootings, knifings, and homicides in HRM. But I wasn’t sure if these events were happening more than usual.

June 23, Chronicle Herald: Police are seeking the public’s assistance in identifying two people in connection with a shooting on Kempt Road in Halifax this week. Halifax Regional Police responded Tuesday at about 2:50 pm to a report of a shooting involving two vehicles in a parking lot between Swiss Chalet and Harveys. The vehicles fled the scene before the officers arrived.

June 30, Chronicle Herald: A man who was attacked around 10:20 pm on Monday June 29 at the Young Street Esso station has died and Halifax Regional Police are investigating the death as a homicide. 47-year-old Terrance Thomas Dixon was parked in his vehicle when an unknown male with a bladed weapon approached and attacked him.

July 12, CBC News: Police say three men were wounded in shootings, stabbing early Sunday in Halifax and Dartmouth. Around 1:11 am Sunday, police say a 23-yr-old man arrived at local hospital with a gunshot wound to his leg. Several hours later around 5:20 am, officers responded to a shooting on the 3500 block of Lynch Street in west end Halifax where a 31-year-old man was found with a gunshot wound. Police say there is “no initial indication they are related”. The stabbing victim was an 18-year-old man on Renfrew Street Dartmouth. 

July 20, Chronicle Herald: Police say the death of a Dartmouth senior earlier this month is now considered a homicide. According to a Halifax Regional Police news release, the body of Eleanor Noreen Harding, 85, was found the night of July 11 in a residence on Lynwood Drive.

The purpose of this crime news roundup is neither to scare citizens nor to demand more money for the police budget. Far from it. But these recent crime reports did make me wonder: are we seeing a rise in weapon-related violence in the Metro Halifax area? The answer is “Yes” — at least in the short term — when you look at the period from the first of May, 2020, until the end of July.

Statistics provided by Halifax Regional Police confirm there were nine reported shooting incidents in the last three months compared to four shootings in the same period of the previous year. So far in 2020, HRM has had four murders, compared to two murders in 2019. Arrests have been made in two of those 2020 cases, including the murder of the 85-year-old woman, where the accused Richard George Willis has also been charged with break and enter.

What’s Up?

Constable John MacLeod is the designated spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Police. When I ask him if there is any common factor to explain the recent rise in gun violence, I’m disappointed when he says there appears to be no link. 

“Yes, it’s concerning that we are having these incidents at all but there isn’t one factor driving these events during this time period,” said MacLeod.

At the same, MacLeod is quick to reassure me these shootings and stabbings are not random events. Citizens need not be overly concerned about own personal safety, he says. So, is there anything to account for this recent rise in gun violence?

MacLeod offers two suggestions. First, the increase in gun violence may be a temporary blip. Part of the ordinary ebb and flow of crime that can yield a sensational headline if you focus on only a short period of time instead of the bigger picture. It’s possible the numbers for the whole calendar year (2020) could end up on par with 2019, if the number of shooting incidents cools off later this year. Fair enough. 

So far for the first seven months of this year, the number of “assaults with a weapon” — those are knives, bats, and everything except guns — do not appear to have increased significantly. Last year, there were reports of 406 of these assaults. So far in 2020, there have been 236 assaults involving with weapons, with five months yet to come. Between May and July of this year, there were 91 assaults with weapons compared to 88 for the same period in 2019. Nothing to write home about.

MacLeod’s second answer suggests “the full spectrum” of human interaction is reflected in these shooting incidents. 

“Very often in these cases, there is some connection between the individuals,” says Cst. MacLeod. “Examples could include family or intimate partner violence. Or people who know each other from selling/buying drugs. The factors are very individual. But when we do get a cluster of cases, we always look at whether there could be a root cause (think back to the family feuds between the Melvins and the Marriotts). Sometimes the only common factor is they took place around the same time. We have no evidence any of these shootings over the past three months are linked.” 

I’m almost sorry I requested the statistics since the explanation is so unsatisfying.

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. I noticed a sharp increase in homicides and shootings the week that the new HRP chief took over. The week he took over we had our first homicide in a year or so. The numbers weren’t super high I don’t think and I have not checked any of the data it’s just something I noticed is all.

  2. I bet that if data was examined we would see that the majority of these illegal handguns are stolen from private owners with collections of firearms. Personally I would like to see private handgun ownership regulated and controlled much more strictly, with no handguns stored anywhere except specially approved facilities like at shooting ranges etc. I would also like to see harsh and difficult penal sentences for those who possess or use handguns illegally. /rant