Vancouver, British Columbia, a city unaccustomed to widespread crime, is facing a rise in gang-related violence stemming from drug dealing and local turf wars between young people of Indian descent, “They are Indo-Canadians killing Indo-Canadians,” said Kash Heed, commanding officer of the Third Police District in Vancouver. “Seventy-six murders mainly within one ethnic group. The cycle of violence, we’ve not cracked it yet.”
Immigrant community leaders blame inaction on the part of Vancouver police for the rise in gang violence. “Out here, it’s a slap on the hand,” said Amar Randhawa, co-founder of the Unified Network of Indo-Canadians for Togetherness and Education Through Discussion (UNITED). “Law enforcement can’t crack the lower hierarchy, let alone get to the top.”
But police officials said the cycle of murder and revenge has hampered their efforts. “One day suspect, and the next day victim,” said Heed. “One day you are the shooter. The next day you’re lying in your coffin.”
According to police, gangs deal in the potent variety of marijuana called B.C. bud, which is grown in the province. “It is often exchanged for cocaine, cash, or firearms. It is a deal between two criminal gangs, one on the south side of the border and one on the north side, guns for marijuana,” said constable Alex Borden of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “If there is violence in our streets and firearms are involved, we are concerned the firearms come from across the border.”
According to Joe Giuliano, assistant chief at the local U.S. Border Patrol office in Blaine, Wash., 23 Canadian smugglers have been arrested on the U.S. side of the border so far this year. “Virtually all marijuana smuggling in the past fiscal year is either directly or indirectly tied back to the Indo-Canadian community,” he said.
According to officials, gang members are generally from upscale families. “Unlike in other countries, people involved in the gang activity here are not the poor or disadvantaged,” said Wallace Oppal, a justice of the Court of Appeal of British Columbia. “For the most part, kids involved here are people who come from middle-class and upper-class homes. They get involved for the glamour.”
Heed added that parents should get more involved in discouraging their children from joining gangs. “We’ve gone to notify people their son was killed and they have been in such denial they slammed the door in the police officer’s face,” Heed said. “They don’t want to believe their child is involved. They will ask the question to their dying day after their son is murdered why they didn’t do something.”