The B.C. gang war that sparked near-daily shootings two years ago is threatening to reignite after members of two organized crime groups were hit outside a Kelowna hotel – including now-deceased Red Scorpions boss Jonathan Bacon.
The RCMP, acknowledging the possibility of retaliation, vowed Monday to go after those responsible for the brazen daylight shooting and called the suppression of gang violence a top priority.
But experts said Mr. Bacon's death and the wounding of a full-patch member of the Hells Angels would surely be avenged, with some suggesting the gangs would strike right away, others claiming they'd wait until the spotlight dimmed.
During a news conference at Kelowna RCMP headquarters, not far from the shooting that left innocent bystanders ducking for cover, Mounties confirmed Mr. Bacon was the man who was killed. He had been one of five people inside a white Porsche SUV that was ambushed outside the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort on Sunday afternoon.
Three people inside the vehicle, one of whom fled the scene, suffered non-life threatening injuries. The remaining injured male is the member of the Hells Angels.
No arrests have been made. Police said they believe the incident was targeted, but with multiple gangsters in the car couldn't confirm exactly who the target was. There were reports Monday that the man who fled the scene was also a gang member, but police said they couldn't confirm that information.
A burned-out vehicle was found a few hours after the shooting, but police wouldn't disclose whether it was the getaway vehicle, or somehow connected to the case.
"The investigation is looking at the motive behind Sunday's attack. We do believe that this was a targeted incident," Superintendent Bill McKinnon told reporters. "We respect that given the high profile and the very public nature of Sunday's incident, that there is a heightened anxiety within the community and with the public. Our investigation is focused on finding those responsible and holding them accountable."
Supt. McKinnon acknowledged that retaliation could occur. "I can't comment on expectations," he said. "I think it's a possibility that it could happen."
B.C. Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond said Monday that more than 200 organized-crime members have been arrested since the provincial government brought in its gangs and guns strategy in 2009, during the last continued wave of violence. Ms. Bond said the provincial government is working with Ottawa to continue funding the anti-gang initiative.
Mr. Bacon, 30, was the oldest of three brothers who controlled the Red Scorpions gang. The brothers became well known in B.C. a few years ago when police warned the public to steer clear of them, for fear of getting caught in the crossfire.
The most well known of the brothers might be Jamie Bacon. He's facing a first-degree murder charge in connection with the Surrey Six case. Six people were executed in a Surrey high-rise in 2007 – two of them innocent bystanders.
Michael Chettleburgh, an organized-crime expert who wrote Young Thugs: Inside the Dangerous World of Canadian Street Gangs, said he expects swift retaliation for the attack.
"It's not going to blow over. Given who was targeted, and given the size of the Red Scorpions and their crew, combined with the fact it was a full-patch member of the Hells Angels, [they have to respond.]To not respond means that they are weak. There has to be an equal or larger use of force to demonstrate that we still have capacity, we still have power."
He said the Red Scorpions have been around for more than a decade and originated with a group of Vietnamese youth. The primary rival for the Red Scorpions in B.C. has been a gang called the United Nations. The Bacons used to be United Nations members, Mr. Chettleburgh said, before the brothers crossed over.
He said the connection of the Red Scorpions to the Surrey Six case gave them something of a national stage.
"That was an incident that is heretofore unknown in Canada. We don't have those kinds of gangland slayings. That incident pierced our consciousness and said we do have some bad people who are willing to demonstrate some violence."
Darryl Plecas, a professor of criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the shooting highlights that gangsters end up going one of three routes – they leave the lifestyle, they go to jail, or they get killed.
While he said there would likely be retaliation, he said he doesn't expect it to occur until the heat dies down.
Superintendent Pat Fogarty of B.C.'s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, which includes the gang task force, said he also expects cooler heads to prevail.
"They know that the police are well onto this. Reporting on this will clearly indicate it's time to lay low."