Pubdate: Thu, 28 May 2009
Source: Economist, The (UK)
Copyright: 2009 The Economist Newspaper Limited

Drug Gangs in Canada


Organised Crime Brings Fear to Vancouver's Streets

WHILE campaigning for an election on May 12th in which he was easily
re-elected, Gordon Campbell, the premier of British Columbia (BC)
province, had a personal brush with violent crime. As he was being
interviewed by a reporter at a Vancouver hotel, a woman with a gun ran
by, having robbed a jeweller. The premier's bodyguard hustled him to
safety; the robber was later arrested. But the incident should have
reminded Mr Campbell that crime worries voters almost as much as the

Canada remains one of the world's safest countries but in recent years
Vancouver, BC's largest city, has gained notoriety for gun crime,
especially among drug gangs. Since 1997 nearly 450 gangsters have been
killed there. The surge in shootings is "directly related" to a
crackdown on gangs in Mexico and the United States, says Pat Fogarty,
a senior officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Recent arrests
by the three countries' police forces have disrupted a Mexican-run
cocaine distribution chain, leaving Vancouver's street dealers
fighting to secure their supplies. "The price goes up and the guns
come out," says Mr Fogarty.

Vancouver has become a distribution hub in a global drugs trade
stretching to Asia and Europe. Local gangs ship out cannabis,
amphetamines and ecstasy made in BC, importing cocaine, heroin and
guns for the Canadian market. Around 135 gangs are thought to be
fighting over a business worth an estimated C$7 billion ($6.2 billion)
a year.

That they do so in broad daylight demonstrates the feckless response
of the provincial government and police, despite reports dating back
more than 30 years giving warning of the growth in organised crime.
Rob Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, says attempts
at creating an agency to curb the gangs have repeatedly failed. Two
such agencies have been disbanded since 1998 because of conflicts
among the various participating police forces. The current effort at
collaboration, led by the Mounties, is also "riven with conflict", he

Despite great public concern over crime, it got little attention in
the election. Mr Campbell's Liberals and the opposition New Democrats
promised more police and prosecutors. But neither, says Mr Gordon,
appeared to have a long-term strategy to control organised crime.

Despite some recent high-profile arrests of gangsters, Vancouver's
local police admit they are not winning the war. They complain of
having fewer officers per head of population than other big Canadian
cities. The provincial government is planning a C$20m cut in annual
spending on police and the courts by 2012. The gangsters, by contrast,
are well funded and have little trouble replacing those lost in
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