Vancouver now Canada's gang capital, public safety minister says

LANGLEY, B.C. - Canada's top cop labelled Metro Vancouver the country's gang capital Tuesday as police identified the young mother killed in a hail of bullets while her four-year-old son rode in the car.

LANGLEY, B.C. - Canada's top cop labelled Metro Vancouver the country's gang capital Tuesday as police identified the young mother killed in a hail of bullets while her four-year-old son rode in the car.

Nicole Marie Alemy was driving her husband's Cadillac in suburban Surrey when she was hit.

The 23-year-old White Rock, B.C., resident's son was unhurt, though traumatized when the car coasted into a tree by the side of the road Monday morning.

Vancouver and its suburbs have been under attack as criminals trade shots in an undeclared gang war that's taken as many as half a dozen lives and wounded several people in the last few weeks.

Another killing took place Tuesday as federal Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Peter Van Loan met local mayors, police officials and relatives of two innocent victims caught in a gang-style execution that claimed six lives in 2007.

Vancouver police would not confirm details but witnesses told reporters a man was killed and his intended victim wounded in what appeared to be a botched murder attempt at a south Vancouver basement suite.

Van Loan, speaking not far from a Langley shopping mall where an alleged gangster was gunned down Feb. 6, said the situation has Prime Minister Stephen Harper's attention.

"Vancouver and British Columbia are unfortunately the focus of the largest number of organized-crime gang groups in Canada," he said.

"But it's not just the largest number, it's also the largest number of very sophisticated organized-crime groups - those that are the most proficient at what they do, the most violent at what they do."

RCMP Cpl. Dale Carr of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said Alemy was not the registered owner of the vehicle riddled with bullets.

"The registered owner was her husband," he said.

Carr said investigators are not calling the killing a gang-related shooting at this point.

"Perhaps in the next day or so we'll be in a position to suggest whether or not this is related to gang activity or to domestic," he said.

But Carr said the little boy was not being handed to the woman's husband, whom he would not identify.

"We placed him with the Ministry (of Children and Family Development) and we're letting the ministry deal with where he goes from there," he said.

The B.C. Integrated Gang Task Force has identified at least 129 organized-crime groups in the province, most based in Metro Vancouver, though some may have as few as three members.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell announced last week that the province was bolstering the number of police and Crown prosecutors focused on gang activity, planning to build more jail cells and crack down on illegal guns and gangsters' use of armoured cars and body armour.

The province also wants Ottawa to stiffen bail provisions for gun offences, update 35-year-old wiretap laws and introduce mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug convictions.

Van Loan said the Conservative government has already done a lot, including funding more police officers, introducing mandatory minimum sentences for gun offences and requiring those charged with serious crimes to prove they should be allowed out on bail - known as reverse onus.

The government's efforts to do more were hampered by opposition party obstruction before the last election, he said.

"We had mandatory prison sentences for drug crimes was one bill that never made it through that parliament," said Van Loan, adding the government intends to reintroduce the legislation.

Canadians need to send a message to politicians that it's time to "rebalance our justice system," Van Loan said.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland said the party had agreed to expedite passage of some of the Tories' crime package. But the government became impatient with the Liberal-dominated Senate, then prorogued Parliament and called an election.

The Ontario MP would not commit the Liberals to supporting a fresh crime package without seeing details.

"I don't think we have material objections to stiffer sentences and dealing with the punishment side of crime," said Holland. "But the reality is it's got to be a lot more comprehensive than that."

Van Loan said besides trying to jail more serious criminals, the government is also funding efforts to keep young people out of gangs. But Holland said Van Loan's department has spent less than half of its crime-prevention budget.

The families Van Loan met with Tuesday included the parents of innocent victims Chris Mohan and the brother-in-law of Ed Schellenburg, who were killed in October 2007 along with four alleged gang members in a Surrey penthouse suite.

The Mohans lived on the same floor while Schellenburg was servicing fireplaces in the building.

Eileen and Sunil Mohan and Steve Brown, who've since become advocates of tougher anti-gang laws, came out of the meeting saying they supported provincial and federal efforts to crack down on gang activity.

B.C. Solicitor General John van Dongen, who was to also meet with Van Loan, said cutting paperwork for police and Crown prosecutors tops his wish list.

"It is a complicated issue which ultimately generates an incredible amount of paperwork that is actually not helpful to police, not helpful to the Crown making their case," he said. "It actually becomes a heyday for defence lawyers."

Police remained shocked by Monday's shooting, especially its impact on the young child who witnessed it.

"He probably underwent the most horrific thing that a child could ever go through, which is to watch their mother get murdered," said Carr, his voice quivering at times.

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