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Taking the Pulse of Winnipeg: Canada's Murder Capital

How the brutal daylight murder of a young woman in Winnipeg is making some people think twice about repping the city’s Murder Capital badge.
January 21, 2013, 4:25pm

A map of Winnipeg's historical growth.

On the morning of June 20, 2012 a young woman in Winnipeg’s St.Vital neighbourhood, a normally safe area of the city, was attacked and stabbed to death on the way to her car. This woman was 26-year old Kaila Tran. Not only was she attacked, she was beaten and stabbed numerous times by a young man — and she was screaming the entire time. Because of the location and the fact the murder happened in the early hours of the day, a number of people who lived in her apartment—near Bonita Avenue and Clayton Drive—saw the attack, heard her screams, and in one way or another witnessed her violent and brutal end. On the morning of the murder, a man named Kevin Olivier told the Winnipeg Sun five to ten people witnessed the attack and by all accounts, it appears that the police were notified quickly. The Sun also reported another man tried to stop the assault by yelling at the attacker and then tried to chase down the attacker on foot. He then returned to his apartment, grabbed his bicycle and went after him a second time, but to no avail. Olivier himself told the Sun he saw the assailant’s hands “going up and down, up and down.” “All I heard was the screams,” he said in the article. Now, Winnipeg has always been a city known for its violent crime rate. On Dec. 4 2012 Statistics Canada once again dubbed Winnipeg the murder capital of Canada, having had a whopping 39 murders in 2011—5.08 murders per every 100,000 people. Now while most cities might be embarrassed by this kind of detail, Winnipeg is a city that has somewhat prided itself on this fact. In 2002, CBC reported on a local store selling “Murder Capital of Canada” shirts and that they were selling well. Even now you can buy “Winnipeg Crime Capital of Canada” t-shirts online, but the city’s mentality may have changed with Tran’s death. Tran’s death resonated with the city of Winnipeg differently than others. On a Facebook page titled “Celebrating the Life of Kaila Tran,” over 350 people said they would be attending a memorial for the young woman. People were mad and a number of them took to the web to voice their anger. On one of the many stories CBC Winnipeg published on Tran’s death, one commenter with the handle Wpger44 posted, “This wasn't Saturday morning, 2am, in the North End. This was Wednesday morning, 7am, in St Vital. Are there any places in Winnipeg that are safe anymore?” Other commenters on the same story called Tran’s attacker a “scumbag” and a “monster.” Six days after Tran’s attack the Winnipeg Police arrested 27-year-old Drake David Moslenko, Tran’s boyfriend of four years, and 20-year old Treyvonne Anthony Warner Willis, charging them both with first-degree murder. It is suspected that Moslenko had hired Willis to kill Tran. The Winnipeg Free Press reported that an individual came forward to police saying that, allegedly, Moslenko propositioned Willis with the gruesome task and offered to pay cash. Both men have been charged with first-degree murder.

