As Vancouver heads into the home stretch for the 2010
Games, international media have been shining an unflattering light on
the city's growing gang problem.

It has been a blow, especially because not so long ago Vancouver was heralded by the influential Economist magazine as the most liveable city in the world.

January, 21 people in the Metro Vancouver area have been killed in
gang-related violence. Gory details have appeared in stories in major
U.S. newspapers and the Independent in the U.K.


"Once upon a very recent time, Vancouver had a clean, safe image," said the Independent article.
"As it prepares to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, what it's got now is
not cuddly, eco-friendly publicity, but blood-spattered streets
littered with shell casings and corpses."

That's not the image
Vancouver Olympic organizers and B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, heading
into an election next month, want hanging over the city.

"It's a shame that you have got some people that are going to try to take some cheap shots," Campbell told reporters this week.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said compared to major American cities, Vancouver is one of the safest cities in the world.

is no cause for concern," Robertson said. But yesterday, hundreds of
Vancouverites turned out to walk and jog in the memory of Wendy
Ladner-Beaudry, who was found murdered last week after jogging in a
popular city park. Her death is still under investigation.

Participants said the event was organized to take back Pacific Spirit
Park and to save it from the fear that has gripped the community.

Police have warned the public that Ladner-Beaudry's murder may have
been a random attack and have urged people using the park to take

There were other acts of violence this week: another
gangland style slaying in front of a convenience store with one man
shot dead as he got out of his car.

The next day, a couple out
driving were forced out by a pedestrian wielding a knife who then drove
away. A day after that, parents taking their kids to an elementary
school saw a body on the ground. Police are not saying yet whether the
victim is the latest gang hit.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu
said newspapers in Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles that ran an
Associated Press story about Vancouver's gang violence should look in
their own backyard before they question Vancouver's safety.

had a spike recently," said Chu. "The public is safe and secure and
there are efforts we're making to maintain balance in this."

Still, daily reminders of shootings are overshadowing other events that should be a boost to the city.

$2 billion Canada Line, the rapid transit train running from downtown
to the airport, is going to open three months ahead of schedule, the
province announced earlier this month. Last week, the $882 million
waterfront convention centre opened to the public.

"It is without
a doubt the most beautiful convention centre I've ever seen," said
Terri Breining, president of Concepts Worldwide in California, a
meeting and events scheduling company.

Breining, in Vancouver
last week to attend a convention, saw the headlines about gangland
shootings but said it won't have an impact on visitors heading to the

For Tao Jian, headlines became reality this week when
Vancouver police fired on the driver of a stolen truck just outside his
apartment near Chinatown.

"I've realized that Vancouver is no
different than Los Angeles and Chicago. We have the same problems, the
same violence that these cities do," said Jian, a Mandarin teacher.

Manning, who teaches political science at Concordia University in
Montreal, said as the violence continues, more and more people are
directly affected.

"These acts of violence are happening in
much-loved and much-used public spaces and not just young people
congregating in clubs, but on highways and in cars," said Manning, who
grew up in Victoria and went to school with one of the gangsters gunned
down last year.

Manning, an expert on Chinese politics and the
2008 Olympics, said Vancouver is getting the focus now because it is an
Olympic city.

"There is an increasing spotlight now because of the Olympics," she said.

"What we saw in Beijing was there will be even more scrutiny in the months ahead."

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