Eight Years of Bloodshed

High toll of Calgary's gang war

Fri, February 27, 2009

Vicious dispute may have roots in high school rumble but has escalated from knives to guns

While this is not an official list from police, here are some of the names of those confirmed or suspected to have been killed as a result of the dispute, or by players in that realm.


Feb. 17 — Adam Miu, 18, is stabbed at Today’s Cafe and Karaoke Bar downtown. He was not a gang member. Vuthy Kong was given a seven-year manslaughter sentence for the killing. He was granted a retrial after the Supreme Court agreed self-defence wasn’t looked at in the original one. The decision was upheld at the retrial. John Pheng, who was killed in 2005, pleaded guilty to stabbing Adam’s brother, Peter, during the fight.

Dec. 29 — Vinh Le, 29, is shot in a downtown afterhours nightclub where assailants walked across a dance floor to a table where he sat and shot him. Police said he was a Fresh of the Boat Killers associate or member.

Dec. 29 — Linju Ly, an FBK member, the driver in the Southcentre shooting where a 19-year-old was injured, is gunned down while shovelling outside his parents’ Renfrew home. Hours later his father calls for an end to the violence.


Jan. 29 — Long Dinh, 33, killed in a knife attack at the Warehouse nightclub downtown. He was said to be a gang associate but it is unknown if his murder was part of the ongoing dispute.


Jan. 1 — Tay (Jason) Dang, 18, stabbed to death while out with friends. Police said he was killed because he was dating John Pheng’s ex-girlfriend.


Feb. 26 — FBK member John Pheng, 22, is shot in a busy martini bar on 17 Ave. S.W. Police have video of the attack but no arrests have been made. They were poised, before his death, to lay charges against him for Dang’s murder. Police said they have not ruled out he may be behind the fatal stabbing of Aaron Shoulders, who was not a gang member, in August of 2003.

May 20 — Peter Huynh, 19, and said to be a Fresh of the Boat associate is repeatedly shot at by a masked gunman at a Forest Lawn gas station where he sat alone in his Honda Civic. He had just finished gassing up and was on his way to meet his parents.

June 4 — Sophorn Kim, 21, is leaving a kickboxing tournament and shot after taking a seat in a vehicle where an FBK member was sitting earlier in the evening. Police say he was the victim of mistaken identity and his family later went public with a plea to end the violence.

July 9 — A gunman wearing a hoodie runs up to the SUV where Chuong (David) Tran, 21, and Dat Le, 22, are sitting and fires at close-range while Le’s brother escapes being struck. They are said to be members of the FOB gang. A man in a car nearby with a young child is horrified to find shell casings while a dozens of gawkers crowds around the crime scene where the bodies lie under a tarp. Le, who survived an earlier shooting, was said to be a suspect in the 2002 killing of Linju Ly. Tran’s cousin, Peter Huynh, was shot weeks earlier.


March 8 — Tan Diep, 22, a longtime FOB member is shot while in a car in an industrial area at Barlow Trail and 50th Ave. S.E.


Feb. 3 — Adam Cavanagh, 18, is shot in the head by a bullet fired through the basement window of his family’s home. His parents were upstairs at the time. It is said to be gang-related. During later court testimony, it was revealed that two days earlier Cavanagh was the victim of a violent robbery attempt when he met up with men he had sold cocaine to in the past.

April 16 — Son Nguyen, a 26-year-old said to be with FOB, is shot in the garage of the Saddleridge home while his young child and girlfriend are inside. Police later say gangster Mark Kim is a possible suspect in the killing.

Dec. 31 — Mark Kim, 23, an FBK member, is hit in a daytime shooting in a downtown alley. He was downtown that day to report to a probation officer. Testifying at his friend Vuthy Kong’s retrial for manslaughter in 2007, Kim told court — “It’s stupid to say, but it’s natural, it’s that type of crowd where you die young.” He was released on $1,000 bail while awaiting charges for court breeches just three days before he was shot.2008

June 28 — Gurjinder Singh Dhillon, 25, is stabbed to death at a restaurant in what police said might have began as an innocuous fight. Police said the 25-year-old was not a gang member but at the time had not ruled out the assailants may be and sources said he was friends with several gang associates.

July 5 — Roger Chin, 23, loses control of his luxury SUV after being shot as he drove along Centre St. N. A woman runs out of her home and up to the scene, terrified to see bullet holes in the vehicle. Chin’s brother, Roland, who police say is an original FOB member, was serving a jail term for drug and weapons offences at the time. Some mourners wore matching baseball caps with the words “Forever Our Brother” on them to Roger’s funeral. He was shot about a half-dozen times at a Falconridge gas station just months earlier, an attack police said stemmed from ongoing disputes between the two gangs.

