Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Feb. 11, 2009)

Gang Politics

By Bob Cooper



Looks like the Liberals are beginning to feel the pressure, or have been woken up by all the gunfire in the Lower Mainland in the last few days.  The Premier has sent poor Wally Oppal to the dugout and has once again re-invented himself - this time as the crusading, steely-eyed, champion of law enforcement warning gangs to clear off.  Tough act when his last involvement was closing jails and courthouses and cutting funds to Crown.   Guess we’ll see if you can fool all of the people some of the time.

On Tuesday the Premier rose in the Legislature to claim the Liberals have added 900 police officers in BC the last 8 years and if more were needed, by God, they’d be provided.  Sounded a tad high to me and a while later he wasn’t sure if they were new hires or redeployments.  Similarly, when asked about the additional officers he wouldn’t commit to whether they would be new hires or redeployments.  What he hopes that people won’t notice is that the vast majority of police officers in BC are hired by municipalities.  Neither the Premier or the Provincial government has anything to do with it, they just want the credit.  Hey, it’s election time.

Ironically the best suggestions for tackling the gang problem have come from the NDP, not usually known for being hardliners or clear thinkers but credit where credit is due.  From the specific steps he’s proposed in the House I’d bet that Public Safety Critic Mike Farnworth has actually consulted with law enforcement.  For instance, the proposed ban on Body Armor that New York and numerous other states have enacted.  The initial reaction from government was that it was pointless because the gangsters would wear it anyway.  Right, and since it would be an offence it’s another thing they could be arrested for.  Among several other practical ideas he put forward, one of the best is for a special prosecution team.  This would be for the purpose getting prosecutors and the police working together and to develop the same expertise in prosecuting certain crimes as the police need in investigating them.

The average guy would say this is a no-brainer and why don’t we already have these?   Well, the reason is that the Canadian legal establishment hates the idea of the Crown working with the police or fighting as hard for convictions as the defense fights for acquittals.   Far too American, you see.  They subscribe to a uniquely Canadian piece of legal fiction that says ‘The Crown neither wins or loses”.

Back in the 1980s I was in the Asian Squad (Joint RCMP/VPD) when a teenager named Bob Moeini was shot to death in his townhouse in Champlain Heights by members of the Red Eagles gang.  The Social Credit government of the day was under similar pressure and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Myself and my partner were asked to a meeting with Attorney-General Brian Smith.  As an aside, just prior to leaving we were ordered by our RCMP boss not to ask for any more men because this stuff didn’t fall within the RCMP federal mandate and they didn’t want to be involved with it.  Not knowing what else to do, we went to the meeting and asked for some money for new camera gear and a special prosecution team.

Like the average guy, the A-G couldn’t believe we didn’t already have one.   Forgive him, Lord, he wasn’t a lawyer.  To him it seemed like common sense.  Despite huge resistance from within his own Ministry the team was up and running within a week.  It consisted of 5 prosecutors and was headed by a man named Jim McBride who brought some new rules to the game.  We worked together hand in glove and could phone each other day or night.  They fought like tigers at Bail and Sentencing hearings and if a case was ‘prima facie’, it got prosecuted.

Of all of the innovations I’ve ever seen this one really sat up and worked.  You could have plotted the rise in convictions and sentences on a bar graph.  Eventually, though, the gang stuff faded from the headlines and the establishment had its way.  The team was quietly disbanded and the Crown went back to ‘neither winning or losing’.

And here we are.  Again.

Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2009