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MP talks gangs in troubled neighbourhood
( Mar 19 2009 )

Observer News Service


As a former lawyer who was also B.C.'s attorney general during his career as an NDP MLA that culminated in becoming premier, the Liberal MP for Vancouver South, Ujjal Dosanjh is a strong proponent of a regional police force for Metro Vancouver.

He also argues for a comprehensive approach that includes social programs from kindergarten to high school, more police, treatment programs for chronic gang members and tougher penalties for dangerous offenders.

But Dosanjh said he wants to hear the opinion of residents in South Vancouver, where much of the violence has been centred, by sponsoring a public meeting to talk about the gang problem.

"Maybe they'll change my mind," he said, noting many in the community are fearful about the violence. Dosanjh's announcement of the meeting follows the recent murders of two men at 41st Avenue and Knight Street. Curtis Brandon Ponecappo, 19, and Daniel Troy Soosa, 22, were shot in an apartment in the south Vancouver neighbourhood. Police say the pair was known to them.

Dosanjh said he'd considered holding a community forum before the murders, but the deaths convinced him now was the time. While politicians and experts have met to discuss the recent rise in gang activity over the past few months, this will be the first meeting specifically set up for the neighbourhood most affected in Vancouver.

"I wanted to hear from people unhampered by experts and the media," Dosanjh said. He plans to take what he hears from those who attend to the Liberal caucus in Ottawa after the parliamentary break. He said constituents have called his office and suggested many solutions.

"Recommendations range from 'Lock them up and throw away the key' to 'Why are there not more youth programs?'" Dosanjh said.

Kashmir Dhaliwal, president of the Khalsa Diwan Society of B.C. on Ross Street, said the violence in the neighbourhood worries him.

"Every day we hear of shootings here and there," Dhaliwal said. "We have to do something." Dhaliwal plans to attend the meeting, which will take place at the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House at 6470 Victoria Dr. at 7 p.m.

"We need some stronger laws," Dhaliwal said. "We want this violence to be ended in our community-in all communities."

The Vancouver police department responded to the rise in gang-related violence with Project Rebellion, which started in October 2008. According to the VPD, there were 14 fatal gang shootings between October 2007 and the beginning of Project Rebellion.

Insp. Mike Porteous, team commander for Project Rebellion, announced March 6 that police had arrested Udham Sanghera, as well as four other people. Police say Sanghera is leader of the Sanghera gang.

Both the Sanghera and rival Buttar-Malli groups are based in south Vancouver, according to police.

"Over 100 shootings in the past two years can be credited to the conflict between the Sanghera and Buttar-Malli groups," Porteous said. Since the arrests were announced on March 6, three more shootings have occurred in Vancouver.

Dosanjh said he has noticed a shift in the amount of violence in south Vancouver since the mid-'90s, as well as a shift in public perception.

"People believe there's much less safety," Dosanjh said. "We all feel touched by it."

Mayor Gregor Robertson and city council have been invited to attend the meeting. But Robertson is out of town and council is on spring break, so councillors may also be unavailable, according to Kevin Quinlan, Robertson's executive assistant.


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