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News Articles: SUMMIT TACKLES GANG VIOLENCE ON RESERVES
Public Meetings VANCOUVER -- Three men shot dead and three others wounded in a single paroxysm of violence. A major methamphetamine lab busted on a residential street. Three people dead of drug overdoses in separate incidents on the same morning. Those might sound like dispatches from the front lines in a big city where police are grappling with a drug scene run by gangs, but they all occurred on small British Columbia native reserves.

The multiple shootings took place at a cocaine-fuelled bush party in Penticton in 2004, the synthetic drug lab was taken down on the Cheam reserve last summer and the three drug-overdose deaths happened just a few weeks ago on two reserves near Chase.

Now, all that activity is the focus of a conference in Abbotsford, where native leaders from about 40 B.C. bands will meet today and tomorrow with senior RCMP and provincial-government officials to discuss the growing problem, under the heading: "Organized Crime, Drugs, and Gangs in First Nations Communities."

RCMP Corporal Chris Gosselin, head of an all-aboriginal police unit that patrols about 18 reserves in the Fraser Valley, said the summit was organized at the request of native leaders who are worried about the increased presence of drugs and gangs on reserves.

He said the multiple shooting on the Penticton reserve sent a shock wave through native communities in B.C. and made it clear to everyone that gangs and drug activity were not restricted to the urban core.

After that incident, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and in 2004 also chief of the Penticton band, warned about gang activity within bands, including the Hells Angels in the Okanagan, and called for first nations to unite against organized crime.

Cpl. Gosselin said since then the RCMP have held several workshops to help educate native communities about organized crime, but today's conference in Abbotsford takes it to a new level, with involvement from across the province.

"We're getting communities [attending] from the North, the Okanagan, Vancouver Island .. and we hope this is the beginning of an annual conference on strategy because these gangs aren't going to go away," he said.

Cpl. Gosselin said the RCMP has been working hard to overcome old suspicions against police on reserves, trying to persuade native people they need to co-operate with law enforcement to root out crime.

"We're making strides," he said. "Some of our biggest successes have been shutting down drug houses ... when you have police show up and work collectively with chief and council ... and the community takes the house back, those are huge steps."

Chief Sid Douglas of the 300-member Cheam band, near Chilliwack, said a few years ago that 80 to 90 per cent of the people on reserves didn't trust the police. But today he puts that figure at about 50 per cent.

"I've got to be honest. There still are band members who don't have too much respect for the RCMP," he said. "But things are changing. People realize that if they want to take back their communities [from gangs] they have to work co-operatively with the police."

Mr. Douglas said because reserves have operated somewhat in isolation from mainstream society, and because of a broad suspicion about police, criminals got the idea that reserves were safe havens.

He said band leaders are now working with police trying to change that attitude, because of a growing concern about the impact of crime and violence.

Chief Douglas said government needs to help by toughening up laws.

"We have been having a really hard time with gangs," he said.

"The courts are too lenient in dealing with some of the very active people. Some people [at Cheam] went to court three months ago and they are back out and right back into it [dealing drugs]," he said.

On the small Cheam reserve, he said, there are rumours that both the UN gang and the Independent Soldiers - two of the biggest gangs in Metro Vancouver - are active in the area.

"There is also talk about Asian triads," he said.


 
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