July 26 — Tuc (Tony) Tran is shot while sitting in a car parked in Chinatown. The former gang member was sent to jail for the 1995 fatal shooting of Ryan Davids. He was said to be friends with gang members but police had not determined if that was the motive in his killing.

Aug. 9 — Kevin Anaya, 21, and an FBK associate, is shot while walking in front of a northeast home. Friends said they thought it was a case of mistaken identity but police said they had no reason to believe the attack was random.

Aug. 20 — Robbie Anthony Jones, 20, is gunned down outside the Saddleridge home he shared with friends. He is said to be a gang associate and friends with several other slain young men.

Sept. 16 — Jason Viet Quoc Luong, 20, is gunned down outside the Chestermere home he shared with his family. His sister finds him collapsed on the front steps. A marijuana grow operation is later found by police inside. Luong has gang ties to Calgary, a possible factor in the killing which police also said could be drug-related.

Oct. 26 — Student Tina Kong and friend Kevin Ses are fatally shot in a northeast restaurant. They were both 21. Police say Tina, who was a nursing student — a career path she had chosen to help people after surviving two aneurysms — had no gang association while police in Calgary and as far away as Brooks say Ses was involved with the FBK.


Jan. 1 — Several gunmen kill three men at a southeast Vietnamese restaurant in a mid-day shooting. Police say Keni Su’a, 43, was an innocent man targeted simply because he was there and said to be running for his life when he was struck. He was killed along with Aaron Bendle, a 21-year-old police stopped short of calling a gang member but said was a drug dealer. Also killed was gang member Sanjeev Mann, 22, who was wearing a bullet-proof vest at the time. Mann and his brother, Ranji, both said to be known to the Southern Alberta Gang Enforcement Team, were both charged after a long-term drug investigation. While Sanjeev was not convicted his brother is still behind bars.
Sanjeev survived a 2001 shooting.

Jan. 13, 2009 — Matthew Chubak, 20, is killed when a Dodge Durango is sprayed with bullets while driving in the southeast. Two other men, including one said to be an FOB associate, are injured. Police say Chubak was involved in gang activity, involved in a previous gang shooting and on bail awaiting trafficking charges at the time. He was said to be a victim in a Nov. 16, 2008, incident where five suspected gangsters were charged after a shootout which sent five people to hospital. Brothers Daniel and Marcel Landry, Chantha Kim, the brother of Mark Kim and a youth face charges in that case as does Shaun Roberts, who was injured in the incident.

Dispute on cop radar by ’01


Some cops say roots of the dispute between the Fresh off the Boat and Fresh of the Boat Killers gangs can be traced back to a rumble at Lester B. Pearson school in 1999.

By 2001, however, the reality a serious rift existed between the two was impossible to ignore. Deputy Chief Murray Stooke says although all the violent clashes at that time were not reported to authorities by those involved, witnesses occasionally brought it to their attention.

It escalated to drive-by shootings and an attempted murder at Southcentre Mall in December 2002 where Linju Ly was driving a car which pulled up outside the mall, busy with Christmas shoppers, with a gunman opening fire on a 19-year-old. On Dec. 29, police were debriefing after Vinh Le was shot to dead at a downtown nightclub when Linju Ly was gunned down while shovelling the walk at his parents northeast home.

FBK member Michael (Duner) Oduneye was later convicted of attempted murder for the mall shooting.

In 2003, police struck a special team to target FOB and FBK members in a bid to stop the homicides and violence. But keeping tabs on the gangs wasn’t so easy. It still isn’t.

“The Hells Angels are clearly identifiable, they have clubhouses, they drive Harleys,” Organized Crime Sgt. Gavin Walker recently said. “They are not driving around with FB or FK emblazoned on their licence plates.”

Gang war all about revenge

Never-ending cycle of violence makes organized crime life 'a pretty asinine way to live'


Calgary's eight-year gang war has left dozens dead and city streets red with blood. Today, Calgary Sun crime reporter Nadia Moharib starts a three-day, in-depth look at the raging war. "In taking revenge a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior."

— Thomas Fuller

Some say it was over a stolen jacket, some insist it was a beef over drugs, a tiff over a girl or a dispute sparked after a girl was raped.

Police, gang members, their friends and associates have many theories on what ignited a gang war between the groups, dubbed Fresh Off the Boat and Fresh Off the Boat Killers, which has lasted at least eight years and claimed more than two dozen lives.

Police say before two clear sides evolved, it was just a group of friends selling drugs and enjoying the easy lifestyle it could buy. Some apparently had a clubhouse in Edmonton, where sources say the sister of several men, later involved in gang activity, was raped. Others claim the violence began when a group of buddies were dealing drugs and one went out on his own, creating rival groups while some say a dispute over distribution of crime proceeds led to a splinter group and made enemies of friends.

