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After three shootings in 15 hours, Vancouver police say a gang war is proliferating in the DTES

Both new and long-established gangs are preying upon DTES residents and Oppenheimer encampment

Three people were shot inside the span of 15 hours, a gang turf war is taking root in the Downtown Eastside and Vancouver police are now officially calling for a court-ordered injunction to clear the tents and campers out of Oppenheimer Park.

In the midst of the latest round of violence in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver Police Department Deputy Chief Howard Chow told reporters Monday that the VPD supports an injunction to remove campers from the park who are subject to skyrocketing levels of crime, not just in the park, but across the Downtown Eastside.

It’s the first time this year a public agency has publicly stated support for court intervention. The Vancouver Park Board doesn’t support an injunction, and Mayor Kennedy Stewart remains non-committal on such court action. 

Chow’s comments came after three shootings in the Downtown Eastside within 15 hours spanning mid-day Sunday to Monday morning.

The two shootings on Sunday happened within two hours of one another: one just before 4 p.m., near East Hastings Street and Dunlevy Avenue and the second around 6 p.m. in the area of East Pender and Abbott streets. 

Around 6:30 a.m. Monday, there was a third shooting near East Hastings and Abbott streets.

The victim in the first shooting is a 50-year-old Surrey man who is in hospital with serious injuries.  A 28-year-old Langley man and 25-year-old Surrey man were injured in the second shooting and were transported to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. 

This morning’s incident sent a 50-year-old Vancouver man to hospital with serious injuries.

No suspects are in custody.

“The intelligence that we’re getting is that there is a gang conflict that’s taking place,” Chow said. “And it’s that drug turf war that’s going on where everybody is vying for that piece of the action. That’s what Oppenheimer has created. It has destabilized that park, which never had those issues.”

Chow added that new gangs are showing up in Vancouver specifically looking to capitalize on those camped out at Oppenheimer Park and other vulnerable residents in the DTES. In years past, individual blocks within the Downtown Eastside were split between rivalling factions.

More than 700 calls for service have happened around the park this year: sexual assaults, stabbings, and shootings and overdoses. It’s a number Chow referred to as “astonishing.”

“It’s a very controlled type of atmosphere in terms of the gang turf as well as the drug turf and how it’s broken apart,” Chow said. “But now what’s happened is you’ve got a whole new entity, that being Oppenheimer Park, and a whole new host of clients that are there that are preyed upon.

Police Chief Adam Palmer echoed similar comments to the Courier late last week: the United Nations gang, Wolf Pack, Middle Eastern crime syndicates and other independent gangs are operating in the area.

Green Party Coun. Pete Fry told the Courier in early August that new gangs were operating in the park’s periphery as well.

When asked specifically about an injunction on Sept. 19, Palmer’s response was, “It is time to move down that road.”

On Monday, Chow said, “We support an injunction.”

Chow said those gangs are moving into the area specifically to prey upon the vulnerable populations living in the DTES.

“It’s drawing our police resources over to Oppenheimer and virtually leaving the Downtown Eastside unchecked, unpoliced,” Chow said. “That’s where the issues are with how Oppenheimer has a direct nexus to the level of violence that’s going on in our city right now.”

The city was granted injunctions twice at Oppenheimer, first in 2008 and again in 2014.

What difference did it make?

“It disrupted the activities there, it cleared out the park,” Chow said. “The criminal element went back to wherever they were and oftentimes they’re not even from the Vancouver area, they’re not even from the Downtown Eastside. They’re seeing this as a market that’s been untapped in the past.”

The most recent count from city officials estimated 40 homeless people remained in the park. The park board’s response has been to reject an injunction to clear the park and instead call on the city to create a multi-jurisdictional task force on homelessness.

More recently, the mayor requested the park board temporarily cede jurisdiction of the park to the city.

That would have given the city an ability to seek an injunction, though the park board refused in a letter sent to Stewart on Sept. 18.  The mayor has only stated he has a plan for the park that may or may not include seeking an injunction.

Park board chairperson Stuart Mackinnon and two other commissioners have said they wouldn’t support giving the city temporary jurisdiction over the park.

There’s been a steady flow of statistics, metrics and media briefings from the VPD around the DTES throughout the last four months in particular. 

Some of those numbers include:

* 87 per cent increase in emergency calls to the park from June to August when compared to the same period last year.

* five swarming attacks on VPD members who were trying to make arrests in the DTES in the past six weeks.

* 453 firearms seized in Vancouver this year, with almost half — 223 — seized in the policing district that includes Oppenheimer Park and the Downtown Eastside.

* 17 weapons seized in Oppenheimer between June and August. In the wider area of the Downtown Eastside, a total of 476 weapons were seized over the same three months.

* 150 stolen bikes, worth more than $100,000, recovered from a warehouse three blocks east of Oppenheimer Park on Sept. 11.

- with files from Mike Howell