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Senior Reporter Evan Dyer has been a journalist with CBC for 18 years, after an early career as a freelancer in Argentina. He works in the Parliamentary Bureau and can be reached at

Long-term, Canada is becoming a less violent society. But one subset of killings is stubbornly bucking the trend, delegates heard today at a national summit on gun violence hosted by the federal government: gun homicides involving members and associates of criminal gangs.

Both the rate of homicides, and of gun homicides specifically, have fallen by half since they reached their historic high points in the years 1975 to 1992.

There have been spikes since, most notably in the mid-2000s. In Toronto, the year 2006 is still remembered as the "summer of the gun" because of a spate of 52 shooting deaths. 2008 was the peak year for gang homicides in Canada, with a rate of 0.42 per 100,000, followed by a fairly steep decline up to the year 2013.

But while the big picture sees the rate of violent crime holding steady or declining, the subset of gang-related homicides has been ticking upwards again.

The rates of both fatal shootings and gang-related murders are now essentially back where they were ten years ago, after an encouraging decline stalled and then reversed itself starting in 2013.

It reflects the stubborn persistence of an increasingly violent subculture within an increasingly non-violent broader culture: the drug-dealing street gang. Why gang murders are different

Most gang murders — over three-quarters of them — are carried out with firearms, compared to only 20 per cent of non-gang-related murders.

The killings typically aren’t random. But as the city of Ottawa — which is hosting Wednesday’s summit — can attest, that’s little consolation in the neighbourhoods where the gunplay is concentrated.

Ottawa saw its annual number of shootings more than double between 2013 and 2017. The shootings sometimes involved two parties blasting multiple rounds at each other on public streets, striking homes and cars.

Gang killings are also harder to solve, partly because they involve groups retaliating against other groups, and victims who had many potential enemies. Although only a quarter of Canadian homicides in 2016 involved gangs, those gang-related killings accounted for 61 per cent of the nation’s unsolved killings. A handgun manufacturer product is displayed at the CANSEC trade show in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press) Ottawa police typically find that when victims survive shootings, they are unwilling to cooperate with investigators. Instead, gang members seek to retaliate themselves, triggering further cycles of retribution.

The recent growth in gang-related homicides appears to be driving down the overall rate of solved homicides in Canada. Homicide clearance rates were in the 90 per cent range in the 1960s, but have fallen steadily and are now particularly low for gun murders linked to gangs. Toronto Police were able to issue warrants for only 25 of the 61 homicides they recorded last year. Drug trade drives gang profits

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told the conference today that "it’s the drug trade, in particular, that is an intrinsic part of gang culture and gang-related violence and arguably causes the most harm in our communities.

"The ongoing and expanding opioid crisis is, of course, making this problem even worse."

Goodale said the search for new drug markets has been driving gangs into rural and indigenous communities. "In my home province of Saskatchewan, gang-related homicides accounted for a quarter of all homicides in 2016, and of those, more than half occurred outside the two largest cities of Saskatoon and Regina." OPP officers prepare to bag a firearm after Ontario Provincial Police host a […]

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