If there was a moment in time which might mark the start of the deadly duelling, many say it goes back to a 2001 shooting at a party in Huntington Hills. When the dust settled 17-year-old Brandon Boychuk was clinging to life after being shot several times as he was running down an alley. No one was ever charged. "Everybody at the party knows who he is," Insp. Keith Pollack said at the time of the shooting. "The problem is no one is telling us." As the bloodshed goes on unabated years later, that frustrating silence is still a sorry reality, a roadblock for police to laying charges in gang slayings that play out on city streets and recently took the life of an innocent man. Despite making repeat appearances on the gang radar over the years, Boychuk has recently kept a low-profile, at least from police. Some say he attended a funeral for gangster Sanjeev Mann this year -- the man who along with Boychuk was hit in a 2007 shooting -- while some say he is laying low. Others insist he walked away from the world of crime.

While there is much debate about what started the bloody dispute between the groups, there is none about what it has become and the uneasiness it spawns for a city bracing for the next instalment in an ugly real-life, often life-ending, saga. "We just simply don't know how it started," Organized Crime Staff Sgt. Gord Eiriksson says. "It may have morphed from a disagreement or a beef and spiralled into this level of violence. "They can't even tell you why it is the way it is, they have just come to accept they may live and die by shooting. "It's a pretty asinine way to live." The New Year's Day shootings this year of three men -- one said to be a gang member, the other a drug dealer and the third an innocent man having a meal -- was a tragic reminder the deadly battle is still very much alive. And only two weeks later police were investigating a drive-by shooting that killed gangster Matt Chubak. Two others -- including one said to be an associate of slain gangster, Roger Chin, and who was previously shot last summer -- survived. Since then, there have been no gang-related murders in Calgary but police know better than to see a few weeks of apparent peace as an indicator of a truce. "People are either charged or have conditions against them," Eiriksson says. "We've got people injured and believe it or not they have to recuperate. It's a lull, that's all it is." Deputy Chief Murray Stooke says a slow but sure escalation of ongoing violence between the factions is characterized by a bloodthirsty quest for revenge.

And as it continues, others have joined the fray while many names resurface. A former drug unit investigator sometimes sees that when they hear of arrests in gang-related crimes. "I bought dope off some of them when they were young and then you see them evolve, they pop up," he says. Years later, many of their lives still seem intertwined, too. For many, so are their deaths. Online tribute sites show many mourners know several of those slain, some getting tribute tattoos. Robbie Jones, Adam Cavanagh and Kevin Anaya, for instance, all knew one another and all lost their lives to gang violence. Amid pain detailed on the sites is a call for it all to end. "My friend was killed because there was a beef between him and another person," says Alyx Nanji, who set up www.stopthebeef.com in February 2007 after a friend was killed in gang violence. Eiriksson says he would rather see one man escape a gang than put five in jail and applauds any who leave. "I know a few who have left the city," he says. "Hopefully, they turn their back on the lifestyle but if not, it's one less criminal for us to deal with."

City cops praise anti-gang legislation

Feds want to tighten penalties for people involved in organized crime


Calgary cops are applauding tough new anti-gang legislation pitched by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but admit it may do little to get those responsible for slayings behind bars. The new legislation announced yesterday would hand out a first-degree murder charge for those accused of gang killings, create a new offence and minimum jail term for drive-by shootings and impose tougher laws on those who assault police officers.

But while local police are happy the federal government is finally getting serious about cracking down on the growing urban scourge of organized crime, they admit the primary difficulty is still convincing those with knowledge of gang activity to talk.

"The legislation doesn't change the fact that the cone of silence that we've traditionally been getting is still going to be a challenge," said Calgary police spokesman Kevin Brookwell. "But these are additional tools to put in our hands to help with the gang situation."

Calgary cops have yet to arrest anyone in connection with eight gang-related murders in the city last year and have only charged and convicted one person with a gang slaying since 2001 -- Vuthy Kong, who served seven years for stabbing Adam Miu to death outside a nightclub.

Harper said the laws, if passed, will grant police forces more teeth when it comes to dealing with violent gang crimes and that will make streets safer. "We got elected because we know the people of Canada want us to take a tougher stand on crime, want us to deal toughly with those who perpetrate these crimes," he said. The proposed bills were welcomed by Opposition parties, who expressed general support although some complained the measures don't go far enough.

Liberal justice critic Dominic LeBlanc said the Conservatives should also adopt three reforms advocated by the B.C. government: A change in wiretap laws, a streamlined pre-trial disclosure process to speed criminal cases through the courts and an end to giving offenders double credit for time served in pre-trial custody.

Brookwell said Calgary cops would also like to see an end to additional credit for time already served along with reverse onus legislation, requiring violent offenders to prove they deserve to be released on bail. Staff Sgt. Gord Eiriksson of the city's gang unit said while it's been tough to pin murders on gang members, the new legislation will provide a large hammer. "With the new legislation, if these criminals are convicted, it's going to be 25 years and that's one person we're not going to have to worry about for a quarter of a century."

