EDITORIALS

Addiction, Homelessness, Poverty – Revelations in Recent Homicide

Liquor Bottles Aplenty in Homeless Encampment – Photo JGJ

I’ve been reporting on a common theme lately.

The theme centers on the revelation that Winnipeg is Dying.

I largely attribute the awakening to a compelling piece of journalism called, “Seattle is Dying.” If you haven’t seen it, find the time…

Seattle is Dying

It seems the mini-documentary is more relevant to Winnipeg than you may think.

A few short days ago, the Winnipeg Police Service issued a press release announcing the death of a man assaulted in the area of Tylehurst Street and Wolseley Avenue West.

Police advised they believed the suspect and victim were known to each other and became involved in an argument that escalated to a serious assault.

The victim, later identified as Stan Johnathan Harper, a man in his 30’s, was transported to a hospital in critical condition and subsequently died from his injuries.

Police later charged Alexander Agnus McPherson (29) with manslaughter in connection with the killing.

Information regarding the cause of death, motive, or circumstances that contributed to the killing was not released.

A Revealing Morning Walk

I’m getting old.

I can’t run anymore.

My knees hurt and the pain just isn’t worth it.

So I walk…

I walk a lot.

Harper Homicide Scene – Google Maps

On Thursday, August 22, 2019, I went for a long walk, 12.5 kilometers to be exact.

Unbeknownst to me, my route took me right past the scene of Mr. Harper’s homicide.

I admit, when the WPS reported the killing I didn’t realize there was a street called Wolseley Avenue West, so I had no idea how close I was to the crime scene.

That’s when fate intervened.

After walking well past the scene I noticed a shopping cart, a sleeping bag, rotting foodstuffs and an assortment of garbage near a footbridge that crosses the river towards Wellington Crescent.

When I made this observation I decided to slide down the embankment and shoot a couple of photos for content for future storytelling on our site.

As I positioned myself to take the shot, two women walking their dogs happened to stroll by. “What are you doing down there,” one of the women asked with a stern, neighborhood watch type of tone in her voice.

After confessing my purpose, I engaged the ladies in an enlightening conversation regarding homelessness, addiction, and the methamphetamine crisis.

I was very much taken aback by their level of concern and awareness of the issues.

(Not so surprised when I learned one of the women worked in healthcare and from the conversation, the other I assumed, worked in education.)

Homeless Camp Assiniboine River – Photo JGJ

During the conversation, the women mentioned “the homeless camp” where the last murder occurred.

“Homeless camp?” I asked.

“Yes, just down the walkway there,” the woman replied.

Once I became oriented I immediately connected the dots.

I couldn’t believe I’d just walked by a murder scene without so much as a clue regarding its existence.

I had to venture back to investigate.

When I returned, sure enough, there was a distinguishable path heading down to the banks of the Assiniboine River. It was early in the morning, not much past 9 a.m., and it was eerily quiet.

I was a concerned my intrusion could be met with a degree of hostility, especially if I happened to startle someone who was sleeping in the camp.

I mean eerily, eerily quiet.

I had no idea what to expect.

I was a concerned my intrusion could be met with a degree of hostility, especially if I happened to startle someone who was sleeping in the camp. I was alert to the potential danger but was prepared to deal with whatever situation unfolded.

I walked down the path cautiously, being careful to peer around every corner hoping to avoid an unexpected encounter. I found myself visually clearing the area, scanning over downed trees, piles of garbage and soiled clothing.

In the end, I was relieved to find the campsite had been recently abandoned.

(Upon reflection, it made good sense, I should have guessed the killing spoiled whatever good karma may have existed in the area.)

Empty Finesse Hair Spray Cans – Photo JGJ

Regardless, the homeless camp told a story;

  • Tattered sleeping bags and discarded clothing strewn about
  • Bags of garbage and litter everywhere
  • Empty liquor bottles
  • Empty bottles of Equate hand sanitizer
  • Empty bottles of solvent
  • Dozens of empty bottles of Finesse Hair Spray

It was a tragic story about life on the fringe, about desperation, poverty, homelessness & addiction.

It was a story about Winnipeg.

When I reached out to the WPS making an inquiry regarding the connection between the homeless camp and the homicide I was informed;

“We are not able to comment on this.”

Why not, I’m not exactly sure.

Maybe it was just too soon.

I think the connection is an important one.

Sadly, Stan Harper isn’t the only homeless man to suffer a violent death in Winnipeg this summer.

Gabriel Radford Coates – Police Handout

On June 19, 2019, police located the severely beaten body of Gabriel Radford Coates (44), in the Point Douglas area where he’d been living in a tent in the green space on Higgins Avenue & Maple Street.

Its been reported that Coates led a turbulent life and suffered from serious addiction issues.

Police charged a 45-year-old man with 2nd-degree murder in connection with his killing.

It seems the deaths of these two men are inextricably connected to addiction, homelessness & poverty.

I call that relevant information.

When you analyze the other twenty-five (25) homicides investigated by the WPS this year, you’ll find other major contributing factors inter-related to the deaths of these men – many of the killings were drug-related, gang-related or firearm-related.

It’s all related, isn’t it?

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth recently acknowledged police officers in this City are being overwhelmed with out of control crime and an unprecedented drug crisis.

The release of the 2018 WPS Annual Statistical Report made it clear we’re heading down a very dark path.

In Manitoba, it’s election time.

Addiction, homelessness, poverty, drug-related crime, gang-related crime, and firearm-related crime should all be considered major election issues.

Ask yourself….if a party or candidate doesn’t get this, isn’t talking about it, or isn’t prepared to do something about it, then do they really deserve your vote?

I’ve been reporting on a common theme lately.

2 Comments

  1. THIS is the background in our community we need in order to evaluate addictions strategies. It’s not simply a policing issue- there are health and housing components, social services…and siloing is the way we’ve managed to avoid it. Collaborative approaches are necessary to find solutions that work for the affected populations.

  2. We are exploring the same issues, and coming to the same conclusions pretty much. Election issues that I will continue to press with canddiates and party leaders. Great work James.

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