Vancouver Residents Fear Gang Violence As City Prepares to Host 2010 Winter Games

Jeremy Hainsworth, AP, March 28, 2009

With its spectacular bay and stunning, snowcapped peaks, Vancouver easily ranks as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. But in recent months, the people of Canada’s Olympic city have been living in fear.

Even as Vancouver prepares to host the 2010 Winter Games, its crime rate is going up. Since January alone, there have been 45 shootings in the region, 17 of them fatal. There were 58 murders last year in this region of 2.7 million people, up from 41 the year before, according to the regional Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.

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The root of the problem seems to be drugs, or rather a shortage of them.

The Mexican cocaine supply line extends through the United States, especially Los Angeles, up to Vancouver, according to Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superintendent Pat Fogarty. But now the Mexican government of President Felipe Calderon has mobilized 45,000 soldiers and 5,000 federal police to curb cartel activity. That has driven up the price of cocaine in Vancouver from $23,300 per kilogram to almost $39,000, Fogarty says, and gangs are killing each other.

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Harper has said people planning to attend the Winter Games should not worry about violence, with 15,000 police officers, private security and military personnel expected to provide security.

But shopkeeper Nandal Oad disagrees. He says nobody should feel safe coming to the Games.

Oad’s suburban convenience store is just across the street from where shots were fired over morning rush-hour traffic March 10, leaving two brothers aged 19 and 22 dead. The violence has spread far beyond the city’s notoriously drug-infested Downtown Eastside.

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Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu acknowledged the city is in the middle of a “brutal'” gang war, and said the strategy is to detain gang members on as many charges as possible. However, some of those arrested are being released on bail by the courts.

Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, has offered his own blunt assessment: Police are fighting a losing battle.

Vancouver may in part be paying the price for some of the very features that help make it so attractive. Rob Gordon, director of the criminology school at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University, noted that the city has a laid-back attitude, easy access to the U.S. border and a vast backcountry with a climate ripe for growing potent marijuana. Police say British Columbia marijuana, known as B.C. bud, is often traded for cocaine, and Vancouver is known for marijuana grow-ops, or growing operations.

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