Tackling Hobbema violence

A family supper in Hobbema three years ago ended in horror when bullets ripped through a home, one of them striking a 23-month-old toddler in the abdomen. Fortunately, she survived.

A family supper in Hobbema three years ago ended in horror when bullets ripped through a home, one of them striking a 23-month-old toddler in the abdomen. Fortunately, she survived.

The child was sitting with her family and grandparents that April 13, 2008, evening for the meal. Outside, two occupants in a passing vehicle, both in their early teens, opened fire on the residence.

It was yet another shooting in the Hobbema area related to an ongoing and vicious gang war that apparently involves 13 factions on the four Cree First Nations Bands vying for a foothold in the lucrative drug trade.

Residents, fearful of further violence, have been reluctant to point fingers.

But perhaps it’s time they follow the example of the Mohawk communities around Montreal.

Fed up with the scourge of drugs and gangs in their communities, the Mohawks recently co-operated in a massive police crackdown on organized crime. About 500 officers from the RCMP, provincial police and native peacekeeping forces swept in with warrants and made 40 arrests.

In the past, the Mohawks shunned outside interference in their affairs, citing traditional ways. But enough was enough when the gangs laughed at traditional ways.

Inside information was fed to authorities, guiding them to the main players in gang activities in the June 14 raid.

“I find it sad being so small a community and having people, our neighbours, family members, doing this,” said Michelle Lamouche, a chief of the Kanesatake council overseeing the tiny Mohawk community of 1,200. “But other people say that it was about time it was done.”

Kanesatake was the site of the 1990 Oka Crisis, the, 78-day standoff between Mohawk protesters, police and Canadian soldiers.

But this police raid was different, said Grand Chief Paul Nicholas. “The community’s fed up with drug use. So if this raid translates down to less drugs being available, a lot of people will be satisfied with what happened.”

RCMP Insp. Michel Arcand credited the community for finally speaking out and co-operating with vital information. “Organized crime does not belong — violence and intimidation will no longer be tolerated.”

The Kanesatake community was brought to its knees by gangs. In 2004, protesters burned the grand chief’s home to the ground and held 50 aboriginal police officers hostage after the chief tried to crush local organized crime.

The same consequences are ripe on the Hobbema-area reserves. Members of the 13 gangs indulge in a violent free-for-all because people are afraid to talk.

Between April 2008 and March of this year, numerous gang-related horror stories have been told. Murders and shootings lead the list. Some victims have had no gang-related involvement — including the 23-month-old toddler who was shot.

Newspaper headlines the last three years paint a grim picture of gang-related terror that has residents people constantly fearful.

Ultimately, the solution rests in the hands of its citizens. It calls for zero tolerance, said Serge LeClerc, a former gang member from another reserve who later served in the Saskatchewan legislature.

Speaking in Edmonton three years ago, invited by the Samson Cree First Nation to address gang violence, LeClerc said the people “have to send a message loud and clear to the gangs — you are not tolerated. If you are caught with colours on, you will be charged.

“You need to go after the gang leaders who are making money using the kids and drugs to do it.”

Three years later, the violence continues.

Without the co-operation of its citizens, Hobbema-area communities will continue to be overrun with gang activities. It’s time to get responsible. The Mohawks set the precedent.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.