With the 2010 Games opening ceremonies less than 10 months away, Vancouver’s Olympic glow is getting warmer.
A new rapid transit line connecting the airport and downtown is almost complete. Skaters are cutting up the ice at the impressive Richmond Olympic Oval. And Canada’s winter athletes enjoyed a stellar season that featured a record medal haul, which bodes well for 2010 glory at home.
From a distance, it all looks pretty good. But a global spotlight is also illuminating the more unsavoury parts of “The Best Place on Earth” (the slogan appears on specialty B.C. licence plates).
With the chronic misery of the Downtown Eastside already well-documented, recent news reports have highlighted the raging gang war that is plaguing Vancouver.
As an article in Britain’s Independent newspaper put it recently, “what (Vancouver’s) got now is not cuddly, eco-friendly publicity, but blood-spattered streets littered with shell casings and corpses.”
The newspaper writer was exaggerating, but only slightly.
Dozens of shootings have rocked the region this year, most of them linked to the thriving drug trade. Thirty-three people have been killed so far in 2009.
Sumi, meet Clayton Roueche.
Sumi is the 2010 Olympics mascot who wears the hat of the Orca, flies with the wings of the mighty Thunderbird and runs on the furry legs of the black bear.
Roueche is the leader of the UN gang, which is engaged in a deadly fight with the rival Red Scorpions gang.
He’s currently in solitary confinement in a Seattle jail cell, charged with running a massive drug trafficking ring that delivered marijuana to the U.S. and shipped cocaine from South America to Canada.
While running the powerful gang, the son of a scrap-metal dealer drove a Maserati Quattroporte, lived in a luxury condo and wore custom-designed diamond-encrusted jewelry — all on a declared annual income that averaged about $20,000 between 2002 and 2006.
Quatchi, meet Jamie Bacon.
Quatchi, another Olympic mascot, is a shy and gentle sasquatch who loves all winter sports, especially hockey.
Jamie Bacon is a key player in the Red Scorpions.
He was recently charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy in connection with the Surrey Six killings in October 2007, in which four drug dealers and two innocent bystanders were killed execution-style in a Surrey highrise.
In January, before his arrest, Bacon was driving his armoured Mercedes through a busy intersection when someone pulled up and pumped several bullets into it.
Bacon was wearing body armour and survived.
His older brother Jonathan also survived a shooting two years ago in the driveway of the family home.
A young man installing a stereo in a Porsche belonging to one of the Bacon brothers was not so lucky — he was killed in a case of mistaken identity.
Police trumpeted the charges in the Surrey Six case as a breakthrough, but there was another man gunned down the following day. And another the day after that.
Many of the gangland slayings follow the same pattern — young men shot dead in their luxury SUVs late at night — but there have been exceptions.
One gangster was executed in front of a busy Langley shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon by two men, one of them armed with a submachine-gun.
In February, the 24-year-old wife of a gang member was killed while driving her Cadillac — while her four-year-old son sat in the back seat.
Despite the mass arrests of every Hells Angel in the province of Quebec, the bikers remain a force in B.C., with proceeds of crime reinvested in legitimate businesses such as grocery stores and clothes shops.
There are so many criminal gangs active in the area that some operate well under police radar.
Two years ago, a man was gunned down in front of his $5-million mansion in Vancouver’s tony Shaughnessy neighbourhood.
Vancouver officers said at a press conference the next day he was “not known to police,” but it later emerged that he was a major player in the Big Circle Boys, an Asian organized crime group with worldwide tentacles.
The latest murder victim was a female loan shark also linked to Asian organized crime — and Chinese intelligence, according to one newspaper report. Her body was found in her late-model Mercedes outside an after-hours gambling den.
As public outrage over the out-of-control gang war builds, politicians talk tough.
Police officers investigate. Yet there have been no arrests for any of the 33 homicides this year. And the Olympic countdown clock goes tick, tick, tick, towards a time when B.C. puts its best face forward to the world.
For now, it seems that Lotusland has become a “gangster’s paradise” of sorts — at least for those who survive the gunplay.
James Kwantes is a former Advocate editor who lives in Surrey, B.C. He can be reached at email@example.com