Jun 2009 27

Vancouver: Olympics in the Shade of Violence?

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Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village Photowalk by Roland Tanglao
Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village Photowalk
by Roland Tanglao

Vancouver has been long seen as one of the best cities on the whole Earth in which to live. Even this year, Vancouver scored the highest from all the American cities in the prestigious quality of living study by Mercer. And yet it is getting negative international press coverage (From heaven to hell: 18 die as drugs war rages on streets of Vancouver, British Columbia or Colombia?). Why is that?

For the first three months of 2009 alone, Vancouver (2.7 mil inhabitants) has witnessed 45 shootings, 17 of them fatal. That’s 6.3 violent deaths per 1 mil inhabitants. Compared to Toronto (5.1 mil inhabitants), there was 11 murders in the same period, which works out at 2.2 violent deaths per 1 mil inhabitants - almost three times less!

Two battles: gangs vs. gangs and gangs vs. the police

The number of gangs operating in Vancouver has multiplied 10 times over the last 10 years. That's over 100 gangs active in Vancouver today! And as if that wasn't enough, these figures are topped up with three factors worsening the whole situation: the gangs 1) being poorly organized, 2) having too easy access to weapons and 3) being comprised of mostly very your recruits.

Currently there are two battles going on at the streets of Vancouver. The first one is of course between the gangs alone. They are fighting because of the rise of the price of cocaine coming from Mexico. Recently, the Mexican government has undergone a massive counter cartel activity operation, which drove the price of cocaine up from $23,300/kg to almost $39,000/kg.

What is it about Vancouver and drugs, you might ask. Rob Gordon, director of the criminology school at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, reckons that the combination of the city's laid-back attitude, geographical location and immense backcountry make the perfect combination for enhanced drug crime. Also no other city in Canada combines these characteristics to such an extend. And yet the city of Vancouver has fewer police officers per head of population than any other big Canadian city. On the top of that the provincial government plans on cutting the police and court annual expenses by $20 million by 2012. The other battle going on between the gangs and the police would be much more favorable to the later, if the police had enough resources, both financial and personal.

The solution

I am far from assuming that this situation we are facing can be solved by some quick & easy peace recipes. But my logic tells me that right now more money and police forces must be employed, not less of it! The city has to be safe and secure again. Not just because of the upcoming Olympics, but for the sake of its citizens. Proposing new strict law by the PM Stephen Harper - labelling gang killings as first-degree murder with a sentence of at least 25 years, is definitely a step to the right direction, but much more has to be done to make Vancouver the safe place we all know and love.

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