“It’s no longer episodic, it’s repetitive. It’s almost daily for the island of Montreal.”

MONTREAL – The outbreak of gun violence in Montreal is not just an impression. More than 360 bullets have already been fired in around 100 shootings in 2021, a number that has risen sharply for a year, a new report reveals. “It’s no longer episodic, it’s repetitive. It’s almost daily for the island of Montreal,” says an expert alarmed by the increase in stray bullets.

Whereas previously this was an exceptional situation, it is now common for a dozen gunshots to be exchanged in the streets by rival gangs, in front of terrified citizens, and in disregard of collateral victims. These “high intensity” shootings have been commonplace in Montreal for two years, says Detective Sergeant Marc-André Dubé, a firearms expert who testified Wednesday during Hensley Jean’s sentence at Saint-Jérôme’s courthouse.

“We are no longer talking about an attack with a man found in the trunk of a car in a wooded area. We’re talking about scenes where I pick up 43 gun casings from two street corners. We’re putting on a show,” says the expert from the National Weapons Enforcement Support Team (NWEST), led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Since 2019, the investigator from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) has noticed an “increase” in events involving firearms, but “above all a marked increase in their intensity and nature.” For example, murders and attempted murders have been in the headlines lately, as a gang war rages in the eastern part of the city.

According to a compilation filed in court by the expert, approximately 400 cartridges were found at crime scenes in Montreal in 115 events in 2020. This year, as of Aug. 24, there were already 367 cartridges found in 100 shootings. This without counting the missing casings. At this rate, more than 550 bullets could therefore be fired by the end of the year in the metropolis. “The majority [of shootings] take place in or near a residential area,” said Dubé.

“We find it alarming that public safety is in jeopardy because shots are fired in urban areas. This is a concern for public safety. Our conclusion is that there are collateral victims,” Dubé says. Thus, shooters have “very little” regard for citizens, he adds.

As some projectiles can travel up to 1.5 km, stray bullets are routinely found on residential buildings during shootings in densely populated neighbourhoods. “People in apartments become potential victims,” the expert says. In the Saint-Léonard district, on Aug. 24, projectiles were found in the wall of a resident’s living room.

“The gentleman was incredulous. The placement of the projectile is exactly where he sits down to watch TV every night. He is a man in his sixties. He is thinking of moving,” said the detective sergeant.

The collateral victims of this outbreak of violence are more and more numerous. The death of Meriem Boundaoui, the 15-year-old teenager hit during a shooting in Saint-Léonard in February 2021, shocked the public. But other events also took place quietly. A 13-year-old teenager was shot and killed while filming a music video last year. An 18-year-old woman was also shot in a crowd at the Old Port of Montreal. The police are also targeted by shooters, such as in the event near the McGill University Health Centre on Aug. 24. On Wednesday morning, two young men were shot and wounded in an exchange of gunfire outside a bar in the Chomedey area of Laval.

The expert also observes “the trivialization and glorification of the possession of a firearm” on social networks. Many street gang members show off their guns online to show off their strength, like Jean on Instagram. There are so many reports of weapons being shown on social media that the officer’s squad is no longer responding to alerts, he says. “Right now, we could use twice as many resources.”

In addition, the pandemic has in no way slowed down firearms trafficking in Quebec, quite the contrary. “The current flow of guns, it seems continuous. There is no shortage,” Dubé says. Right now, in Montreal, a gun can sell for “up to $5,000” on the black market, he explains.

New technology that makes it possible to copy the popular Glock pistol at low cost and without a serial number is a real scourge in North America. This is a semi-automatic pistol made from a “home-made” Polymer80 chassis. “The goal of this production is to have a weapon that will not be detectable, and which will become a phantom firearm, a ghost gun,” says Dubé.

This expert testimony on the proliferation of guns in Montreal and the role of street gangs in the recent spike in violence fits in with the Crown’s evidence to Jean’s sentencing observations. This Montrealer close to the powerful Zone 43 gang was convicted by a jury of an attempted murder with a firearm in Saint-Eustache in 2019. He is believed to be linked to another murder in Laval.

In the hot areas of Montreal-North and Rivière-des-Prairies, the “majority” of shootings are also linked to a war between two rival gangs, Montreal-North’s Zone 43 and Rivière-des-Prairies’ Profit Boyz, Detective Sergeant Caroline Raza explained on Tuesday. Gang members are now shooting each other for “trivialities,” even between allies, she explained.

Sentencing pleadings will take place later this fall at Montreal’s courthouse before Judge Hélène Di Salvo. Crown Attorney Steve Baribeau calls for life in prison for Jean.

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