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Spence Court shootout ‘an escalation that’s got to be stopped’

A brazen daytime shooting at a Thunder Bay apartment complex has sparked alarm and calls for a ramped-up police and addictions treatment response from local leaders.

THUNDER BAY — A brazen daytime shootout at a Westfort apartment complex is sparking alarm and calls for increased policing and addictions treatment funding from local leaders.

Video released earlier this week by police shows at least three suspects exchanging gunfire in what police described as a “haphazard” fashion, spraying at least 20 rounds wildly across the parking lot of the Spence Court social housing facility on Amelia Street.

The shooting, which police believe is linked to drug trafficking, has caused no known injuries, but widespread concern over how easily tragedy could have struck.

Police had apprehended two suspects in connection with the incident as of Friday, charging both with attempted murder. Officers continue to seek other involved suspects.

Mayor Ken Boshcoff, who also serves as chair of the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Board, which operates Spence Court, called the incident “horrific” and “as bad as it gets.”

“It’s not tolerable,” he said. “We as a community have to really rally together to understand just how serious this is. This is an escalation that’s got to be stopped in its tracks, and I’m just supportive of the police and what they must do now.”

Bill Bradica, CAO of the Thunder Bay DSSAB, echoed that concern, but suggested there was little more the agency could do to prevent such incidents without further police support.

“We’re quite upset about criminal activity like that happening at one of our properties, and very concerned about the safety of our tenants and our staff at that location,” he said.

“But this is a criminal matter, this is a policing matter, and we look forward to enhancing our partnership with Thunder Bay Police Service on providing community policing in our neighbourhoods. I’m going to take the new police chief at his word about wanting to enhance community policing, because it’s certainly necessary.”

Bradica noted there were, at one point, community policing stations at some DSSAB properties, adding he planned to bring that up with newly-minted police chief-designate Darcy Fleury.

He said the DSSAB is limited in its ability to crack down on suspected drug trafficking activity in its buildings.

“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “I think many people think there are things we can do to prevent something like that from happening, but this is a Residential Tenancies Act-covered building. People have leases, it’s their home. They can have guests in their units – we cannot prevent people from inviting people into their units.”

One Spence Court resident who identified himself as Ronald said Tuesday’s shootout was simply the latest and most brazen in a string of violent incidents that have deeply impacted residents’ ability to feel safe in their homes.

He said he felt uncomfortable bringing children into the the 163-unit building, calling it “unpredictable and unsafe.”

However, he described positive experiences with the DSSAB and its support workers, saying “they do their best” to confront those issues on a limited budget.

A DSSAB survey conducted in 2022 found social housing residents increasingly reported feeling unsafe due to factors including trafficking.

The social services board previously rebuffed a request to come before Thunder Bay’s city council to publicly address concerns related to drug trafficking in its housing facilities.

The city doesn’t have authority over the DSSAB, though six of the agency’s 14 board members are Thunder Bay city councillors.

The DSSAB has added a new security and risk officer to its staff this year, responding to results of a 2022 security audit, and previously expanded cameras and door monitoring systems, Bradica said.

Boshcoff said the agency would regroup to determine if additional security measures are needed.

Asked about the local police force’s failure to secure additional dedicated guns and gangs funding on its own terms, the mayor expressed hope the shootout would draw further attention to the city’s needs.

“You couldn’t have more evidence of guns and gangs in peaceful neighbourhoods, and the need for more funding, than what happened [Tuesday]. I think it will give us the backup to ensure our case is heard and addressed, and I’m sure it will be.”

In an interview, Thunder Bay–Atikokan MPP Kevin Holland called the “concerning” incident a police matter, but suggested the province could play a supporting role.

“I’ve had opportunity to have many conversations with acting chief Dan Taddeo, and I’m very much looking forward to sitting down with the new police chief and assess the situation in Thunder Bay. Our government will continue to provide whatever supports we can as they deem necessary.”

“We’ve been hearing concerns about the increased drug activity in the city of Thunder Bay — and let’s not kid ourselves, this is what this is all related to, is the drug activity.”

A number of local leaders have consistently voiced strong dissatisfaction with the provincial response to Thunder Bay’s addictions crisis and trafficking-related violence.

In a Facebook post addressing the Spence Court shootout earlier this week, Westfort Ward Coun. Kristen Oliver said the city’s cries for help are too often going ignored.

She pointed to her 2021 call for heightened security at Spence Court, made in response to a fatal shooting and other violent incidents in the building that year.

She had also called for the DSSAB to explore stronger eviction policies, but has since said she accepts the agency is limited in what steps it can take without infringing on tenants’ legal rights.

“I have tried to do what I can recognizing that the issues here are outside the mandate of a municipal government,” she wrote. “The system is failing all of us.”

“There needs to be bail reform and stricter sentencing especially when firearms are involved… We need more support for people addicted to substances to aggressively tackle that piece.

“These are the issues we bring forward to the province and the feds. We also bring solutions to deal with these things and it seems to just sit there… we get roadblock after roadblock.”

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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