Nine officers, 250 hours, one wiretap authorization; that's some burden of pro


So here's my question about the shootings currently seeing police all over Metro Vancouver carting away the bodies of dead gang members: If so many of the victims are known bad guys, what are they doing on the street in the first place?

Like Hong Chao Huang, the man who was shot dead outside his leafy mansion in the heart of Shaughnessy, one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the country. Apparently, 45-year-old Mr. Huang was an infamous crime boss and kingpin in the Canadian drug trade.

When I first read that, I thought; if the police knew this, why wasn't "the big house" in which Mr. Chao was living surrounded by barbed wire instead of 10-metre-high hedges?

To me, this is the enduring mystery about the fight on organized crime: The people getting gunned down in restaurants and at intersections all seem to be known criminals, and yet they're out enjoying the West Coast night life and bopping around in pimped-up Mercedes SUVs.

Ten people have been killed in recent weeks in Metro Vancouver - including two innocents caught up in the attacks - in what police say is gang-related violence. No one seems to know for sure whether some gang turf war is under way or the rash of shootings is a statistical anomaly. But the one common factor seems to be that most of the victims were known criminals leading criminal lifestyles.

So what gives? Why is it so difficult to put away known gangsters?

"That's a good question," says RCMP Sergeant Shinder Kirk of the B.C. Integrated Gang Task Force.

He isn't being facetious. These days, it's a question he believes many Canadians have, especially those living in Metro Vancouver. The answer, not surprisingly, is complicated.

Criminals, especially those operating in the most well-established organizations, have become much more sophisticated over the years. Police around the world are fighting to keep up with the uses bad guys are making of new technology. But there is an additional problem, one that is particularly apt to Canada.

You can believe someone is involved in organized crime, but getting the judicial authority to wiretap his phone or search his property to help get the goods on him is another matter entirely.

"The police must work within an environment where the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt," Sgt. Kirk told me. "Getting that burden of proof is huge and it's complicated and time consuming and just very difficult to get."

Sgt. Kirk said that in one of the task force's recent cases, it took nine officers 250 hours to prepare an affidavit for one authorization. And if you're the cops preparing that wiretap application, you'd better not screw up, because if the judge gives you the go-ahead based on facts that are the slightest bit wrong, any court case stemming from that search will get thrown out.

It happens all the time.

All of which is to say that putting bad guys behind bars is not simple. And the mass hysteria being whipped up by the news media around the recent spate of gang killings in Metro Vancouver isn't going to stop the next shooting from occurring. Nothing, frankly, is going to prevent gang members from blasting one another on street corners at 3 o'clock in the morning if that's what they're intent on doing.

It's like trying to prevent a suicide bomber from pulling the cord in a crowded restaurant. It's almost impossible.

The proliferation of gangs and gang shootings in Metro Vancouver has everything to do with the region's burgeoning drug trade and very little to do with the police's failure to bring the gang situation under some sort of control.

Can the police do a better job? Sure. Would more officers dedicated to the task of battling gangs help? Probably. But if you ask police who are on the ground trying to deal with the problem and not sitting in offices writing about it, the biggest obstacle they face is the irrefutable evidence they must possess before getting wiretap or search warrants.

How would Canadians feel about judges lowering the burden of proof for those warrants?

My guess is most people would say no, which is fine and probably the right decision. As long as we understand that bad guys will continue to live in Shaughnessy mansions and shoot each other in restaurants and on street corners.