Ottawa’s 12th homicide of the year occurred on September 20 at 3:20 p.m. on Caldwell Avenue, 800 metres from where we live.

I say 0.8 kilometres but it could just as well be another world. Sometimes, the numerical description of the physical length between two places is irrelevant.

My neighbourhood brings to mind this typical newish mix of detached and semi-detached houses, each garage door painted a different colour in a desperate attempt to personalize your investment—and to spot your cookie-cutter home. These are so-called “starter houses,” the kind you’re supposed to buy after getting married and where you will raise your first child from infancy to toddlerhood before moving to a bigger home, in some farther-out suburbs, as you’re pregnant with your second baby and simply need additional bedrooms, bathrooms and a yard with a swing set—or at least, that’s what you’ve been told to believe.

My neighbourhood never makes headlines. When you hear sirens, it’s usually paramedics rushing to the nearby retirement community and posters on mailboxes revolve around lost cats and charity events. If it is mentioned in the newspapers, it’s because a garage sale has been particularly successful or because residents want to change the name of their street—developers picked NYC-themed streets twenty years ago and “Trump Street” wasn’t so popular after the US elections.

In a nutshell, it’s a sedate neighbourhood.

On the other hand, Caldwell Avenue is most often associated with adjectives such as “dangerous,” “sketchy,” “violent (insert minority scapegoat here)”, “unsafe.” “Diversity at work,” “imports who can’t integrate in Canada,” some idiots claim with disdain and ignorance. Everybody’s got a story about Caldwell—a dispute with police involved, a drug dealer busted, gang-related activities. When you hear sirens down there, it’s the police, and local posters often advertise community initiatives, like cooking groups featuring low-cost recipes or crisis counselling.

In Ottawa, a very safe city by national and international standards, Caldwell Avenue is the “rough ’hood.”

I take Caldwell Avenue almost every day. I’d rather go through a pedestrian-friendly area than walk on Merivale Road. I like this route, through residential neighbourhoods and the Experimental Farm Pathway.

This pathway marks the subtle line between the “good” and the “bad” neighbourhoods.

Going down toward Merivale, on my right is the neighbourhood I live in. I can barely see the backs of the houses on Whitestone Drive behind the tall wood fence. On my left is the Carlington neighbourhood and the infamous Caldwell street. The fence isn’t high, there are toys and BBQs in most backyards.

So, what does this “rough ’hood” look like?

The subsidized Ottawa Community Housing townhouses are well maintained—many residents grow flowers, display Canadian flags, and hang pretty curtains. Most days, there are kids playing in front of the units while parents and neighbours relax and watch them. There are outdoor toys scattered all across the path and no one bothers to bring them home at night—at this stage, they are pretty much common property. A bit further, by the tall apartment building complexes, is a Quickie convenience store I avoid because it’s overpriced and the owner is convinced every customer is a potential shoplifter—yet he makes big bucks because the community tends to shop for groceries here rather than at Loblaws or Walmart, two supermarkets a bit far for those who don’t have a car. In front of the convenience store is the final stop of the #14 St Laurent-Carlington bus route.

This is it. I have never felt unsafe walking through this neighbourhood or waiting at the bus stop. I don’t have any bad stories. I haven’t seen anything weird going on. People here are as polite as in the rest of Canada.

I get annoyed when I hear people bitching about Caldwell. There is a very fine line between “there are issues in this community” (and I’m sure there are, most of them socio-economic, though) and “this place is sketchy because I saw three black teens wearing hoodies and a couple speaking Arabic.”

Today, when I walked through, part of the street was taped off. For a second, I thought it was a “caution” construction tape—this is still the season when people have their roofs fixed, after all. Then I noticed two police officers, and further, a CBC van. Right. The murder. I had seen the news on Twitter earlier but it hadn’t registered with me. The crime scene felt incongruous on a nice, hot sunny day with a clear blue sky—you always picture shootings at night, in the cold, under the rain.

The victim, Hamzeh Serhan, 20, was swarmed by a group of armed youths and gunned down in broad daylight. The shooter fled on foot and the victim succumbed to his injuries in hospital.

On Friday, a dozen mothers marched to demand better security and take back the street.

I’ll keep on walking through Caldwell. I’m a neighbour too, after all. There’s safety in numbers. It ain’t gonna help if we all run away and abandon all these decent people who don’t want to live in fear, ostracized from the rest of the city.

The Experimental Farm Pathway: Caldwell on the left, Whitestone drive on the right
On the pathway, a left-side entrance leading to Caldwell Avenue
Ottawa Community Housing units courtyard facing the pathway
Ottawa Community Housing units between the pathway and Caldwell Avenue
Ottawa Community Housing units between the pathway and Caldwell Avenue
The community, the evening of the homicide… all quiet
Caldwell Avenue sign off Merivale Road
Quickie convenience store facing the #14 bus stop on Caldwell Avenue
Site of the homicide, the day after

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  1. Martin Penwald September 25, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    Was it a random murder, an agression that turned bad, or a targeted one?
    The reality of statistiques ways that you have far more risks of being killed by someone you know than by a complete stranger.

    1. Martin Penwald September 25, 2017 at 4:27 pm

      Damn, missed the fucking autocorrect : ‘says’ not ‘ways’

    2. Zhu September 25, 2017 at 7:30 pm

      Definitely super targeted. Apparently, the shooter said “it’s me, bro” :-/

      1. Martin Penwald September 25, 2017 at 11:47 pm

        Yeah, that’s unfortunately the most common situation. But that’s why the authoritarian crowds of the right is stupid with their tough-on-crime idiocies.

  2. Frenchie au Canada September 25, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    That’s so sad for the person who got killed, their family and friends but also the community at large.
    I lived a in a VERY rough area in Scotland (think giant towers, heroin users, needles in the alleyways etc). Yes that’s where they put accommodation for unsuspecting international students…. In my year living there I only ever had issues with other students (1 guy harassed me). But I got help a couple of times from “druggies” when I was lost. There were so many teenage mothers there as well…
    Here (in the town I work in, not where I live) an old lady was murdered in her house a few months ago. As it turns out the murdered was one of our clients :O Gloups!
    Take care

    1. Zhu September 25, 2017 at 7:32 pm

      What? I would have freaked out knowing I did business (even indirectly) with the murderer! Must have felt weird.

      I must admit that addicts can scare me. Things can get violent pretty fast… I tend to stay away from situations where I feel the person can completely lose control for no apparent reason.

      1. Frenchie au Canada September 26, 2017 at 1:23 pm

        Yes I actually can’t remember if I actually interacted with that guy or not! :O I have a terrible memory for names and faces…
        And we have addicted clients and it’s the hardest part. Their reaction can be so unpredictable and quick. Sadly a lot of drug induced violence as well can be very extreme and “random”.

  3. Lexie September 28, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for the photos, it’s better to have words and then photos to be able to imagine.

    1. Zhu September 29, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      Elles ne sont pas top parce que je les ai prises avec mon téléphone. Je trouvais ça indécent d’aller avec mon Réflex, pour une fois… non pas par peur, j’ai souvent pris des photos dans ce coin, mais ça faisait voyeur ce jour-là.


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