Brazen gang murders in Vancouver result of keeping marijuana illegal: SFU prof

For many in Vancouver, the recent killing of a gangster at the Sheraton Wall Centre was a culmination of several brazen targeted hits in public spaces: the shooting inside a Tim Horton's on Davie Street, the killing of gang member Axel Curtis in residential area minutes away from the VPD headquarters, and the murder of Thuy Yen “Jenny” Vu in East Vancouver, in front of her three-year-old toddler.

It seems that nowhere in Vancouver is safe these days, but longtime observers of the city's crime scene say that the public should not be too worried. 

“There is nothing to suggest that the City of Vancouver will experience gang violence anything like what has been seen in places like Mexico,” said Constable Lindsey Houghton, adding that despite recent murders, the last two years were the lowest murder rates in Vancouver, with 2010 being a record low. 

At the time of the Davie Street shooting last month, Houghton had commented that it was "concerning" to have shots fired in a busy downtown area, saying it was "a complete disregard for public safety."

However, he dismissed suggestions that gang-related violence more typical of Surrey or Abbotsford were coming closer to Vancouver, saying it was likely just public perception.

A prominent B.C. criminologist who specializes in research on B.C.'s street gang activity agrees.

For people who have been watching this for 20-25 years, this is regrettable but not unusual,” SFU school of criminology director Robert Gordon said, adding that organizations involved in the illegal drug grade were going through another period of conflict.

"What is clear is that this is all linked to the illegal drug trade. It's going through another period of conflicts between groups.

It isn't that (the killings) are becoming more brazen. We're going through a spike in activity at the moment ... If you look back, the tools, targets, methods are definitely consistent with what we've seen in previous periods of disagreement amongst people involved in the illegal drug trade." 

Gordon said the violence will probably die down, but that the killing of a major gang leader was an "alarming development" that could result in more retaliatory attacks. The latest murders in downtown and Surrey are believed to be in retaliation to last year's violent murder of Jonathan Bacon, a leader of the Red Scorpions gang.

Yesterday, Gordon had speculated that the murder in Surrey could be linked to the Wall Centre shooting, and it was revealed today that one of the victims was linked to the Dhak-Duhre gang, of which Sandip Duhre was a high-ranking member. The gang has been marked by the Red Scorpions since the execution of several of its members.

What is clear is that this is all linked to the illegal drug trade...that's the underlying problem,” he said.

The recent calls by federal Liberals and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to legalize marijuana is helpful, Gordon said, but likely not to be implemented in the near future.

I'm really supportive of what the federal Libs are doing but the problem is our neighbours to he south,” he said.

“Whatever happened to the idea of sovereignty? But they (the U.S.) are calling the shots in terms of our domestic policy with respect to drug use. I'm not sure if we can look forward to a change in direction as a result of Obama being president but even Obama is up against the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) ... which was created as part of the war on drugs 20-30 years ago.

They have an entrenched interest in remaining where they are, and don't want to relinquish anything to anybody.”

In Gordon's view, the violence in Vancouver will be ongoing until B.C.'s marijuana exports can be regulated -- and that means legalizing the drug.  

"Currently, the production and distribution of the drug is illegal and has to occur in the shadows ... As a consequence, people who are involved in it are by definition part of organized crime," he said. 

He suggests that the traffic of firearms and other illegal drugs coming into B.C. could be reduced if marijuana were to be made legal, but does not believe that will be politically possible for the time being.

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