Bronco lauds anti-gang plan

Harper government is ready to move ahead with legislation aimed at curbing violence


Federal plans to get tough on gangs, set to be unveiled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper today, are being welcomed but Mayor Dave Bronconnier says they should go further. Harper will be in Vancouver, which has seen a spate of recent gang violence, outlining the government's plans to introduce strict new legislation for gang-related crimes and drug offences that will up the ante for those facing charges. Among the proposals on the table are automatic first-degree murder charges for gang-related killings as well as mandatory minimum sentences for drive-by shootings and some serious drug offences. The bills will be tabled in the House of Commons this week.

But Bronconnier said while he's pleased to see some action from the feds targeting violent criminals, he still wants to see reverse onus legislation that would force offenders with a history of violence to prove they are worthy of bail instead continuing the current revolving-door justice system.

"We are still looking for tougher requirements for those involved with the most serious of offences," he said, noting the government needs to include reverse onus legislation in any crime bill. "When police spend so many resources chasing them, we need to lock them up for as long as possible." Bronconnier noted in one case, a gang member was charged with shooting a firearm at a city police officer "and was out on the street before they finished the paper work," leaving city leaders and police miffed at the lenient laws.

In 2008, at least eight of Calgary's 32 homicides were gang-related. Since 2002, only one person has been charged and convicted in Calgary with a gang murder -- Vuthy Kong, who served seven years for stabbing Adam Miu to death outside a nightclub.

The gang war claimed its first innocent life just this year, with 43-year-old Keni Su'a, gunned down as he tried to flee a shooting. Bronconnier said the legislation may help Calgary deal with its escalating gang war. "I'm very supportive of moving forward on this and I hope it gets royal assent as quickly as possible," he said. "The legislation is needed, more officers are needed and definitely need tougher sentencing."

War on gangs comes down to family

Calgary's gang war has left dozens dead and city streets red with blood. Calgary Sun crime reporter Nadia Moharib takes an in-depth look at the raging war.


"I keep hearing families of gang members are afraid to speak out and report on gang activity. This seems like a cop out since there are 101 ways to reach out and not be caught. How hard is it to make a call from a pay phone? Internet, cell phones, snail mail, $&!, how about a message in a bottle. Ya, family and friends are afraid alright ... afraid they will have to give back their Benz, BMW, whatever. They won't turn in their "such a good boy, couldn't possibly be in a gang ..." he's driving a 50G ride, has a Rolex and spends (money) on you and you believe he's coming by it honestly? Let's start calling a spade a spade and calling these family members out."

-- A local chat site posting

Gang crimes threatening to flare up at a grocery store, cafe or on city streets among innocent bystanders strike fear in many Calgarians.

And some people are tired and angry, venting in online venues full of outrage, suggestions and questions. Many lay blame with families for not stepping up to out their kin, and amid all the warranted frustration, are quick to judge and lay blame where it isn't always warranted. "Parents are judged," says an investigator with years of experience working on gang files. "Sometimes they should be and sometimes they shouldn't."

Indeed, much is said of those who end up with gangsters in the home and much is assumed -- from accusations of laundering money garnered from criminal offspring to being condemned for turning a blind eye to bad behaviour. But some parents say they, as much as anyone else, want the violence to end, but instead feel accused of endorsing criminal behaviour they are powerless to stop.In some cases, the allegations are true. Other times they are not. And one parent says his inability to do anything to stem the violence in no way speaks to a lack of yearning to. "I've think I've done as much due diligence as most," he says.

"The life we're living right now is not what I planned 25 years ago." Some say the world of gangs crept into their lives initially with unconfirmed suspicions.It wasn't until police showed up, charges accrued and violence hit close to home that they realized the hunches were right. One parent can't isolate the exact moment his son took a wrong turn towards violence. "They are dabbling in marijuana on the weekends, a little E at parties and you think it's teenage experimenting," says the man who, like other parents, asked not to be named. "One minute you have a loving family, you are doing things right and all of a sudden you wake up and things are all wrong and you question yourself." And he says while people are quick to judge, none offer viable ways to intervene. "As a parent I can't take my kids out into the horse shed any more," the parent says. "One cop told me the only thing you can do is change the locks on your door." But he refuses to go the tough-love route, throwing a son deeper into the gang world. "That's not an option," he says. "You have to support your kids, no matter what." One organized crime detective says he understands the plight of gang members, ever so slightly, but more so can feel for the position they put parents in. "I've sat across from them and talked to them," he says of gangsters. "I don't want to say I feel sorry for them but I guess you wish you could help them get out. These are young kids, but if they are beyond help then lock them up. "You can't blame the family but you can't absolve them altogether."

