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Gang violence spikes in Vancouver

world Updated: Feb 18, 2009 11:16 IST

With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games less than a year away, Vancouver-area police are struggling to deal with an unprecedented wave of murders, Canada's public safety minister said.

Peter Van Loan spoke at a press conference on Tuesday in Vancouver, British Columbia, just a few hours before one man was gunned down and another was wounded in the city's east end. The man is the sixth person to die in shootings across the region in the past month. In 2007, there were 55 homicides in the Vancouver area, 19 of which were gang-related, according to Statistics Canada. Van Loan called the recent gang violence the worst in Canada. "Vancouver and British Columbia are the focus of the largest number of organized-crime gang groups in Canada," the minister told The Associated Press. "These are very sophisticated criminal organizations that are particularly violent. It's something you'd want to worry about whether you have the Olympics coming or not." Vancouver is a major import and export point for the international illegal drug trade and Van Loan said the city's recent violence centers around the illegal drug trade.

Criminologist Rob Gordon said gangs have become far more brazen in the past few months, gunning down people in public. "They're hitting people in broad daylight in shopping centers," he said, adding the body count is similar to a surge in the fall of 2007. "There were gun battles with armored vehicles in the streets."

Gordon said gangs are likely gearing up for an increase in business during the Olympics. He specifically cited the marijuana business in Whistler where alpine events will be held. And, that he, said, could lead to greater violence as gangs fight over their share of the drug market at that time.

"Vancouver is not going to look particularly good while the world is watching if we have another one of these outbursts during Olympic events," Gordon said.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass said the province's criminal justice and bail systems need to be reformed.

Last week, the provincial government announced initiatives to employ more police and prosecutors, introduce tougher laws and build more jails and courts. The government also promised to crack down on illegal guns and owning armored vehicles and body armor. "Recent gang violence has been both shocking and appalling, and British Columbians have had enough," Premier Gordon Campbell said. Last week, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge shrugged off questions about the violence.

"We are living in the real word," he told a news conference in Whistler, British Columbia. "We are not living in utopia."