Vancouver’s deadly gang war: Going after a familiar cast plus new players

Police across the Lower Mainland are pulling out all the stops to combat a new wave of deadly gang violence that involves both volatile younger players and gangsters with criminal links that date back a decade.

Senior police officers interviewed by Postmedia this week confirmed that the recent gun violence, including the fatal shooting of an innocent 15-year-old bystander, is as bad as the deadly gang war between the Red Scorpions and the United Nations gang that plagued the region in 2008 and 2009.

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High school student Alfred Wong and his parents had just finished a Saturday evening dinner in Vancouver on Jan. 13 and were driving home to Coquitlam, along Broadway, when Alfred was struck by a stray bullet from a gunfight on the busy street. He died two days later in hospital.

Also killed that evening was Downtown Eastside drug dealer Kevin Whiteside, who exchanged gunfire with his killer.

Whiteside was not a big player in the Vancouver drug trade. But the current gun violence has permeated every level of organized crime in B.C., from street dealers to gang leaders.

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said police are doing everything they can to fight back. His government is acting on recommendations from a task force on illegal firearms that could help curb the violence, including a new database to track gangster guns and increased use of civil forfeiture for those caught with them.

“The police, I think, they are doing an amazing job. They are trying to get on top of this as best they can,” Farnworth said. “There are some recommendations that I think are really helpful.”

But Farnworth said the federal government also needs to get more involved in finding solutions.

“At the federal level, they need to understand that this is not just a B.C. problem or a Lower Mainland problem, but it is a national problem and I think they need to be stepping up more.”

In November, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced at RCMP headquarters in Surrey that the federal government would spend an additional $327 million over five years to combat gang and gun violence.

More than two months later as the violence escalates, B.C. has not been able to get any of the money pledged, Farnworth said.

“We have requested the details. But we are still waiting to find out exactly what it is and how we are going to get it,” he said.

A major part of the conflict over the last year can be tracked back to drug traffickers aligned with people on either the RS or UN side of a decade ago.

Vancouver police Supt. Mike Porteous explained that those linked to the RS were known as the Grewals, the Kangs and the Dhaliwals after leaders of each faction.

They had carved up the Lower Mainland into areas where each ran dial-a-dope lines.

“They were traditionally at odds with the Sandhu-Sidhu group, which is more of an Abbotsford group,” Porteous said.

Those loyal to Jimi Sandhu, who has since been deported to India, and his associate Sandeep Sidhu, were connected to the UN side.

Underlings in both groups began battling several years ago on Townline Hill in Abbotsford, leading to assaults, shootings and murders. The violence spilled over into other communities and even to Edmonton, where Sidhu’s brother Navdeep, 24, and Harman Mangat, 22, were shot to death in January 2017.

In recent years, Gavinder Grewal, one of the leaders of the RS-aligned traffickers, started his own organization that he called the Brothers Keepers. He took the name from a line uttered by Wesley Snipes’ gangster character in the 1991 movie New Jack City.

Grewal got his new gang name tattooed across his upper chest in stylized script.

Gang officers began seeing others with the same tattoo in mid-2017 while Grewal was still in pre-trial custody, charged with manslaughter.

He was released on strict bail conditions on Sept. 27, 2017, and moved to the 25th floor of a North Vancouver high-rise.

Then his Brothers Keepers began to turn on each other.

“The big issue that has occurred that has probably caused a whole bunch of the violence that’s been going on is that there’s been a split,” Porteous said. “Gavin Grewal was fighting with everybody. He had specifically split off from the Kang group internally and that had caused a lot of violence.”

Someone shot Grewal’s former allies, Randy and Gary Kang, on Oct. 27 in Surrey. Randy was killed and Gary survived. The Vancouver brothers were active on the city’s south slope for years. The drug trade and the violence know no boundaries. 

The shootings and murders across the region have continued. Most — but not all — are connected to the same conflict, Porteous said. 

“I think for sure they are tit-for-tat retaliation. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out.”

Grewal, himself, was found slain inside his rented penthouse apartment on Dec. 22. The killer managed to get into the secure high rise building and finish the 30-year-old off. His body was found just before 8:30 p.m. He was due to go to trial this month for the fatal Abbotsford shooting of Mandy Johnson in July 2010.

The volatility of the ever-changing groups makes policing even more challenging, Abbotsford Police Deputy Chief Mike Serr said.

“Now you are seeing a lot more in that mid-level to lower-level groups that are changing alliances very quickly which makes things very unstable for us,” he said.

“Once they switch sides, once they change alliances, they bring with them a massive amount of intelligence that is very valuable to the new group, which again poses a lot of challenges to us.”

The intel can be used by the new group to hunt a rival.

Even gangsters who are in jail “still seem to have a power base,” Serr said.

“There is still this large group of new up and comers that are emerging. We are still seeing that traditional base from 10 years ago that has significant influence in the current gang conflict.”

Abbotsford Police are implementing a new gang crime unit “that will be specifically dedicated to managing the gang conflict and try to disrupt,” Serr said.

“We are very proactive in Abbotsford with doing regular daily curfew checks for the people who have conditions. We are checking on a daily basis, making sure they are in compliance. If we can find any way to put these guys back in jail, we are absolutely going to take that advantage and do that.”

Serr, Porteous and Sgt. Brenda Winpenny, of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, said all police agencies are working closely together to deal with the conflict, disrupting violence before it happens based on intelligence they’re collecting and sharing in live time.

Winpenny said that CFSEU “has taken the lead on a more robust approach to tackle the current conflict,” including targeting “those people that are the highest risk and we can focus on trying to suppress some of the violence that is going on on the streets.”

CFSEU is helping 130 “high-risk individuals” attempt to change their lives through intervention and exiting programs.

But Winpenny said it is not just up to police to come up with solutions.

“I think it is important for the public to know that it is not just a policing issue. It is an entire community issue, that communities have to get on board; parents, teachers, government, community support agencies need to be on board for this to be successful.”

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