Retired homicide Staff Sgt. Barry Cochran says ultimately it takes "growing up and becoming smarter" for people to leave gangs, but parents shouldn't give up. "Those parents who have the best intentions, I wouldn't suggest they give up," he says. One parent says he hasn't, but doesn't know what will stop the violence, either. "For whatever reason they became hunted, it's the craziest thing," he says. "It doesn't have to happen, but the question is how to stop it ... we don't need anybody more joining the dead man's club. "Round up all the kids, maybe it's against their Charter of Rights, so be it, and invite them all to the remand gym, maybe 10 at a time, frisk them and then have a serious heart-to-heart," he suggests. "Maybe if parents of kids shot had a little meeting, then whatever little influence we have might bring some common sense to this, maybe we can solve some of this. "You can't do anything about the lives lost but it's all about the lives we can save."


"Leave justice to God. If they are caught or get a life sentence, you will feel safer." Pastor Willy Reimer at a funeral for Aaron Taylor Bendle, 22, shot to death in January "Please don't let Matt's life be in vain. These senseless deaths have got to stop -- we're begging for no retaliation." Jeff Chubak at his nephew's funeral in January "This stuff has got to stop, it's gone too far when it's innocent people." Emby Kim, speaking after brother Sophorn was killed in a drive-by in 2005 which cops called a case of mistaken identity

Death toll of innocent devastates families


Their names are lumped in with those of gangsters slain. And while they share the same fate, several of those killed in gang-related violence in no way courted deadly danger. For Gurjinder Singh Dhillon's loved ones, the reality a good man's life ended when he was stabbed in what police say may be a gang-related attack, is devastating. "My parents raised us with morals, to be good, to be kind to others," his brother Gurminder says. "He was a good kid, an innocent person at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Police stress the 25-year-old was not a gang member. On New Year's Day, Keni Su'a, a 43-year-old man was eating at a restaurant when gunmen opened fire at two people, including a gang member, then chased him down and shot him. Tina Kong had no gang connections but was gunned down while at a restaurant last October. Sophorn Kim, 21, was said to be shot in a case of mistaken identity and Tay (Jason) Dang fatally stabbed in 2004 simply for dating a gangster's ex-girlfriend. "It's so important, for his family, he is remembered as who he was," Joshua Whiteley says of his friend Dhillon. "He was the best person I've ever met, a good-hearted person, from a good family."

Police say Dhillon's June 28, 2008, killing was unprovoked. His friend was injured when he tried to intervene, but still the pair were outnumbered by a group of assailants. "They literally walked in and killed him and hundreds of people have been affected," Whiteley says. "These people were probably out to kill that night and ... for absolutely no reason. "It just makes me question the world we live in, if you can walk into a restaurant and kill someone and no one is getting charged."

Call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-822-8477 if you have any tips in the unsolved gang-related slayings.

A twisted brotherhood

Ill-placed bonds of love and loyalty make organized crime fight tough


While hatred between duelling groups is palpable, some say something akin to love bonds the gangsters. Some are bonafide relatives, some friends, but many are family, not by blood but allegiance. Those are the opponents police are up against, groups with a twisted but unbreakable brotherhood, men willing to die for one another in a culture where you take care of business yourself. "The main reason police haven't cracked this is because they have got so much love for one another," says a person who knows several gang members. "They have a wall nobody crosses.

"These people don't look at themselves as being in a gang, but basically as buddies who have got each other's backs." Tight as those bonds appear, one gang detective says he has seen how fragile they are with "example after example where personal gain will trump loyalty." One man who chose to leave the lifestyle says he saw how fickle promises can be. "When I got out of jail, I noticed a lot of people turning their back on me," he says.

"I thought, 'I'll go straight,' and then they started to think I'm a snitch." Organized Crime Staff Sgt. Gord Eiriksson says gang life can seem glamorous, but, "Let's call it what it is: They are animals, they're worthless," he says, just weeks after four men were killed in two separate gang-related attacks. "Yeah, they are someone's son or brother, but these people don't have a place on our streets." Still, police know it's easy for the entry-level gangster wannabe to make a few bad choices. And they know how ugly it can be once they are in. Sources say two men shot in recent years -- one survived -- were targeted for being behind a rival's killing. "I don't think some of them even know why they are doing it, someone has directed them to do it," a veteran gang detective says. "If you don't have to get your hands dirty then why do it, who better to do it than the New Kids on the Block?"

