UPDATE 2-Canada vows to crack down on gang violence

(Updates with Vancouver protest)

OTTAWA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The Canadian government, responding to a surge in gang violence, introduced draft legislation on Thursday to crack down harder on organized crime.

Any gang-related homicide would be subject to a first-degree murder charge, a crime that carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for 25 years.

“No part of our society is immune to the menace of organized crime activities,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told a news conference.

There have been more than a dozen shootings in the Vancouver, British Columbia, area this year already, most of which police say are linked to the drug trade. In one case, a woman was killed while sitting in her car with her young son.

The bill would create a new offense to address drive-by shootings. Anyone found guilty would be given a mandatory minimum sentence of four years, with a maximum of 14 years.

It would also create two new offenses of aggravated assault against a police officer and assault with a weapon on a police officer, which would be punishable by maximum penalties of 14 and 10 years respectively.

The opposition Liberal and New Democratic parties both gave tentative support to the legislation, but said the Conservative government was not doing enough.

“The fact is we need to do more crime prevention,” said Liberal Member of Parliament Ujjal Dosanjh, a former British Columbia premier and attorney general.

The violence in Vancouver comes as the Pacific Coast city is under increased international media scrutiny as it prepares to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed suggestions the violence might scare away visitors. “For many people coming from around the world, Canada is still a relatively peaceful country,” he told reporters.

Canada announced last week it would spend C$900 million ($720 million) on security for the Olympics.

About three dozen pro-marijuana activists chanted “End gang violence, End prohibition,” outside a meeting Harper held in Vancouver with the area police chiefs.

British Columbia is a major source of marijuana, and supporters of legalizing pot say legalization would reduce gang involvement in the drug trade by cutting the profit margin.

$1=$1.25 Canadian Reporting by David Ljunggren and Allan Dowd; editing by Peter Galloway