Wednesday, January 23, 2008

John Woo would be proud

So, let's get this one started by saying - and I mean it quite earnestly - that one should be happy this is not happening on a regular basis in Ottawa.

Apparently, gangsters shooting other gangsters is not going out of style, any time soon. This one reads like a true case of some of the incidents that populate the screen in the 'hard-boiled' fantasy Hong-Kong film school. Gun play, expensive restaurants, fancy cars, more gun play. No one is busting out awesome karate moves, though, as these are utterly useless against rapid automatic pistol fire.

I would not be so fundamentally troubled by organized crime feuds if they weren't playing out, or at least occassionally spilling out, into the public and semi-public space. The mafia, the wise guys, the Cosa Nostra, the Triads or whatever other shadowy association happens to be fighting for turf, sending high-profile messages or simply punishing and removing inconvenient is all a sordid but understandable price of doing this kind of business. I, for one, actually have sympathy for some of these guys as they tend to want to become 'respectable' businessmen, except the products they deal with are stuck in the strictly illegal zone.

What is troubling - and potentially a political powderkeg to go off - is the implication that a similar shooting, similar fight or assassination attempt could very well not only kill innocent bystanders but that it could kill a visiting celebrity, in a swanky part of a nice city like Vancouver. The effect would be like the Jane Cerba killing (Boxing Day shooting in Toronto), multiplied tenfold.

Imagine if the actor mentioned here or anyone of similar stature got "clipped" and either died or sustained a serious injury. The consequences would be harsh and the ripples would travel far, further than I can imagine at the moment. Imagine, if you will, headlines splashed across US and other foreign newpapers, advertising Vancouver as the destination where big-time actors get shot in random crime incidents, unable to protect themselves...imagine for a moment that all restaurants and night clubs were to start hiring body guards, frisking all customers, metal detectors and all. Police would have a heyday as well. Things we take for granted would get crazy and complicated, just like flying and cross-border business have become following the terrorist incidents of 9/11. Whenever crime has social stability repercussions, civil liberties and our own convenience suffer.

Having said all of this, I am aware of the homegrown Ottawa-area gang problem, even if it doesn't have the high-stakes appearance and the hyperviolent edge that Vancouver's 'scene' seems to be having. We have had history here, with Hells Angels, with Vietnamese crime syndicates, with the Italian-derived mob (centered mainly in Montreal these days but with branches in O-town) and also with the more low-key street gangs who are busy on the drug dealing front. Fatal shootings and stabbings happen here, too. What we haven't had - and I am tremendously relieved we haven't had it - is a gun fight say at "18" or Helsinki or Vineyards. We also haven't had the image of playground for internationally wanted mobsters. Let's keep it that way.

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