Vancouver gangs

Vancouver police on the anti-gang task force handcuff a patron outside a club in the city's Gastown district. Authorities trace the violence to the recent government crackdown on cocaine traffickers in Mexico, which has squeezed profit margins for cocaine north of the U.S. border.
More photos >>> (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times / May 15, 2009)

The latest mayhem started at the end of March, when 21-year-old Sean Murphy, a popular former high school hockey player, drove into a withering blast of gunfire near Bateman Park. He was probably dead before his car coasted to a stop in the weeds.

That same night, Ryan Richards, 19, abruptly left a friend's house after getting a cellphone call. His body was found the next morning behind a rural produce store. The stab wounds on his hands told the tale of a furious fight for his life. The undertaker apologized to his family for not being able to conceal them.

The bodies of two local high school seniors, Dilsher Gill, 17, and Joseph Randay, 18, were found May 1 in their car on a remote road just outside this normally quiet town of 134,000 near Vancouver. The boys had been seen driving away with an armed man the night before.

This crisp region of polished high-rises, emerald spruce, azure waterways and feel-good vibes finds itself in the midst of a gang war that has killed at least 18 young people this year.

Drug dealers are gunning down women (one in a car with her 4-year-old son in the back seat), high school students with no gang allegiances and, especially, one another, in broad daylight in and around the city that will host the 2010 Winter Olympics.

It got so bad this spring that police erected concrete barriers outside the homes of two gangsters to slow down potential drive-by assassins.

"Let's get serious. There is a gang war, and it's brutal. What we have seen are new rules of engagement for the gangsters," Vancouver's chief police constable, Jim Chu, told reporters in March.

Authorities trace the violence to the recent government crackdown on cocaine traffickers in Mexico, which has squeezed profit margins for cocaine north of the U.S. border.

Canada's outlaw retailers are fighting to the death over market share, police say, a situation exacerbated by personal vendettas and power vacuums left by the arrests of gang leaders.

"The war in Mexico directly impacts on the drug trade in Canada. . . . There's a complete disruption of the flow of cocaine into Canada, and we are seeing the result," said Pat Fogarty, operations officer for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, British Columbia's main law enforcement agency targeting organized crime.

The province became an important player in the Mexican cocaine marketplace in part by bartering its powerful home-grown marijuana, "B.C. Bud," which helps fuel what is estimated to be a $6.3-billion-a-year industry.

Canadian drug organizations now use planes, helicopters and, in one case, a tunnel to move drugs. They have equipped trucks with secret panels and devices to avoid detection by X-rays and drug-sniffing dogs.

The Lower Mainland has become a playground for young up-and-coming gangsters, who speed around town in armor-plated Cadillac Escalades, Porsche SUVs and BMW sedans.

The worst violence can be traced to the verdant Fraser Valley southeast of Vancouver, where the Red Scorpions gang has been at war with a multi-ethnic criminal organization called the United Nations.

The founder of the U.N. is Clayton Roueche, 33, son of a scrap metal dealer from Chilliwack, population 80,000.

Authorities believe Roueche was going to attend a wedding and meet trafficking associates in Mexico in May 2008 when authorities there turned him away. He was flown to Dallas, where U.S. agents arrested him on a drug indictment out of Seattle. He pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy and money-laundering charges and faces as many as 30 years in prison.

Two months later, the man he allegedly was going to meet in Mexico was shot to death in a Guadalajara restaurant, along with another U.N. associate.

The U.N. adopted its name in honor of the variety of nationalities it encompasses, including Iraqis, Chinese and Guatemalans. It is known for its Asian mystic-themed motto of "Honor-Loyalty-Respect," created by Roueche, who has a passion for martial arts and Buddhism.

The cemetery in Chilliwack is dominated by the graves of two former U.N. members, flanked by a pair of 5-foot-tall granite monuments inscribed with the same "U.N." monogram found on the gang's packets of cocaine. The phrase "Warrior of the United Nations" is engraved in Chinese characters. At the foot of the graves, a pair of stone Chinese foo lions stands guard.