Growing gang violence puts politicians under the gun
Following a week in Metro Vancouver punctuated by gunfire, the province's top politicians and police are finding themselves under the gun.
B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal appealed for public help in curbing violence in what police have stopped short of calling a gang war.
But there have been six shootings in six days, four of which police believe have drug and/or gang links.
Three of those -- including one late Sunday evening -- happened in shopping centre parking lots, two in broad daylight. And four of them were fatal.
"We're very concerned, very, very concerned with what's going on," said Oppal, who has had to defend the government's gang strategy.
Premier Gordon Campbell, who has been largely silent on the issue, said Monday the government is doing a number of things to counter gangs "but obviously we have to do more."
The province has funded additional police officers, helped set up the Integrated Gang Task Force and Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT), and lobbied Ottawa to toughen gun-crime and organized-crime laws, he said.
"I think this is just not something any of us ever imagined would take place in Canada," said Campbell, who faces a provincial election in May. "We've got to do whatever we can to stop it."
Oppal, a former judge, blamed the violence on rivalry for the lucrative illegal drug trade.
"They are fighting for territory," he said.
He echoed police calls for help from friends, relatives and even gang cronies. He said people know what's happening but don't help police.
"Everybody abides by this code of silence."
This isn't a war over a few square blocks of turf.
The fighting has ranged from Abbotsford, in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver, to Kitsilano, the heart of latte-land on Vancouver's west side and the site of Sunday's attack outside a grocery store.
Taking it to the streets
Gangsters are using parking lots to do business and settle their differences, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Peter Thiessen said after two gunmen fatally riddled Kevin LeClair's pickup truck with bullets at a Langley mall Friday afternoon.
Police have linked LeClair to Abbotsford's Bacon brothers, who police say are being systematically targeted by rivals. They've issued a rare warning to the public that associating with the brothers could put them directly in harm's way.
Raphael Baldini, who leased a Surrey apartment where six people were executed in October 2007, was shot to death last Tuesday sitting in a luxury SUV outside a Surrey mall.
"There is frustrationand there is a sense of urgency, not only with the public but within our own agencies," Vancouver police spokeswoman Const. Jana McGuinness said Monday.
Solicitor General John van Dongen came under fire in the legislature Monday when Opposition public safety critic Mike Farnsworth demanded the minister release a consultant's report on combating illegal firearms.
"The public deserves to know what those recommendations are; they deserve to know now," Farnworth said.
Van Dongen said last week he was waiting for comments from police agencies and other officials before releasing the report commissioned last summer.
Ramping up to 2010
The surge in violence comes as Vancouver begins its one-year countdown to the 2010 Winter Olympics, when the city will be in an international media spotlight.
John Furlong, chief executive of the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee (Vanoc), declined comment and no one from the RCMP-led Olympic security unit responded to an interview request.
But McGuinness pointed out that Vancouver has much less crime than most other big North American cities.
She said there have been 10 killings in all of Metro Vancouver so far this year, compared with 58 murders in the region all of last year and 41 in 2007.
"There's other major cities that have considerably higher rates of violent crime," she said. "So in that regard I think the world will still see us very favourably."
Police have identified 129 organized-crime groups operating in British Columbia, said Sgt. Shinder Kirk of the Integrated Gang Task Force.
While the figure seems large, some have only a handful of members. He said police have gotten better at identifying the groups earlier.
Quebec police broke the Hells Angels in the province after years of infiltrating the gang to build cases against members. But Kirk said the B.C. gang situation is unique.
While often ethnically based, they don't wear gang colours or hang out at a clubhouse.
"Even though it's a small percentage of the population, there are faceless and nameless people that are engaged in this lifestyle," said Kirk.
They're also not territorial.
"They will go to any community, travel any length of distance to carry on their business," he said.
McGuinness said police are starting to make inroads and getting an unprecedented amount of intelligence from sources.
"There are some projects and some initiatives underway that we're not able to reveal to you today but we hope that very soon we'll have some information on some strides we're making in our efforts to tackle gang violence," she said.
With files from The Canadian Press