It’s become a common refrain for police at seemingly every instance of Lower Mainland gang violence: No place is immune, they warn, from a sudden hail of gunfire.
But few would have picked the Sheraton Wall Centre – a posh hotel in the middle of Vancouver’s downtown core – as the venue for the point-blank shooting of a known gangster sitting down to dinner, a slaying resembling an iconic scene from the film The Godfather.
Vancouver police were called to the Bar One restaurant inside the hotel around 8:45 p.m. Tuesday after the man was shot with dozens of patrons and staff nearby. The victim’s name hasn’t been formally released, but a source said he is believed to be Sandip Duhre.
Mr. Duhre, 36, has been linked to drug trafficking since the mid-1990s, and law enforcement officials went so far as to issue a warning last year that anyone involved with the Duhre group and one of its allies could be in danger.
“Again, this is an unacceptable and brazen shooting that put innocent people at risk,” Vancouver police spokesman Constable Lindsey Houghton told reporters Wednesday.
An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday, after which police expect to publicly release the man’s name. He suffered extensive wounds and will have to undergo a more rigorous identification process than usual. The victim was shot numerous times and blood could be seen splattered along the restaurant windows, not far from the hotel lobby.
Police spent Wednesday canvassing the area for witnesses and contacting nearby businesses for surveillance video.
Constable Houghton said it’s extremely difficult to stop targeted, gangland shootings and can be just as hard to investigate them.
“They can be very difficult cases to solve because there may be people with information that might be reluctant to come forward,” he said. “People who may have inside knowledge of these types of incidents aren’t typically people who come forward to the police to talk about them.”
No one at the Sheraton would consent to an interview, and security staff threatened to call police when reporters entered the hotel. In an e-mail, a spokeswoman said hotel business was continuing without interruption.
Among the groups staying at the Sheraton at the time of the shooting was the U.S. women’s soccer team, which is in Vancouver for Olympic qualifying. Goaltender Hope Solo tweeted about the shooting shortly after it occurred, writing: “Saved by our instant yoga session. Was about to walk to starbucks when all hell broke loose in the lobby of our hotel! Life is precious… ”
In September, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit warned that anyone linked to the Duhre crime group and its associates, the Dhaks, could be at risk.
“We are issuing this warning to family, friends and others who are linked to these groups and highly recommend they take note of the risks when in contact with the Duhres and Dhaks, including their associates. We have reason to believe these people are being targeted by other criminal groups,” Superintendent Tom McCluskie, who leads CFSEU’s gang task force, said at the time.
Vancouver isn’t the only city in which the Duhres have made headlines. Police in Abbotsford have long commented on the gang’s influence in the drug trade. In late 2010, police in the community of Smithers, 370 kilometres west of Prince George, warned the group was gaining influence in that community.
Sergeant Bill Whalen, CFSEUs spokesman, wouldn’t discuss the details of Tuesday’s shooting, since it’s being investigated by Vancouver police and CFSEU hasn’t been called in.
But he said Mr. Duhre has long been on the police radar and was even an associate of the late gangster Bindy Johal. He said the Duhre group has risen in prominence over the last year, filling the vacuum after police cracked down on the Red Scorpions gang. It’s allegedly run by Mr. Duhre and his two brothers.
Sgt. Whalen said the latest shooting is another reminder that, while the gang life might look attractive to some, it almost always has a violent end.