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Canadian border city has first homicide in 26 months

By Phil Gast and Kendall Green, CNN
updated 4:20 PM EST, Sat November 26, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Windsor, Ontario, has its first homicide since September 2009
  • Police there say tough gun laws are a factor in the low number of homicides
  • Across the river, Detroit sees almost one homicide a day

(CNN) -- In his 60 years, Arnold Blaine has known only two people who've owned a gun: one a hunter, the other a nightclub owner.

"We don't even have gun shops," said the Windsor, Ontario, business owner.

The paucity of guns is one of three factors police in the city across the river from Detroit cite for its low homicide rate. The 25-year average for homicides is about 5.24 a year.

Thursday, Windsor reported its first homicide since late September 2009. A 30-year-old faces a murder charge in the stabbing of a 40-year-old acquaintance. Police are still looking for the weapon, and the killing is not believed to be drug-related, spokesman Sgt. Brett Corey said.

In Detroit, home to about 713,000 people last year, homicides occur nearly once a day.

People in his city of about 215,000 have a saying, Blaine said Friday afternoon: "In Windsor, when a 7-Eleven is held up, it usually is a knife. In Detroit, it is an Uzi."

It's not that there's no crime in Windsor, an industrial city that has seen its own economic challenges.

"We're no different than any other major metropolitan area," Corey said.

He cited property crimes, sexual assaults and breaking-and-entering incidents. There also is some gang activity.

But he and Blaine call Windsor overall a safe city.

The 26-month gap in homicides is tied to several factors, including a distinguished emergency medical service.

"The luck element is a factor," Corey said. "We have had serious assaults with weapons that could have gone either way."

The department's investigative unit has targeted drugs and guns.

"We've allocated a fair number of officers there," Corey said. "We concentrated on the drug trade in the city. Where there are drugs, there are guns."

Unlike the United States, Canada has very strict federal gun-ownership laws.

"You can own a handgun here if you have a purpose for it," the police spokesman said. "The main purpose is for target and sport shooting."

Many illicit guns bound for other Canadian cities, including Toronto, come through this border city. Most are made in the United States, Windsor police said.

"What we find is those weapons often have serial numbers filed off," Corey said. "It makes it very difficult to trace them."

According to the FBI, Detroit had 310 homicides in 2010, a drop from 2009. The police department's website indicates that the 2010 number was 268, but it acknowledges the 2011 tally will be much higher. Earlier this week, it stood at 309, according to the website.

CNN on Friday was unable to contact the appropriate people in the Detroit Police Department to discuss crime-fighting efforts.

According to CNN Detroit affiliate WDIV, Mayor Dave Bing spoke this month about the spike in slayings.

"We are making progress on public safety. Overall, crime is down more than 10%," Bing said. "However, the most important measure of crime is up almost 20% from last year, loss of life to homicide. It is an epidemic, and we must do more to keep people safe."

The city has targeted violent crime and drug operations, he said.

Every day, Canadians and Americans cross the Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River, the busiest border crossing between the two countries.

While criminals use it to tote drugs or guns, most people travel for work, recreation and other reasons.

Blaine, who operates a children's shoe store in the Ottawa Street business district in Windsor, has season tickets to the Detroit Red Wings NHL hockey team.

He said he feels very comfortable spending time in one swath of downtown Detroit.

"Detroit has some beautiful areas," Blaine said. "There are parts of Detroit that are a war zone."

Windsor residents know what areas of Detroit to avoid, Blaine said. "You keep your eyes open. You know what trouble looks like."

Canadians pay higher property, income and education taxes than in the United States, Blaine said. "It's going to cost more to live in Canada."

Windsor, while having low-income areas, does not have slums, he said. A social welfare system is designed "to keep people from falling in the gutter."

And when it comes to gun ownership, Blaine said, Canadians are willing to sacrifice some liberties to feel secure.

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