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VANCOUVER -- A laid-back attitude towards drug use, easy access over a largely unsecured U.S. border and a vast backcountry with a climate ripe for growing the potent marijuana known around the world as B.C. bud.
It's little wonder British Columbia has become the centre of Canada's illicit drug trade and, along with it, a focal point for gangs that are currently fighting a bloody war on Vancouver-area streets to control the lucrative enterprise.
There have been three dozen shootings since late January, leaving 16 people dead. Police have linked the majority to gangs, drugs and people "known to police."
"The Lower Mainland area, Metro Vancouver, has become a safe place in which to grow and produce a variety of drugs," says Rob Gordon, director of the criminology school at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.
"It's a combination of our geography, a somewhat more laid-back approach to drugs and drug use, and the proximity to the border, easy export routes primarily to the United States - I can't think of any other city in Canada that shares those characteristics."
Drug use forms part of how outsiders view life in the region -- from the cliché of the pot-smoking West Coast snowboarder to the drug addicts of Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside. Various estimates of B.C.'s drug trade put its value in the billions of dollars, with thousands of grow operations.
But nearly all of those drugs are connected to the province's roughly 130 gangs. Gangs with guns. Gangs who fight turf wars. "You're always going to have violence in some fashion when you have groups that are profiting illegally from drug trafficking, because there's money to be made there and there's territory that needs to be forcibly kept," says Superintendent Dan Malo, head of the province's Integrated Gang Task Force. "Once they have the territory, it's not a deed. Every day there's somebody trying to take that away from you."
Police have been vague about what exactly is behind the latest wave of violence in Vancouver and surrounding communities.
Supt. Malo says much of the fighting can be linked to disputes among several main groups, notably the United Nations Gang, the Independent Soldiers and the Red Scorpions.
But he says smaller, largely unrelated rivalries appear to have boiled over at the same time, creating the impression that all of the shootings are part of the same battle.
"It is really the perfect storm in a lot of ways," he says. "The timing is somewhat coincidental. The conflicts are separate from each other."
The shootings have left many residents on edge, calling police whenever they hear the blare of sirens.
Politicians have promised extra cops and tougher laws for gang-related crimes, and police have held news conferences to highlight arrests and play show-and-tell with the arsenals of guns they've collected.
Vancouver's mayor has offered his own blunt assessment: Police are fighting a losing battle. And while they highlight successes, even police view the problem in almost prophetic terms: It has happened before, and it will happen again.
"I think we'd be naive to think otherwise - I don't think we're going to be out of a job in that sense," says Supt. Malo, who was appointed to the gang task force last year. "The next trend will come, it's just how far back we can push it."
The last major spike in gang violence happened in the fall of 2007 with a rash of shootings and more than 10 killings, including the discovery of six bodies in a Surrey apartment. Two of the men found dead were innocent bystanders.
okay im 100% down with da ganga being legal for all things it could help our country and ourselves at times when ill but this guy who wrote this article is a doosh please dont try to turn canada into mexico just cause 16 people got killed in a couple months big fuckin woop look at mexicos side theirs heads being found all over the place
Quote: veggie said: Vancouver's mayor has offered his own blunt assessment: Police are fighting a losing battle. And while they highlight successes, even police view the problem in almost prophetic terms: It has happened before, and it will happen again.
Its nice how almost 'apathetic' politicians and police are becoming over the drug war in the western world. Its like they are finally realizing that no matter how hard you fight, it will never end... so why fight? We're losing, cut the losses, is the attitude I hear from the above statements.