British Columbia

Public shootings in Metro Vancouver may be due to inexperienced gang members, says criminologist

A criminology expert at Simon Fraser University says a recent spate of shootings in busy, public locations could indicate a deterioration of control within gangs in the Lower Mainland. 

Recent shootings in busy locations could indicate deterioration of control within Lower Mainland gangs

RCMP investigate gunfire and a stabbing near a Coquitlam, B.C., mall late last month. There have been several shootings in public areas in the Lower Mainland in the past few weeks. (Chami An)

A criminology expert at Simon Fraser University says a recent spate of shootings in busy, public locations could indicate a deterioration of control within gangs in the Lower Mainland. 

Professor Rob Gordon says more established gangs like the Hells Angels have traditionally preferred to keep shootings more discreet, and have highly established structures that have kept younger members under control.  

"I don't know what's happening that's making them more brazen, but it certainly does seem that is occurring," Gordon said. 

"It may just simply be that there is a crew at work that isn't particularly experienced."

Danger for innocent bystanders

There have been several shootings in busy public areas in Metro Vancouver over the past few weeks, including one at a mall in Delta Saturday afternoon and another last month in Coal Harbour during a busy weekend evening.

Most gang shootings have ties to the illegal drug trade, Gordon says, and involve disputes over market share. 

"The more mature heads operating in this particular illegal drug trade don't like this stuff because it is drawing attention to the business," he said.

"And they're in it for one reason, one reason only, and that is to make money." 

SFU criminology professor Rob Gordon says Lower Mainland gangs may have gotten more brazen because of a breakdown of internal structure. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Gordon says now that cannabis is legal, the majority of the illegal drug trade seems to have shifted to synthetic opioids. These are harder for law enforcement to track down because they often originate in small labs that move around frequently, rather than large rural fields. 

Police have repeatedly said the shootings were targeted and there's no further risk to the public, but Gordon disagrees. As the shootings get bolder, he says, the risk of stray bullets or mistaken identities increases. 

"Of course the big danger here is that innocent bystanders get hit," Gordon said. 

Cycles of violence

Shootings and violence like this tend to run in cycles, Gordon says, initiated with one killing that prompts a revenge killing and then another revenge killing and then, often, some peace for a while.

"They hack away at each other for a short period of time until they run out of enemies and then they move on to something else," he said.

Police attend the scene of a shooting on April 19 that left a young man dead. Investigators say they believe the shooting was targeted. (Shane MacKichan)

But Gordon says this cycle seems particularly violent and is lasting much longer. 

Gordon points out another potential risk of bold public shootings — a lack of faith in the justice system.

"If you are facing a series of shootings that police appear to be incapable of dealing with, the courts appear incapable of dealing with, the correctional system appears to be ineffective, then all of these things bring doubt into the minds of the average member of the public that this is really out of control," he said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

With files from Joel Ballard

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