Maybe it's because he's a father, because he's not jaded or because the contradictory truths are tough to reconcile. Whatever the reason, the gang investigator concedes he sees both sides. And when they are pitted against each other, one seeking information, the other concealing it, he says it's frustrating, heartbreaking and infuriating. "You realize these are kids like any other kid who took a severely wrong turn," he says. "I think any time a member is co-operative and engaged in a honest conversation then you are one human to another. I don't want to sound soft and sympathetic, but you're seeing another side of them." He also knows the flip-side is others pay for the choices they make --from families of people hurt, to innocent lives taken down and chaos unleashed on a city. "It's hard to balance empathy for the person with the danger they put themselves and people in," he says. And when gangsters seem to barely care about their own fate, some question how much respect they can give others. Some have been given numerous "duty to warns," of imminent violence, for instance, and "more often then not they shrug it off," Eiriksson says. "It's very fatalistic," he says. "You are 22, what is the big attraction to being dead at 23?"

But when it does turn deadly, someone who knows several gang members, while not endorsing violence, questions what anyone might do. "How can you tell people, 'I want no revenge in my brother's name?' " he asks. Police may not have an answer to that, but keep pushing to find ways to convince people not to resort to violence. Fear and revenge and all that brotherhood fuel the violence. One young man had his own company and a crime-free existence, but turned to the lifestyle after his brother was slain, says a detective. In recent years many young men, after joining those same ranks, have been shot not once, but twice. Some sport battle scars, some perpetuate the violence and others are buried. And then there are the fringe players who haven't really committed to the lifestyle but make choices pitching them deeper into the gang realm. There are people involved because they have to be, then there's kids who want to be involved," says a gang member who claims he's left that life behind. "The only way to be involved is to prove themselves."

Gang problem home-grown


Send them back where they came from or stop allowing immigrants in. It's all been said and will be said over and over again. Despite rampant anti-immigrant rhetoric, the reality is the term 'Asian gangs' is a misnomer in Calgary. Most of those identified by police as members, and many slain in the battle between two high-profile gangs, are landed immigrants or home-grown Canadians, Organized Crime Staff Sgt. Gord Eiriksson says. "I read all these blogs and people think we are dealing with immigrants," he says. "People say they can be deported, that is so far from the truth. "The vast majority are born and raised in Alberta, a good portion are Caucasian, they are second or third generation Canadians and we can't deport them. "If we can do that, we will make every attempt but they are not all Asian." In recent years, there have been white men, Asian men, East Indian men and a young man whose body was flown back to El Salvador after a quiet memorial here -- all killed in gang-related violence.

Sun, March 1, 2009

Witnesses prove to be silent as the grave

Muted voices just one of many roadblocks frustrating police in ongoing gang war


Calgary's gang war has left dozens dead and city streets red with blood. Calgary Sun crime reporter Nadia Moharib takes an in-depth look at the raging war.

"Living well is the best revenge."

-- George Herbert

One man said $1 million would buy his testimony.

Another said if police moved him, his family and girlfriend and offered protection, then "maybe" he might co-operate.

A third young man said there was nothing they could do to trump the fear that stood in the way of him helping catch a killer.

"Keep in mind, this was their best friend," the detective says, years after working on the murder investigation.

He is still baffled by witnesses' refusal to talk.

"It was clear to me we need to come up with other strategies. We need to listen to what people tell us."

And everyone has an opinion or a suggestion on how to end the mess gangs have created in this city and the path of destruction and pain they have left for so many.

People lobby politicians for more money to bolster police resources.

Others demand a system that better metes out justice for gang crimes, with tougher penalties for everything from dealing drugs to carrying guns and being involved in drive-by shootings.

Organized Crime Staff Sgt. Gord Eiriksson says there is ample evidence criminals move in a dizzying circular route -- "a revolving door" from the streets to jail, back and forth -- just one of many frustrating realities facing police trying to keep a lid on the violence.

While they continue with dogged persistence to try to solve gang crimes and keep tabs on members, they are also increasingly ramping up an attack on the prevention end of the spectrum -- taking the anti-gang message to the community as often as they can to battle the blight on all fronts.

But the gang-related slayings that are the most glaring symptom of the scourge are still a formidable challenge.


The feds recently said they are introducing legislation to get tough on gang members accused of shootings, for instance.

Commendable as it is, that doesn't do much to bring them to court in the first place.

In Calgary, there has been just one arrest in a killing linked to the two high-profile gangs, taking up so much police attention and causing such real concern for law-abiding citizens.

Police say it is in large part because witnesses refuse to speak and if gang members are victims, their buddies would rather seek revenge than see a courtroom conviction.

So for investigators, gang slayings are unique and tough investigations rather than the smoking-gun cases that deliver an obvious short-list of suspects, someone found with a weapon in hand or a confession on their lips.

Instead, time and again, as another gang slaying investigation opens, doors to any one who might co-operate are closed.

More often than not, they are slammed shut.

But again and again, each killing spawns a flurry of explanations, of finger-pointing among people on the street as much as police try to find out who is to blame.

"Everybody shot Mark Kim," says a former gang member, his words laced with sarcasm, referring to the gangster gunned down Dec. 31, 2007.

