As moviegoers left a Calgary multiplex some days ago they witnessed a young man get shot in the eye and head. Though he survived—patrons who surrounded him advised the man to remain still as he tried to stand—the shooting is the latest evidence that Calgarians no longer need the movies to see inner-city violence.
The crime spike started last month, when a group of men knifed five people at random, killing one. The following week, an afternoon shoving match pushed a 17-year-old boy to his death beneath a transit train. Days later,
residents east of the Stampede grounds didn’t respond when they heard the victim of a brutal sex assault cry for help. She was later found dead. All told, the month leading up to August’s long weekend upped this year’s homicide tally by seven; it now sits at 20.
There have been few arrests—none in the above offences. Many see gangs as driving the violence (the stabbings were likely initiation rites for new recruits). “The worry is that with the booming economy comes a bigger drug trade,” says Aid. Madeleine King. Police admit a manpower deficit of 120 officers but say the spike has bolstered a “perception” of danger belied by local crime stats. Chief Jack Beaton says his force has kept a lid on crime over four years despite Calgary’s growth. But Al Koenig, the police union head, notes officers had to cut short their holidays for the spike. “On a day-to-day basis, our members are already stretched pretty thin,” he says.
Calgarians now view the city’s unhurried public drug deals, open-air drunkenness and aggressive begging as new and more real than the falling stats—never mind the recent slayings. Pedestrian walkways and the city’s riverside paths are avoided. More and more, the booming metropolis feels like a B movie. The danger for a city that still needs more workers is—will newcomers continue to feel Calgary is worth the price of admission? M
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