Is gang violence on the rise in Metro Vancouver?
Published Tuesday, January 23, 2018 7:01PM PST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 23, 2018 8:01PM PST
The death of a 15-year-old boy caught in the crossfire of a brazen public shootout in Vancouver earlier this month is indicative of an alarming uptick in gang violence in the Lower Mainland, Police Chief Adam Palmer says.
"We haven't seen gang violence like this probably in the last 10 years," he told reporters Monday. "We've got several groups that are at odds with one another and they're going out and killing each other."
Palmer said the region is currently experiencing levels of violence between organized crime groups that hearken back to the mid-2000s, when an escalating turf war between gangs known as the United Nations and Red Scorpions culminated in one of the most infamous mass murders in the province's history.
Two bystanders, Christopher Mohan and Ed Schellenberg, were among six people killed in an execution-style massacre at a high-rise apartment building in Surrey in October 2007. The event would become known as the "Surrey Six" murders.
The tit-for-tat public shootings between the rival groups claimed other innocent lives too, including a stereo installer who unknowingly picked up gangster Jamie Bacon's Porsche moments before the car was sprayed by gunfire.
"These kinds of tragedies are not unusual. Usually, when they occur, it's because the groups have lost control of themselves and their members," said Rob Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University.
"If you go back 20 years, 25 years, a lot of this activity around the illegal drug trade was controlled by Hells Angels. I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but I miss those days because they had a great deal more regulation and more control over their members and were focused on the primary activity, which was making profit from the drug trade."
These violent conflicts, Gordon said, are now being exacerbated "as a result impending legalization" of drugs such as marijuana in Canada and parts of the United States.
"We've gone into a system of regulation and taxation. That's taken a bite out of profits and I think there's a lot of struggle going on over the new shape that the illegal drug trade is going to take and is already taking in this province."
On Jan 13., that struggle led to the death of 15-year-old Alfred Wong, who was killed by a gangster's bullet during a running gun battle on East Broadway. The Coquitlam teen was in the back seat of his parents' car when he was struck by a stray bullet. Wong died in hospital two days later.
Kevin Whiteside, a 23-year-old with gang ties who police believe was involved in the shooting, was also killed during the gunfight.
A 30-year-old bystander from Vancouver suffered minor injuries and was treated the scene.
While it's not often that members of the public are injured or killed in gang-related crimes, Gordon said events such these "jerk us all out of complacency" and shine the spotlight on the tragic consequences organized crime.
"This particular shooting points to the tragedies that are associated with (gang violence) and why we should not, as a society, tolerate it," he said. "We're sort of used to shootings taking place. It's easy to dismiss them as a bunch of scoundrels settling scores.”
When gang violence claims the lives of innocent people, the intense police attention also tends to put turf wars on pause, the professor said.
"In some sense, this is a culmination, but we'll have to see whether or not this particular incident shuts it down because that typically what happens," he said. "You get a dreadful tragedy, and everybody chills out.
"The pattern is for this to die away and then come back up again and it will continue to do that so long as we don't come to grips with illegal drugs and the illegal drug trade."
Vancouver police say they're determined to do just that, sending a clear message to criminals Monday.
"If you are a gang member in the Metro Vancouver area, there's a good chance that the police are coming after you," Palmer said.
"I'm not saying that we're on the tail of every single gang member in Metro Vancouver, but there are specific gangs that we are heavily invested in right now."
The chief said solving Wong's murder is currently one of his department’s top priorities, and urged anyone with information to come forward.
Detectives working on the case can be reached at 604-717-2500.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Shannon Paterson