"On top of all the rumours, there are people taking credit for things they didn't do," he adds.

"They want their time in the spotlight."


And still, day after day, hours of police investigation are put into the cases.
At times it is so frustrating, it can seem like a losing battle, says former homicide Staff Sgt. Barry Cochran, who saw at least a half-dozen gang killings hit the unit before he retired in recent years.

And rather than seeing allies to help solve the gang problem, the job for investigators is instead "compounded" by several factors, including "the inability of the justice system to be effective with these gang members" and "court appeals and sentencing appeals" that often "whittle away the consequences," he says.

Indeed, there are challenges every step of the way, says Cochran, adding it is often tough to convince the courts they are dealing with a credible witness when one is also a gang member themselves.

"These people are of no value. They become a resource-grabbing cesspool of egotistical, greedy individuals focused on their own interests and not the interest of their neighbours, their community or their city," Cochran says.

"Massive amounts of resources are spent trying to bring someone to justice.
"We are just continually dumping resources into a sinking ship ... at some point there has to be success in a (gang) homicide investigation."

Far from being entirely hopeless, however, there is progress being made on the gang front by police.

Weapons are seized, drugs found and arrests made.

Veteran members are put behind bars, or at least, forced into good behaviour by being under the close eye of police, while others vanish to hopefully start new lives without their old ways.


There are many successes citizens never hear about -- the close calls where police manage to intervene before a scenario escalates, the small daily coups.

Violent Crime Suppression Team Sgt. Quinn Jacques says he and his crime fighting crew have seen many.

While it isn't necessarily in arrests, it's in their presence deterring gang members from bringing their brand of crime to the nightclub scene.

And when his team isn't monitoring those spots, they are visiting gyms and restaurants, for example.

"Wherever they go to hang out, we go, too, we see who they are hanging out with, what they are driving," he says.

"It seems bizarre, but we have developed relationships with these guys -- we know them by first name, they know us by first name.

I don't know if they respect us but they tolerate us and if people with gang affiliations are comfortable enough talking to me and texting me, that's an inroad."

But each time violence erupts, it's a reminder of the opponents police are up against are still very much active and a threat to every good citizen in the city.
"They have no value for human life," Eiriksson says, referring to the New Year's Day shooting of an innocent man.

"And then two weeks later, we have another homicide at two in the afternoon with these idiots firing weapons -- the violence is getting out of control."
Given a truce is hard to forge between the animosity-ridden rivals, police can only continue to do their best to stem crime at times wildly unleashed amid innocent strangers, and try to limit the ongoing violence they breed.
They will also continue to search for that magic bullet to stop young men from getting involved in the lifestyle and pull those already in, out.

But for now, what many call a deadly and senseless dispute continues.

"We're calling it a gang war," one veteran cop says.

"It's not a gang war, these guys are the most cowardly, cowardly of men that are committing crazy acts ... they lie in wait for their opponent.

"War is brave men and women fighting for their country, not these spineless men."

Cases fraught with collateral damage


In many ways, it's even worse than it appears.

While much of the more blatant gunplay makes the news, so much never makes it to the public domain.

There are drive-by shootings and incidents, such as a recent shooting at a luxury SUV at a gas station, where police apparently arrived to find shell casings but the suspects or victims gone.

It's not like many of the players talk to police, so there are events even they don't hear about -- people shot, threats made, the daily violence that is part of the realm of gang life.

And then there are cases police learn about later, such as one where a gang member took a long, painful drive to Vancouver to be treated for a gunshot wound to avoid the attention of police. Amid it all, there is always collateral damage such as the father hurt when his son's rivals shot up the family home and the young man shot whom police say was left a quadriplegic.

The battle continues between police trying to end the deadly duelling with gangs that have no apparent intention of calling a truce.

People shot end up being people charged with everything from weapons to drug offences.

Some go to jail while their girlfriends have babies.

Some die and leave behind so many living.

At least three gang members killed in recent years left behind young children, including one the father never had the chance to meet.

One gang detective, who asked not to be named, says the strange thing is some gang members are actually among those wanting an end to it all.

"I think some legitimately want the violence to stop," he says.

"They've said that -- but they are not prepared to step up and be counted."
And a detective who, so many years ago, couldn't get any of the friends of a young man slain to talk and help find the killer says even gang members know the solution to stop the chaos they cause is still so elusive.

One told him as much.

"He said, 'Whatever we are doing, it's not working,' " the detective says.

"He told me that several times.

"He wasn't telling us something I didn't already know, but he didn't have any credible solutions.

"I'm not saying we're going to get rid of gangs," he adds.

"What we need is to rid the violence associated with gangs."

