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RCMP Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald pauses while speaking during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on May 10, 2021. Top police officials in British Columbia are trying to reassure the public about safety after a gang war left two men dead and an innocent bystander hurt this weekend.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

A teen has been slain, a bystander wounded and a middle-of-the day shooting at Vancouver’s airport has forced B.C.’s top law-enforcement officials to declare they are stepping up the surveillance of local gangs after a weekend of violence capped a spate of five homicides in crowded public spaces over the past month.

Sunday’s airport shooting and ensuing police chase, which snarled traffic south of Vancouver for hours on Mother’s Day, also has those who investigate and study organized crime in the region warning that the brazen crimes are a new level of recklessness carried out by younger criminals oblivious to any kind of caution.

Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, who leads the RCMP’s federal investigative services and organized crime units in B.C., said at a news conference Monday that the municipal police departments and RCMP agencies across the Lower Mainland often work together and share information but they may be legally bound not to identify victims or suspects publicly before they are charged.

“We will do everything we can within the limits of the law to put a wet blanket on the activities of these individuals and we will do it in concert,” he said.

The news conference had been scheduled before the airport shooting to provide an update on the Saturday killing in Burnaby of a 19-year-old, which also injured a bystander. Police have now charged a 20-year-old for that death outside a local vape store.

There has been a string of fatal shootings in Metro Vancouver in recent weeks, with many occurring during daylight hours, one outside a popular downtown restaurant and two in mall parking lots filled with vehicles and pedestrians.

Sergeant Frank Jang of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team says the shootings are growing more brazen by the day, with videos coming in that show children on the same road where another gangster was shot.

After 14-year-old Tequel Willis was shot and killed stepping out of a taxi in December, experts warned The Globe and Mail that Metro Vancouver’s long-running gang wars appeared to be heating up after a lull during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is partly to blame for the spike in killings because global drug supply chains have been disrupted, police and drug experts say.

Public fear over getting caught by crossfire is not unfounded: In 2007, Chris Mohan, a 22-year-old going to play basketball, and Ed Schellenberg, a fireplace repairman, were among six men – dubbed the Surrey Six – shot dead in an apartment building. Three years ago, 15-year-old Alfred Wong was killed by stray gunfire from a gang shootout as his family returned from dinner along a busy street near Vancouver City Hall.

Keiron McConnell, a criminal-justice professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and a former gang officer, said tit-for-tat violence is common in the region’s gang landscape, but that more professional hitmen were involved in the past, which meant the shootings typically happened in quieter locales more hidden from prying smartphones.

“Right now we’re seeing inexperienced younger people engaged in the violence,” he said. “No one would do a murder at an international airport with cameras and an RCMP detachment assigned specifically to that location.”

Satwinder Kaur Bains, who has studied the cultural dynamics of B.C.’s South Asian diaspora for more than two decades, said this recent spike in violence does seem to skew younger than in previous conflicts. Dr. Bains, a professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, said these younger gang members carrying out the violence have no fear of justice from law enforcement.

“They haven’t even seen life yet and they feel like they can take someone’s life,” she said.

On Monday, Mounties identified Karman Grewal, a 28-year-old with well-known gang connections, as the man shot on the curb outside Vancouver International Airport. Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said the shooting took place about 3 p.m. on Sunday and shortly afterwards one of the force’s officers caught up with the suspect vehicle.

Someone from the vehicle fired their weapon while driving down a busy street, hitting the police cruiser, Chief Supt. Ng said. The officer didn’t return fire and stopped the pursuit, he said. The suspect’s car was later found burned out in Surrey, nearly 30 kilometres from the airport.

Top Mounties say they plan to meet Tuesday with Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General, to lay out their plan to respond to the recent outbreak of shootings.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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