Pubdate: Sun, 12 Apr 2009
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: John Harlow
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)


WITH its backdrop of snow-capped mountains facing the Pacific Ocean 
and relaxed life-style, Vancouver was once bracketed among the 
world's most desirable cities. It has been ranked with Zurich and 
Vienna as having the highest quality of living and sits alongside 
Cape Town and Sydney for its natural beauty.

Not any more: with shootings on the rise and drug gangs fighting over 
turf, the city's image is suffering just before it hosts the Winter 
Olympics. Criminologists are calling it Vancouver's "year of the gun".

There have been 47 shootings, 19 of them fatal, this year alone, 
twice as many as five years ago. Peter Van Lorn, Canada's minister 
for public safety, has declared Vancouver the country's new gang capital.

Jim Chu, the city's police chief, admitted: "There is a gang war and 
it's brutal." Critics say it is a war the police are losing.

The city's troubles were high-lighted last week at the trial of a 
gangster who had murdered an innocent young man who just happened to 
walk past a neigh-bour's flat where a gangland execution was taking place.

Eileen Mohan, the victim's mother, watched as Dennis Karbovanec, 27, 
an "enforcer" for Vancouver's Red Scorpion drug gang, was jailed for 
15 years - a rare triumph for law and order in a city that has always 
prided itself on its liberal attitude to drugs but is now paying the price.

Mohan, 45, is leading a countercharge against the complacency which, 
she believes, contributed to the death of her son 18 months ago, shot 
dead in a massacre that police say marked the start of the murder "spike".

"People must learn that the world has changed. We must modernise the 
judiciary and increase police numbers to take down such monsters," she said.

Her 22-year-old son, Chris, was leaving their flat in the suburb of 
Surrey, when he noticed a toolbox left outside a neigh-bour's door. 
He poked his head around the open door of apartment 1505, usually one 
of the quietest flats in the block, only to walk into a slaughterhouse.

Police believe that Karbovanec and other Red Scorpions had already 
killed four rival drug dealers, who were living there, as well as Ed 
Schellen-berg, a gas-fitter sent to repair a fire. They then dragged 
Mohan into the flat and shot him through the back of the head.

The dispute, over "tax" owed by one of the victims to the Scorpions, 
ended in six deaths.

It is stark evidence that Canada is no longer the "peace-loving 
country filled with gun owners" depicted in Michael Moore's 2002 
polemic Bowling for Columbine: across the nation, say critics, 
gangsters are getting away with murder.

Michael Chettleburgh, author of Young Thugs, explained that the city 
was suffering a crime wave because police in eastern Canadian cities 
have driven their gangsters out west.

"Vancouver is an anomaly, a perfect hothouse for gangsters as young 
as nine years old," said the adviser to several Canadian police forces.

"There is widespread cultural tolerance of marijuana, which is traded 
across the British Columbian border for cocaine and guns. Hell's 
Angels run the docks and while many dealers come from poor homes, 
there are a rising number of south Asian kids from million-dollar 
homes getting involved in the business."

Chettleburgh estimated that there were 25,000 full-time gangsters in 
Canada, 10% of them in Vancouver, and they are increasingly violent. 
"We have maybe 10 years to split the 15% hard core gangsters from 
their followers to prevent a Canadian epidemic," he said.

On Thursday, as Karbovanec was led away to give evidence against 
fellow gangsters, the city's latest "gang-related" victim, Lionel 
Tan, 24, was buried. He had been cut down in a hail of bullets on 
Monday night as he stepped out of his BMW.

Last week Jana McGuinness, a spokesman for Vancouver police, said 
they were getting calls wondering if the city would be safe for next 
February's Olympics.

Stephen Harper, Canada's prime minister, wants to increase jail 
sentences for gangsters and has pledged 15,000 extra police for the Games.

By that time, he hopes, the west coast gangs will have sorted out 
their territorial issues "one way or another". 
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