Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver today.
When my former colleague Robert Matas wrote about Vancouver’s drug war in 2002, he mentioned then that the violence had been going on for more than 10 years. There was a shooting in a back alley, in a dog park. One brazen assassination occurred at a busy intersection in rush-hour traffic.
In one memorable killing, Bindy Johal was gunned down on a dance floor in a club crowded with about 300 patrons on Dec. 20, 1998. His killer has never been charged.
Spasms of gun violence by gangs linked to the drug trade in the Lower Mainland are hardly new. But the spate of five killings over the past month in very public places, including two this past weekend, have set an alarming pace. The violence touched hundreds this past Sunday when an afternoon shooting outside the departure terminal at Vancouver’s airport prompted a police chase. The shooting and the pursuit forced the lockdown of the airport and snarled traffic for hours. A police officer stopped the chase after his cruiser was hit by gunfire while speeding through traffic.
The daytime shooting in the most public of places, one well-staffed by law enforcement on site, is an alarming indication of the recklessness of those engaging in the violence. No bystanders were hit, though the proximity to the shootings no doubt has had a lasting impact on those nearby.
Earlier in the weekend, a bystander suffered non-life-threatening injuries when a 19-year-old was shot and killed in another daytime hit.
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.
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.
The most recent convulsion of gang violence was in January when 14-year-old Tequel Willis was killed in a targeted shooting. His death, shocking because of his age, was one among several.
Karen Ward, a drug policy adviser for the City of Vancouver, said in an interview in January the pandemic is partly to blame. COVID-19 has mangled the global supply chain of illicit drugs, which is leading to shortages that fuel the desperation and violence among those both buying and selling substances in her Downtown Eastside neighbourhood and across the Lower Mainland.
“The whole system is more fragile than any above-ground business, and there are more people in the market [for a job selling drugs] too because there are fewer legit jobs to be had,” said Ms. Ward, who also uses drugs. “I saw a guy stab a guy for five bucks – he had nothing to lose.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.