VANCOUVER — Vancouver remains a safe and alluring tourist destination despite its growing reputation as a mecca for organized criminals, a tourism official insisted Friday as police investigated the area’s latest fatal shooting.
The city has been the subject of negative coverage in international media outlets recently — the latest example from the Economist magazine and a story with the headline, British Columbia or Colombia?
“As a tourism organization, we cannot play the game of trying to deny the bad news,” said Paul Valley, executive vice-president of Tourism Vancouver.
Still, Valley called the story “alarmist,” and noted most of the dozens of shootings this year have been targeted.
“If they (tourists) are worried that they’re coming down the street and stepping over dead bodies, then that’s not going to be happening here.”
The Economist story said daylight shootings demonstrate “the feckless response of the provincial government and police, despite reports dating back more than 30 years giving warning of the growth in organized crime.”
On Friday, a 29-year-old Maple Ridge, B.C., man was shot on a residential street.
Cpl. Dale Carr of the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said the man apparently drove himself to hospital, where he died. Police have identified the man and informed his family, but have not yet released his name to the public.
He was the latest of more than 20 victims who have been shot to death this year. There have been nearly 50 attacks in Vancouver and surrounding communities since mid-January.
Police have said some of the shootings involve turf wars over drugs between rival gangs.
Valley acknowledged some of the shootings have taken place in public areas such as malls, but he said the incidents haven’t kept tourists away.
“It’s certainly a concern to us, but we have to measure our response and not to overreact,” he said.
The Economist story also said that despite great public concern over crime, the issue received little attention in the recent election campaign.
In their platforms, the Liberals and the NDP both promised more resources to combat gang violence.
Solicitor General Rich Coleman blasted the Economist story.
“They’re full of it,” said Coleman. “Frankly, it’s nonsense.”
Coleman said the government has added 168 officers in the last few months to combat gang crimes, in addition to the work of an integrated gang task force.
“We’ve arrested close to 50 gang members in the last couple of months and those guys are behind bars, they’re not out on bail,” he said.
“We’re doing this as well as anybody in North America and anybody in the world as far as how we deal with our gangs.”
Last month, a story in Britain’s The Independent newspaper described Vancouver’s “blood-spattered streets littered with shell casings and corpses,” while an Associated Press story referred to a “spasm of gang violence” in the city.