Social factors at heart of surge in shootings, homicides in Calgary

The city is currently on pace for 36 homicides this year, well above last year’s total of 19

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Experts and community advocates say police must tackle the root causes behind gun violence to curb a spate of shootings and homicides in Calgary since the start of 2022.

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The deadly year for the city continued late Wednesday evening, when police responded to reports of gunshots in the northeast community of Saddle Ridge and found one man shot dead.

Police identified the victim as 24-year-old Hisham Ahmed following an autopsy. Police are now searching for a vehicle that fled the scene of the shooting, described as a dark-coloured 2003 to 2006 GMC Sierra truck with aftermarket headlights and exhaust.

The shooting is Calgary’s 11th homicide of 2022. The city is on pace for 36 homicides this year, well above last year’s total of 19; between 2016 and 2020, Calgary recorded an average of 26 homicides per year.

A surge in gun violence has accompanied the rise in killings, with 53 shootings to date this year, about double the 26 through the same period of 2021. Seven of this year’s homicides were shootings.

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Mount Royal University criminologist Ritesh Narayan said social factors are at the core of rising violent crime, with affordability a key element.

He said poverty rates alongside rising inflating and an increasingly expensive housing and rental market are driving some toward crime in an effort to make ends meet.

“It’s really difficult for a lot of families, a lot of people to survive in Calgary now, and it’s not an easy decision to just move somewhere else,” Narayan said.

“Calgary is home to these individuals and they don’t want to move, so they’re looking for ways to sustain themselves, and those means are not always legitimate . . . The more difficult it is to live in this city, the larger this problem will be. So making Calgary an affordable place to live, work and play will be very important.”

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Narayan said the broad reopening of society after lengthy public-health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic also means “lines are being redrawn within the city” among gangs. He said organized crime activity generally slowed during the pandemic but is ramping back up.

“I think part of the reason we’re seeing the violence now is that organized gangs are trying to draw that line to their advantage, and there’s competition for certain territory,” he said.

Speaking to media Thursday, police homicide unit Staff Sgt. Sean Gregson said homicide numbers often fluctuate year to year, and said he couldn’t pinpoint a reason for the surge.

“Regardless of the motivation, our investigators are dedicated to finding justice for the victims,” Gregson said.

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“Calgary continues to be a safe city, and we’re continuing to put all our resources toward suppressing the gang activity.”

Police said efforts to curb gun violence are taking place across its departments with community engagement involved, but didn’t provide specifics on the work being done.

Insp. Jodi Gach, with the Calgary police organized crime and offender management section, said they’ve linked some shootings this year to organized crime, with drug-related motivations at the centre of conflicts between opposing groups.

Concerted early intervention efforts are needed to dissuade young Calgarians from becoming entangled with gangs, said Jean Bota, who heads the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association.

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“We need to get to the root cause of why we have crime. Crime equates broken systems, broken institutions and sometimes broken communities,” Bota said.

Calgary Coun. Raj Dhaliwal, whose Ward 5 was home to Wednesday night’s fatal shooting, called the surge in crime worrisome.

He said the issue needs to be examined through both socioeconomic and cultural lens.

“I’m saddened. I’ve had family, friends, neighbours whose lives have been impacted by this,” Dhaliwal said.

“I don’t want any of our bystanders to get hurt. We need to look at the root cause of why people are pulling these triggers. What’s forcing them, what’s taking them to that threshold where they have no other choice but to pull that trigger?”

Last year, a public safety task force headed by former Ward 5 councillor George Chahal delivered a report on what’s needed to stem gun and gang violence in Calgary, concluding vulnerable people in the city’s racialized communities need better supports. Dhaliwal said he’s planning in the coming days to ensure those recommendations are being implemented.

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“Council needs to be more proactive. We can’t be reactive anymore,” he said.

It’s important social programs are given adequate resources to supplement police work, including within schools, Narayan said. He added city police also need continued funding for their organized crime department to combat the issue.

Gach made a plea to Calgarians to share any information that could help officers curb violent crime.

“We can’t tackle this alone,” Gach said. “Citizens play a key role in helping us prevent and solve crime. If you have any video footage related to a crime, please share it with us.”

Those with information are asked to call the police non-emergency line at 403-266-1234, or to submit tips anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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