Written by Alex Cosh
Local politicians and law enforcement in the Vancouver area are facing questions about their responses to a deadly shooting earlier this week that police initially said was targeted against unhoused people.
Three people, including the shooter, were left dead and two others were seriously wounded following the six-hour rampage in the Vancouver-area suburb of Langley, B.C. during the early hours of Monday morning. At least one of the wounded individuals and both of the slain victims were unhoused.
One of those killed was shot at a supportive housing project located a short drive away from the site of the first shooting, where a victim was wounded. The second individual who was killed was shot at a bus stop located several blocks away from the supportive housing project.
Despite the housing status of the victims, police later stated: “At this time we don't know the motive behind this deadly incident.”
Police shot and killed the shooter on scene. According to CBC News, “RCMP said they could not say whether the suspect shot at police or whether an officer fired through their window.”
Speaking to CBC’s The Current on Tuesday, a local advocate said the shootings left the city’s unhoused population feeling afraid.
"Even having to go through the night and wake up again in the morning when they're on the streets, talking to them [Monday], it's a very, very sad situation here in Langley,” said Kim Snow, who is the founder of the grassroots organization Kimz Angels. Snow knew both of the victims who died through her outreach work.
Approximately one hour after CBC News first reported the shootings on Monday morning, right-wing Vancouver mayoral candidate John Coupar tweeted that current Mayor Kennedy Stewart was failing to “keep streets clean & safe,” referring to an article about homeless encampments allegedly “driving customers away” from local businesses.
Responding to Coupar’s comments, Vancouver city council candidate Sean Orr wrote: “This guy out here continues to vilify the homeless even mere hours after some were murdered. Shame on the NPA [Coupar’s party] and the rest of poor hating monsters.”
Councillor Melissa De Genova, a member of Coupar’s right-wing NPA municipal party, tweeted her “thoughts & prayers” to the families of those killed, before thanking Langley RCMP, “who made sure more lives weren’t taken.”
However, the RCMP’s response to the shooting left others with more questions than answers. As reported by The Canadian Press, police did not issue a cell phone alert warning the public about the attack until six hours after the rampage began.
Sgt. David Lee of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team defended the timing of the alert, which was issued after the last shooting occurred, saying it was sent out “as the information became known to us and a proper risk assessment was done.”
However, despite the alerts, a woman who worked at a gym across from one of the shooting scenes told CP that officers never knocked on the door to warn of any danger.
Maple contributor Jeremy Appel compared reports of the Langley police response to the RCMP’s numerous mistakes (as revealed by a public inquiry earlier this year) made during the 2020 Portapique, N.S. mass shooting.
Meanwhile, members of the Langley community have raised concerns about the demonization of and violence against unhoused people, which they say worsened over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leith White, a pastor at Langley Vineyard church, told CP: “I can’t tell you the number of times in the 25 years that I’ve been pastoring at Langley Vineyard ... I’ve heard of individuals having their tents set on fire, their sleeping bags set on fire, they’ve been beaten up while they’ve been sleeping.”
On Wednesday, police stated that an unhoused woman in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside was doused in a flammable liquid and set on fire while she was sat on a sidewalk on Monday. The woman was admitted to hospital and treated for serious burn injuries.
The suspect's motives were reportedly unclear as of Wednesday evening. There are no indications that the fire attack was connected to the Langley shooting.