01/13/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 03/14/2015 05:59 EDT

Ottawa Confronts Spate Of Gang-Related Shootings

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The City of Ottawa has a well-deserved reputation as a quiet town. With a low crime rate — just seven murders last year, including the shocking death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial — the national capital is rightly viewed as a safe and secure place.

That's one of the reasons a recent spate of shootings in the capital has come as such a shock.

Ottawa police investigated a record 49 shootings in 2014. One of the more brazen happened at a crowded shopping mall on Boxing Day when a young man was shot in the foot. A 26-year-old man has been charged in the incident.

Ottawa police say much of the gunplay in the capital is gang-related, with rival groups targeting one other in conflicts over territory, the drug trade or various petty disputes.

In 2014, gang-related shootings sent several people to hospital, though none of the incidents were fatal. Authorities fear, though, that could change at any time and that innocent victims could get caught in the crossfire.

"Thank God no innocent bystander has been shot at this point," said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson on Monday. "It is going to be a very sad day for those family members of an individual who is killed in the crossfire or seriously injured."

Neighbourhoods on edge

Watson met Monday afternoon with Ottawa's police chief as well as officials from the city and the province to discuss the wave of gang violence.

"The overall crime rate in the city is going down," Watson said, calling Ottawa "one of the safest cities in the entire country."

"I think the vast majority of residents of the City of Ottawa that I speak to on a daily basis feel that we do live in a safe city, a secure city and we have a very good Ottawa Police Service that is protecting us."

Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau said that while the city has seen a spike in shootings, he doesn't see it as a trend. Still, he knows the violence has put some neighbourhoods on edge.

"I can appreciate the community's fear and anxiety over the shootings and the brazenness of the gang members," Bordeleau said.

"These are targeted shootings. They're not targeting innocent bystanders. But the fear is somebody [else] will get hurt."

The skirmishes being played out among the city's gangs are nowhere near as violent as the turf wars that have been fought in other, larger cities such as Montreal and Toronto. But as in those bigger centres, the nightmare scenario in Ottawa remains the stray bullet. 

Authorities in the national capital have pledged a multi-pronged approach to try to stem the violence. Police have assigned more officers to their Guns and Gangs Unit. City officials are looking to improve programs to try to steer young people away from a life of crime.

The results have been mixed. Police have made several arrests and say they are disrupting the city's gangs. But the violence continues.

Over the weekend, officers were called to a neighbourhood in the city's west end; a neighbourhood where shootings have been reported before. They found a man in his 20s, seriously injured after being shot twice in the back.

Police believe the incident was gang-related.

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