SURREY, B.C. — Two people, including an alleged gang associate, face arson and firearms charges in a mysterious reign of terror that targeted people loosely connected to British Columbia’s Justice Institute.
The pieces of a complex four-year investigation began coming together for police when 15 seemingly random victims were linked to the institute, which trains police officers and first responders.
Some of the victims whose homes or vehicles were set ablaze or shot at had parked at the training centre’s parking lot while taking their children to a function next door, said Chief Supt. Kevin Hackett of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.
“Although the intent was to target people who were likely associated with law enforcement and the justice institute, other people who weren’t connected in any way to the (institute) were being targeted,” Hackett told a news conference Monday.
Twenty-three attacks took place between April 2011 and January 2012 in several municipalities around southwestern B.C., including Surrey, Vancouver, Burnaby and Maple Ridge.
Many of the victims were at home during the attacks and the ordeal has been stressful for them, Hackett said.
“Their lives are at risk, either from a stray bullet or an intended bullet entering into that residence or the house burning down around you,” he said. “That’s going to put fear into your family and fear into yourself.”
The justice institute received a threatening email in January 2011 referencing nine people, eight of whom had already had their property attacked.
The arsons and shootings subsided in 2012, but several of the victims were terrorized again when they received suspicious letters in the mail last winter. One letter warned the attacks would resume in the new year, Hackett said.
Police believe an Insurance Corp. of B.C. employee used the victims’ licence plate numbers to access their personal information.
Hackett said the employee has been identified, but has not been arrested.
Two men were arrested in connection with the attacks Friday, more than four years after the attacks began.
Vincent Cheung, 40, of Langley, allegedly orchestrated the attacks, and faces 23 firearms and arson charges.
Hackett said Cheung is associated with the United Nations gang, and police believe criminal ties were used to help carry out the attacks.
Thurman Taffe, 54, of Burnaby, has been charged with a single count of arson.
Both men are in custody and expected to appear in court in Vancouver on Oct. 1.
Hackett declined to provide a possible motive for the crimes, saying details would emerge in court.
“This investigation was complicated and made even more challenging by the efforts of the accused to disguise their attempts through cunning and calculated misdirection,” he said.
Though Hackett said he doesn’t believe the victims are still in danger, the investigation is ongoing.
“We know there are still people who have additional information about these offences and this investigation is continuing with further arrests and charges anticipated,” Hackett said.
The RCMP’s Lower Mainland Chief Supt. Jodie Boudreau said police from various jurisdictions worked on the complicated case.
“Ongoing intelligence work, information sharing and the expertise of investigators were instrumental in helping us figure out how the pieces fit together and how they contributed to the whole picture,” she said.
Boudreau said police are grateful for the victims’ patience as police worked to arrest suspects.
“I imagine many of the victims are still feeling the emotional impact of the crimes today, regardless of this outcome.”
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press