Vancouver grapples with drug gangs before Olympics

Fri Feb 13, 2009 7:12pm EST
 
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Officials vowed on Friday to crack down on the drug gang violence that has erupted in the Vancouver area just as the city is celebrating the one-year countdown to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said nearly 170 police officers will be added to the province's anti-gang operations, and the government will crack down on illegal guns and the use of armored vehicles and body armor.

"We will use every tool at our disposal," Campbell said, calling the recent violence "shocking and appalling".

There have been nine shootings in the past 11 days involving members of various gangs related to the drug trade in the Vancouver area, home to both importers and exporters of illegal drugs.

Police have stopped short of calling the eruption of violence a "gang war", saying not all the incidents are directly linked to each other.

The shootings have been an embarrassing sideshow as local officials hosted International Olympic Committee members and international media for the one-year countdown to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

The violence also comes B.C. prepares for a May provincial election and its resource-dependent economy struggles with weak commodity prices and a diving real estate market.

Opposition New Democratic Party leader Carol James said the gang-related killings have been going on for a long time and that Campbell was reacting now only because it had become a public relations problem.

"The premier has had two years to do something," James told a news conference.

Both Campbell and James said the federal government must toughen and modernize Canada's wiretap laws so they can be used against devices such as BlackBerries.

(Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Peter Galloway)

 
<p>A sign is seen at the site where drug traffickers had built a tunnel, the length of a football field, across the US-Canada border in Aldergrove, British Columbia July 21, 2005. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>