Saskatoon police, community organizations concerned about violent start to 2024

Saskatoon police, community organizations concerned about violent start to 2024

A Saskatoon man who has worked with young people in the city for years says a spate of violence to begin 2024 is concerning and reflects a wider trend.

On Wednesday, Saskatoon police announced manslaughter charges against two boys, aged 12 and 13, in the death of a 12-year-old boy. Both of the accused youth also face multiple gun charges, according to a Saskatoon Police Service news release.

Saskatoon police say this was the fifth homicide in the city this year. There were 12 in all of 2023.

Don Meikle is executive director of EGADZ Saskatoon Downtown Youth Centre, which provides opportunities for youth to further their education, gain employable skills and help out other community members. He said there has been a rise in violent crime involving young people in the city.

“Life doesn’t mean much to a lot of people, young people. Taking a life, you know before, people [actually] thought about it. It happened, but not like this,” Meikle said.

“Now it’s these young guys and young people who think it’s OK to kill people.”

Meikle said there are too many young people without hope in the city due to their upbringings, and that can lead them to turn to drugs or gangs.

He said he would like to see more proactive programs in Saskatoon aimed at preventing youth from participating in violent crime.

WATCH | Saskatoon police say multiple factors in violent start to year: 

Saskatoon police say multiple factors in violent start to year

Deputy chief Cam McBride says the homicides and assaults in early 2024 do not indicate the city is more violent, but police are concerned about drugs, guns, and gangs.

Violent start to 2024

Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) deputy of operations Cameron McBride said he is concerned about the killings, but that there is no single factor to attribute them to. Asked if there is any sort of gang war going on, he said no.

“The prevalence of firearms in the community, the prevalence of drug use in the city and the presence of gangs are all contributing factors,” McBride said. [But] to describe that as a gang war, I think would be completely inaccurate.”

McBride said SPS is putting resources toward investigating drug trafficking, and proactive programs that identify people in the community who are at risk.

“We’re helping to decrease the likelihood that somebody might be the victim of crime, but in terms of specifically going out to prevent homicide, that’s extremely difficult,” McBride said.

Cameron McBride, Saskatoon Police Service's  deputy of operations, speaking to media.
Cameron McBride is the Saskatoon Police Service’s deputy of operations. (CBC)

SPS’s crime map shows there have been 353 reports of assault since Jan. 1. McBride said that is more than normal for this time of year.

Statistics Canada’s latest data shows the national rate of firearm-related violent crime reached a 14-year high in 2022. Saskatchewan had the highest provincial rate that year.

Saskatoon police needs to do more: Meikle

Meikle said police need to do more in their efforts to stop gang violence and the drug trade.

“They are thinking that having a police officer on every corner stopping people for seat belts or speeding is important, when people are killing each other and people are bringing fentanyl and all these different types of drugs into the city, ” Meikle said.

“Our priorities are screwed.”

Meikle said with the amount of harsh drugs on the streets in the city is scary.

“I have never in my 32 years seen more people in psychosis. The drugs right now are so harsh,” Meikle said. “I’ve never seen it where people are more unpredictable than they are right now.”

Path to escape gangs

Stan Tu’Inkuafe is the co-founder of STR8 Up, a Saskatoon organization that helps people escape gang life.

He said there’s a misconception in the city that every violent act is related to gangs.

“It hurts them because then the public believes that gang members can’t be rehabilitated and that gang members should be locked up for long periods, where I kind of advocate for the opposite,”  Tu’Inkuafe said.

Gerald (CBC has agreed to not use his last name) is a former gang member who said STR8 Up helped him turn his life around. He said he became involved with gangs because he grew up around them.

“A lot of us grew up in that lifestyle with the gangs and stuff, there’s a lot of people that did time and did things on the street, and people look up to those guys,” Gerald said.

“If they see them doing positive things and doing good things, then maybe they’ll see there’s actually a chance. There’s a chance to do good.”

Watch | Saskatchewan support group helps ex-inmates rebuild their lives: 

Saskatchewan support group helps ex-inmates rebuild their lives

Indigenous people continue to be overrepresented in Canada’s correctional institutions. Fighting against these statistics in Saskatoon is STR8UP, a group for ex-inmates who gather to support each other, try to heal generations of trauma, and rebuild their lives.