Drake Moslenko. Dr. Maria Medved, an associate professor at Department of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, a licensed clinical psychologist and a seven-year resident of Winnipeg, said there are a number of factors that could contribute to why this death affected the city differently than others. “Because a lot of people witnessed it and it occurred at 7 a.m. in the morning and she was a bright, vivacious young woman I think a lot of people identified with her,” said Medved. “Often when people are stabbed or murdered there’s an attribution, ‘oh they were out at three in the morning and, you know, they must have deserved it in some way,’ where as I think in this particular case it really helped people identify with her.” Dr. Medved later explained that the fact police would eventually arrest Tran’s boyfriend would also play into why the city was so shocked with the incident. “This particular alleged crime is unique in that it has aspects that are very callous and manipulative. For example, her boyfriend of four-years purportedly arranged to have a hit man stab her, and this breaks some really fundamental assumptions that people have in the world, that you can trust certain people. What makes the story even more difficult, or more difficult to comprehend, is that as she was dying, her boyfriend was crying by her body,” said Medved. “I think this really violates people’s assumptions about being in the world, much more than something that happens at three in the morning, out there at night.” She explained that when the violent details about a crime like Tran’s death are presented to the public, be it through media or through other venues, it accents the unpredictability of the world and people experience a sense of fear, grief and horror. This may have contributed to why this death caused Winnipeg to take a second look at itself. “When people try to deal with that, when there’s perhaps some kind of precarious trauma around them, people try to come together and share their losses and part of that is thinking, reflecting and perhaps being active. Is this the kind of city we want to live in?” said Medved. She continued, “There can be a sense of collective guilt that goes beyond the immediate witnesses, you can think of any trauma in a city and it’s not just the people that see it, but the community as a whole that shares the loss.” In order to get more insight on how Tran’s death impacted the city of Winnipeg I had tried to coordinate an interview with Winnipeg’s chief of police Devon Clunis, but I was told my requests wouldn’t be accommodated. Instead, Const. Jason Michalyshen, a public information officer with the Winnipeg Police Service, provided me with some information on how homicides impact a city but said he wouldn’t be speaking to Tran’s death specifically. Jason Michalyshen. “When we’re dealing with a situation where someone has lost their life, it’s going to impact, not only the city, or a particular community, but it impacts a lot of people very negatively,” said Michalyshen. “As a Police Service, often times we’re reacting to these situations, we’re trying to gather information and gather evidence with respect to trying to determine exactly what took place. We want to resolve this situations, we want to bring closure to families and we want to make that community feel safe, or safer.” When asked why Tran’s death impacted the city differently than others, he explained, “It’s not about comparing one unfortunate incident with another. They’re all very tragic events, there are different circumstances involved and in this particular case there was a relationship between the victim and the accused in the matter. However, it occurred in an area where we did receive a lot of information with respect to what took place and I think that particular community reacted like any community would react.” However, Michalyshen said he doesn’t feel the city positively perceives its violent reputation. “That’s not a reputation that I think any member within the Police Service would want to gloat about in any way, shape or form. Winnipeggers take a lot of pride in their city and Winnipeg is a safe city, but very unfortunate and from time-to-time violent acts do occur, like they do occur in any major city throughout Canada,” he said. “The goal of the Police Service is to ultimately enforce laws, to make arrests, and to hold people accountable for their actions. We want members of the public to be proud of their city and proud of what it stands for.” Out of all the people in Winnipeg who were affected by Tran’s death, those who knew her personally were hit the hardest. Kim Gudmandson, a close friend of Tiffany Tran, Kaila’s sister, and sales representative at the Rogers Teleco on St. James Street in Winnipeg where Kaila worked, said she feels Tran’s death made people take a second look at their perception on Winnipeg’s violent reputation. “So many people were shocked by it, so I’m thinking a lot of young people did know her and a lot of people who probably do rep’ that so called murder cap’ thing, they were friends of her, so I can see it maybe shaking their heads a bit and making them realize that it’s not a good thing to have as a reputation,” said Gudmandson.   “She was a good person. She wasn’t involved with drugs or anything like that — she was just an innocent young woman who was going to work,” she said. “So I think people looked at it like that differently, because usually people who are murdered are involved with something, or that’s usually the stereotype at least, so I think people were shocked.” The person at the reigns of Winnipeg at the time of Tran’s murder was Mayor Sam Katz. I tried to coordinate an interview with Mayor Katz to ask him how the city was impacted by Tran’s death, but I was told he was unavailable for comment. When I followed up to find out why my request was denied, I received no response from Mayor Katz’ press secretary. Brian Mayes, city councillor for the St. Vital Ward where Tran was murdered, was also unavailable for comment. First, I was told he would not be commenting on an ongoing investigation. When I explained the story I was working on was more about the impact of the crime than the case before the courts, I was then told by councillor Mayes’ executive assistant that he was busy with “the budget along with issues going on in his Ward.” I also tried to set up an interview with Tina Omoerah, Tran’s aunt, but she declined comment saying the death is something friends and family are still dealing with.  In a way, this holds true for the entire city. Growing up in Winnipeg, I always heard people talking about how the city has issues with crime, but I never really thought too much about it. I figured most cities have their problems and mine was no different. I remember that while working at Dominion Gas on Meadowood Drive in St.Vital, coworkers and I would joke about how we got robbed at knifepoint and felt it was no big deal. The same guy robbed me twice, and because I was never injured I considered myself lucky. I got a second (or, more accurately, third) chance. Now, when I look back on those times where I had a knife waved in my face by a masked stranger, I feel a great sense of unease. Now, in a way, it seems Winnipeg has a chance to better itself as a city, and take a hard look at whether or not it wants to take pride in its reputation as murder capital of Canada. And while Winnipeg gets a new opportunity to change, and there is a possibility that both Moslenko and Willis will get a chance to reform themselves, there’s one person who won’t — and that is Kaila Tran. Thirty-nine murders in 2011, 5.08 murders per every 100,000 people: these numbers are nothing to be proud of. It seems it took the brutal death of a young woman for Winnipeg to realize this.

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