The Lower Mainland has seen a dozen shootings in less than one month, nine of them deadly, and many linked to the ongoing gang conflict.
At least one bystander has been wounded as gun violence continues to play out in public places across Metro Vancouver, endangering the lives of innocent people, including those dining outdoors during COVID-19.
Brothers Keepers gangster Harb Dhaliwal, 31, was gunned down in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour on April 17, in a public execution just steps from a packed patio at Cardero’s restaurant.
On May 13, children and parents enjoying dinner on a Cactus Club patio in Burnaby ducked for cover and ran when at least 20 rounds of rapid fire erupted in the parking lot. The body of 23-year-old gangster Jaskeert Kalkat was later pulled from a bullet-riddled BMW.
Despite the risk of stray bullets, people are still flocking to patios during the sunny weather, and law enforcement experts say there’s no reason to be gun-shy about outdoor dining spaces.
“If you feel uncomfortable, perhaps don’t go to that patio if it’s full of a bunch of gangsters,” retired Vancouver Police Department Supt. Andy Hobbs told Global News.
The Restaurant Watch program, a partnership between the VPD and restaurant owners, was launched in 2008 in response to a series of gang hits at popular, high-end eateries in the city.
“We’ve literally dodged a bullet in all these things,” said BC Restaurant and Food Services Association president Ian Tostenson.
“It’s been a very effective program.”
The goal is to keep suspected gangsters out of dining establishments, and participating restaurants can call police if a patron fits the description of a gang member or anyone with a propensity for violence.
“If the person is known to have connections with crime or drugs those sorts of things, they’re evicted,” Tostenson told Global News.
The idea was the first of its kind in North America –- and followed similar programs used in nightclubs and bars across Canada.
Hobbs, who is seeking a seat on Richmond City Council in an upcoming byelection, said Restaurant Watch made an immediate impact and the word on the street was that some gangsters were deciding not to bring their guns to Vancouver.
“It actually did decrease the amount of violence in bars and restaurants by a substantial amount, including homicides.”
Several other B.C. cities have since adopted their own initiatives modelled after Restaurant Watch in order to keep patrons safe, including Surrey where the Inadmissible Patrons Program was created in 2018.
Both Tostenson and Hobbs maintain restaurant patios are very safe and encourage the public to support local businesses that are already struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are in the middle of a gang war so there are shootings happening, but restaurants are not a particularly high risk, said Hobbs.
“They’re after themselves so what we have to be cautious of is that sort of collateral damage,” added Tostenson.