‘There’s no such thing as closure,’ says Winnipeg advocate for families of homicide victims

An advocate for families of homicide victims in Winnipeg says she’s saddened to hear of the high number of violent deaths in the city so far this year, while an associate professor from the University of Winnipeg’s department of criminology says he’s not surprised the numbers are climbing.

The shooting death of Tristan James Raynard Asham, 21, on Saturday brought to 45 the number of homicides Winnipeg police have investigated so far in 2022 — more than the 44 homicides in 2019, the previous high for a single year.

Charges were recently stayed in connection with one of this year’s homicide investigations.

Karen Wiebe, the executive director for the Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance and T.J.’s Gift Foundation, says she sympathizes with the families of homicide victims, many of whom she works with through the organization.

“For all of us, when you hear of a homicide your heart drops to the floor because you know what those people are in for. We know what’s ahead for them, and we know how hard it’s going to be for them to to get through this — and you feel sick,” she said in an interview Sunday.

“You don’t get over a homicide. You learn to live with it. There’s no such thing as closure.”

Wiebe, the executive director of the Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance, says she’s saddened whenever she hears about a homicide in Winnipeg. (Radio-Canada)

Wiebe, whose 20-year-old son, TJ Wiebe, was murdered in 2003, says she’s especially saddened to hear of homicides involving young people.

“You hear 15- and 16-year-olds carrying guns and knives and assaulting people and you know, it’s horrendous,” she said.

An associate professor from the University of Winnipeg’s department of criminology is not surprised to hear of the rising homicide cases in the city. Kevin Walby doesn’t think others should be surprised, either.

Walby, who is also the director for the university’s centre for access to information and justice, says Winnipeg is seeing the consequences of cutting support to community advocacy groups while increasing support to police. 

“We see high rates of distress in the city precisely because we put so much money into these kinds of reactive policing approaches, and we’ve defunded the community groups that actually mitigate transgression before it happens,” he said.

The provincial government made announcements last week that include a new, integrated police unit and funding to support homeless-serving organizations. It hopes these measures will help people transition into shelter and out of the justice system.

Walby isn’t convinced either strategy will reduce crime.

He says there are many grassroots organizations that are still not getting the funding and resources they need to be able to address the needs of the city’s most vulnerable. Walby also says it’s clear increased policing has had little effect on crime — otherwise the city wouldn’t be seeing such a high number of homicides.

“It didn’t work in the ’60s, or the ’70s, or the ’80s, or the ’90s … Why would a war on crime do anything regarding transgression?”

Walby says it will take decades to undo the harm that’s been caused by criminalizing communities and individuals, and it won’t be through increased policing. He says it will be through community organizations that focus on helping individuals before they turn to crime.

“That’s where the hope is,” he said.

Kevin Walby of the department of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg says no one should be surprised at the climbing homicide rate in the city. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Wiebe is working on two sides of the equation — with children and teens to keep them away from drugs, and with the families of homicide victims to support them through their loss. 

She hopes people reach out to her organizations when they need help, especially the families of homicide victims, no matter how long it’s been since their loved one died.

“I think one of the most important things that people need is just somebody to be there and listen,” Wiebe said.

“We’re here and unfortunately we’re not needing to ever go away. We need to be there for people because homicides are still happening.”

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