Vancouver shocked by gangland executions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am

Massive manhunt after two shot dead in restaurant

Vancouver police launched a manhunt for two masked gunmen who sprayed a Chinese restaurant with bullets, killing two people and wounding six in what authorities say is likely the worst shooting in the Canadian city's history.

The two men who died were sitting at the same table, apparently part of a larger group eating at the Fortune Happiness restaurant, a late-night eatery in east Vancouver that police said was 'not on their radar'. Constable Howard Chow described the scene as one of mayhem when police were alerted to the incident early on Thursday.

'We had tables that were overturned, chairs that were overturned, a number of victims that had been shot and we had some frantic witnesses who needed to be dealt with,' he was quoted as saying by The Vancouver Sun.

The dead victims, aged 19 and 26, were both known to police and were Vancouver-area residents. Six people were in hospital, one of whom is in critical condition. Constable Chow said the names of the dead men had not been released as next of kin had not been notified.

'This is one of the most heinous shootings that we've come across,' said deputy police chief Bob Rich. 'This is one of the worst shootings that we've had in Vancouver.'

There have been other fatal shootings in Asian restaurants in recent years, all believed to be gang-related. Although police are not saying yet whether this shooting was linked to gangs or drugs, Mr Rich said it had all the hallmarks of a gang shooting, The Vancouver Sun reported.

If it is, it breaks what has been a relatively quiet period over the past few years. Police sources have said new organised groups have begun operating in the area surrounding the city proper, angling for position in the lucrative drug trade.

Mr Rich said the shooting fitted a pattern that police had noted in recent months of an increase in handguns being used in violent street crime.

The shooting was reported just after 4.30am on Thursday. Witnesses reported the assailants started shooting as soon as they entered the restaurant. Investigators found nine millimetre and .45-calibre shell casings on the floor of the restaurant. About 12 witnesses were being questioned.

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that after the shooting a young Asian woman with blood-stained clothes was helped from the restaurant by police.

'One guy came in the back, one guy came in front, I don't know,' she was quoted as saying.

While forensic teams dusted for fingerprints in the doorways and inside the Cantonese-style restaurant, police went door-to-door in the surrounding commercial area looking for video surveillance that may provide clues about the shootings.

The Globe quoted the owner of a nearby shop as saying the owner of the restaurant was a Vietnamese man, between 40 and 50 years old.

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan said he expected the shootings were tied to the drug trade.

'We have to look beyond this crime to see what's driving it,' he said. 'Are there people we need to deal with more effectively in the criminal justice system?'

Within hours of the shootings, national politicians also weighed in.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper blamed the Liberal-dominated Senate for holding up his party's gun laws. The Conservatives have pushed for mandatory prison sentences for crimes committed with guns and tougher bail requirements for accused criminals who use guns.

But former mayor Larry Campbell, who is now a Liberal senator, fired back, saying the prime minister and his party were taking a too-simplistic approach.

'He simply, like most Conservatives, does not understand complex issues,' Senator Campbell said. 'It's a tragedy when people die like this.'

Senator Campbell, a former police officer, said he believed that once Vancouver police investigators found out who was behind the shootings, they would find unregistered guns likely smuggled in from the United States.

The police department has been butting heads with the mayor and city council as it seeks more money for officers to patrol the street. Last spring the police chief, citing an increased number of shootings on the streets, asked for money for 75 new officers. But the mayor turned down the request and approved funds for only 17.

Police say the shootings highlight why more officers are needed.

Additional reporting by Staff Reporter