Anti-gang ads seek funding

Some alderman question billboards' effectiveness


City police have missed the bus for nearly a year on an opportunity to spread the anti-gang message. Police say they had to shelve advertising inside and outside public transit last April because there wasn't $35,000 in their 2009 budget to place the ads. They also spent about $10,000 placing the ads at places like movie theatres to target younger crowds. Spokesman Kevin Brookwell said the Get a Life campaign is still alive with its successful website, which provides information for parents, youth and gang members in several languages, and brochures. The police service also has a gang hotline manned 24 hours a day. But the posters, including one which features a man's foot with a toe tag and the message "Gang Life is a Dead End", are no longer on transit.

Police approached the city with the cost dilemma and were referred to Pattison Sign Group. The company gave police some discounted rates but ultimately it was decided limited funds would be better spent on the operational side of fighting gangs. Brookwell said the hope is to see the poster campaign resurrected as part of a province-wide anti-gang plan. "It was coincidental when our advertising stopped on transit, there was a noticeable drop in activity on the gang lines -- whether or not there was a correlation or not is speculative," he said. The task with limited dollars, however, is to balance between preventive and reactive efforts. "While it is disappointing, we are hopeful, even with a partnership with the province or within our current operating budget, we will find the funds to re-initiate the ad campaign," Brookwell said.

At city hall, aldermen have varying opinions on whether public dollars should be used to keep the stark advertising campaign breathing. Ald. John Mar, who sits on the Calgary Police Commission, said the marketing campaign has been very successful. "Calgarians right now are very sensitive to any expenditure of money but the best thing we can do is prevention and if we're talking about $35,000, we can find that money somewhere," he said. "If one kid stays out of a gang or one life is saved, then it's worth it." Mar said there is likely some surplus cash either through the city's protective services or police commission that could be used to pay to get the advertisements back on billboards and buses. But not all aldermen are on board with the scheme, noting the payoff for the expenditure needs to be proven first. "It might make the average citizen feel a little better but is a billboard going to keep a kid from getting into a gang? We can't do everything," said Ald. Bob Hawkesworth. Hawkesworth said the city takes the issue of street gangs very seriously but the bulk of dollars should be going to enforcement.

Time for a gang fight



There's a gang fight raging on Parliament Hill. Prime Minister Stephen Harper picked Vancouver to announce his government's tough anti-crime agenda. A spate of gang-related killings has brought the issue into blood-curdling focus for citizens in that city. Calgarians, who've enjoyed a bit of a lapse in the murder and mayhem wrought by our local gang population lately, also have a big stake in tougher new laws. While Harper suggested the opposition would attack the new anti-gang measures, the Liberals, NDP and even Bloc Quebecois signalled their support. They even went so far as to accuse the Tories of not doing enough to keep the streets safe.

We'll have to wait until the laws go before Parliament to see if all this tough talk matches with their actions. New legislation announced by Harper would make murders linked to organized crime automatically first degree -- subject to a mandatory 25 years in the slammer without parole. Drive-by and other reckless shootings would draw a mandatory four-year minimum sentence.

Calgary police would also like to see an end to criminals being given additional credit for time already served. That's a move backed, astonishingly, by the Bloc Quebecois, who also want an end to the common practice of granting day parole to prisoners who've served one-sixth of their sentences. Mon dieu! The Liberals appear no less eager to get tough, urging better wiretap laws and streamlining the justice process to speed trials to court. Even the NDP are calling for more police and programs to divert youth away from gangs. Sadly the team effort on the crime-fighting front likely won't last long. On Friday, the Tories announced tough new penalties for drug dealers and grow-ops, the businesses that fuel gang activity. The opposition parties have already warned they don't support these laws, because the U.S. experience has shown they don't work.

Other critics denounce the government strategy for ignoring the root causes of the gang wars -- alienated youth and massive demand for illegal drugs. As the Sun's in-depth three-day series on gangs illustrates, this complex problem has evolved over a number of years. The new laws, tough as they might be, aren't an instant solution. Calgary police admit their main challenge is getting those with knowledge of gang activities to talk. In fact, no one has been arrested in connection with the eight gang-related slayings last year and only one person has been convicted of a gang killing since 2001. Slowing or reversing this murderous trend is going to require a multi-faceted approach involving police, social agencies and federal and provincial authorities.

Proposed anti-drug legislation would allow for drug courts that encourage an accused to deal with the addiction that motivates their criminal behaviour. That's important, but putting these trigger-happy thugs away where they can't harm anyone is more urgent. "What we want to do is get some of these people off the street," says federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson. "We want to break up this activity." Those who say these get-tough laws are futile should come up with some better solutions.

Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford says she doesn't want "to hear people say we shouldn't try because it might not work. "I'd rather have the legislation on the books than not have it on the books," she told reporters. "We cannot let this culture develop where people think there are no consequences for making decisions that are in violation of the rules of society." That's a sentiment with which few law-abiding citizens would disagree.


"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

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