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Organized crime and shootings make up most of Calgary’s 96 unsolved homicides from 2005–2021

CPS working on renaming cold case unit to be more trauma informed

The Calgary Police Service delivered their report on Calgary’s unsolved homicides to the Calgary Police Commission on May 31, outlining the work that has been done, and the work yet to be done on solving these crimes.

From 2005 to 2021, there were 440 homicides in the city, said CPS in their report, for an average of 26 per year. From that period, 96 homicides remain unsolved.

CPS Superintendent for the Criminal Investigations Division, Ryan Ayliffe, outlined to commissioners the difficulties that investigators have faced.

“A lot of those unsolved in those cases involve firearms… firearms are tougher for us to solve,” he said.

“When it comes to investigating and solving, the gang motivated and gun homicides are the hardest for us.”

In statistics presented by the CPS report, of the 440 homicides in the city, 144 were caused using a firearm, and 33 per cent of unsolved homicides were shootings.

Supt. Ayliffe said that gun-related homicides were difficult for investigators because of the nature of the crime being performed at a distance leading to less evidence available.

Nationally, according to a Statistics Canada Juristat report released in 2022, shootings were solved 27.6 per cent of the time within the first 48 hours, rising to 46.5 per cent after 100 days. Compared to beatings and stabbings, those crimes had 38.9 per cent and 58.9 per cent clearance rate in the first 48, and 70 per cent and 84 per cent after 100 days.

“The years that have the highest number of unsolved homicides are also the years with the highest number of shooting deaths,” said Supt. Ayliffe.

The report said that organized crime could be attributed to 80 of the city’s homicides, and drugs a further 60. Of those, 50 organized crime homicides and 13 drug homicides remain unsolved.

According to data from Statistics Canada, Calgary was among the cities in the nation for the largest decreases in gang-related homicides from 2020 to 2021. Nationally, Regina had the highest gang-related homicide rate in 2021, at 3.03 per 100,000 people.

As of May 15 in Calgary, there had been six homicides—4 from shootings—versus 12 in 2022 with 7 of those being shooting deaths.

Homicide files never close

CPS Chief Constable Mark Neufeld said that oftentimes community members know who has committed these crimes, but for a variety of reasons are unwilling to come forward to police.

"Oftentimes, community members know who's involved in high-risk behaviour. They actually know who's involved in shootings and that type of thing," Chief Neufeld said.

"I think when the community sees people who they know to be involved in violent crime, and they see them released again and again, or they don't see consequences, a lot of times I think they're very apprehensive to come forward."

He said that the homicide files never close and that investigators are continually working to solve those crimes.

"Even when we have people that are involved in high-risk lifestyles, or they feel that they're vulnerable at a particular time, years later they may not be and they may be in a different place. Sometimes we see files move forward, investigations move forward simply over the passage of time," Chief Neufeld said.

Supt. Ayliffe said that the service is moving towards renaming its cold case investigations unit into being one with a more trauma-informed name, at the request of victims' families. He said that this was a result of the work done by CPS Homicide Unit Staff Sgt. Sean Gregson and his team.

"More and more police organizations are going to historical unsolved homicide team. So we're going to start to transition our team name into that, just because it seems to be right now a more appropriate term for this... so that it doesn't trigger."

CPS solving homicides faster than the national average

The report provided to the police commission showed that when police are able to solve homicides in Calgary, they do so faster and at a higher rate than the national average.

The overall clearance rate for the service's homicide investigations is 79 per cent, whereas the national average is 67. CPS' solve time was also lower at 25 days versus 36 nationally.

One-third of all homicide investigations in the city lead to accused suspects being charged within the first 48 hours.

Supt. Ayliffe said that within the past decade, the city has had few Indigenous unsolved homicides.

Since 2010, only two homicides of Indigenous females and four Indigenous males remain unsolved. During that same time period, 38, or 13 per cent of the city's homicide victims have been Indigenous.

The report recognized that there was an over-representation of victims from Indigenous and visible minority communities, versus the population of the Calgary Metropolitan Area.

In response to a question from Commission Vice-Chair Marilyn North Peigan, Supt. Ayliffe said that in an effort to address missing and murdered Indigenous males, that the CPS's missing persons team had been embedded into the homicide unit.

"You can see the crossover, and I think that's what you're recognizing is a lot of the crossover between those two bodies of work," he said.

Not all unsolved homicides are actually 'unsolved'

Supt. Ayliffe said that not all of the unsolved homicides that detectives have investigated are without suspects or evidence. Some are just unresolved.

Speaking to a question on unsolved domestic homicides in the city, prompted by Commissioner Nijssen Jordan, he said that there was a high bar to meet in order for Alberta's Crown Prosecutors to try a person for murder.

"Sometimes it's the threshold of evidence required for it to clear the charge approval," he said.

Chief Neufeld said that sometimes that difference can cause spirited conversations between investigators and the Crown, but that the intention is a good one.

"On homicides in general, we feel like we're there and we've reached the threshold, and the Crown will sometimes say 'not quite, one other little piece.' Those are sometimes very difficult conversations," he said.

"They know that if somebody's tried for a case like this, and they're found to be not guilty, they cannot be tried again even if something substantial comes forward. So they're looking at trying not to put the family in a situation where they never do get justice for something that's happened."

Supt. Ayliffe spoke about the high level of competence that they have come to expect from CPS investigators, using nationally-recognized techniques in undercover work, DNA technology, 3D crime scene scanning, and other techniques that allow the service to process large amounts of evidence.

"It creates its own problems—good problems—in that our standard when we present evidence to our Crown, they become used to a certain standard," he said.