Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Organized crime in Canada (Part 1)

I was present at several United Nations conferences when the discussions were about organized crime. This doesn’t make me an expert in this subject but I have researched this issue quite thoroughly so I am submitting to my readers some of what I have learned.

Often in the media, criminal organizations are spoken of in great detail, but their back stories are only given a cursory treatment. This is reinforced by our entertainment industry. Most Hollywood films, for instance, portray criminals in purely pathological terms such as unredeemable ‘thugs’ who are so innately reprehensible that one imagines them having their own wing of the maternity ward in the hospital as babies. This trend is hardly unintentional or new. Consider the 1953 film about outlaw bikers called The Wild One and which was loosely based on the Hollister riot. It was originally supposed to portray biker gangs as being the product of the inability of World War II veterans to integrate into suburban, post-war America. This conceit, however, was nixed due to Hollywood’s self-enforcement of the infamous Hays Code which tried to avoid government censorship by stripping films of any potentially subversive or worse depictions of ordinary life in America.

There is probably no country in the world that doesn’t have some form of organized crime within its borders and that includes Canada.  

A gang is a group of good friends or family with identifiable leadership and internal organization, identifying with or claiming control over territory in a community, and engaging either individually or collectively in illegal or violent behavior. Some criminal gang members join them after going through the process of initiation) or proved their loyalty and right to belong to a group by committing certain acts, usually a theft or violence act. A member of a gang may be called a gangster or a thug but however he or she is called, he and she are definitely criminals.  

In 2007, there were approximately 785,000 active street gang members in the United States, according to the National Youth Gang Center. In 2011, the National Gang Intelligence Center of the Federal Bureau of Investigation asserted that “There are approximately 1.4 million active street, prison, and outlaw gang members comprising more than 33,500 gangs in the United States. Approximately 230,000 gang members were in U.S. prisons or jails in 2011. In 2016, the total number of gang members in the U.S. was 1,150,000. The number of street and prison gangs was 24,150. That is scary. Canada doesn’t have figures like that because the population of Canada is considerably lower than that of the United States.

Organized crime is defined in the Criminal Code of Canada as      a group of three or more people whose purpose is the commission of one or more serious offences that would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of a material benefit, including a financial benefit, by the group.

But perhaps a more succinct definition was given by a former United States mob boss who described organized crime as “just a bunch of people getting together to take all the money they can from all the suckers they can.”

Canada is lauded the world over as a law abiding, peaceful country—a shining example to all nations. Unfortunately, such a view is shared by most Canadians who are typically naïve and who are also misinformed. Throughout Canada’s history, to present day and beyond, Canada has been and will continue to be home to criminals and crime organizations that are adept at finding ways to make money—a lot of money and do it illegally.

There is more to organized crime in Canada than just the Italian criminal association known as the Mafia or the Mob however, that criminal organization is the best known and most documented group of criminals.

In North America, just about every major national or ethnic group and every segment of society has been involved in organized crime. Thus we have seen Irish, Jewish, Chinese, Japanese, Jamaican, Haitian, Vietnamese, Somali and many other ethnically-recruited or centered crime gangs such as biker gangs.

For decades, law enforcement strategies have focused on identifying and prosecuting the leaders of criminal enterprises. Members of these gangs may be charged or arrested for relatively minor infractions. Charges for even small infractions provides prosecutors with the leverage to conduct further investigations of the group. The goal is to get "smaller fish" to "flip" and testify against the heads of the organization. The ultimate aim is to disrupt the group. This "headhunting" strategy is predicated on the assumption that organized criminal gang’s operations are too complex to be proven in court without the information gleaned from the informers.

Of course, being an informer in these gangs is fraught with considerable risk. One such informer was caught by members of one such gang and hoisted upwards with a meat hook in his anus and then castrated, blinded and then had his flesh slowly carved from his body.  The use of a blow torch was also used. Apparently he suffered for hours before he died.

According to the President’s Commission on Organized Crime there have been no rigorous assessments of the headhunting strategy. However, there is evidence that the US government incapacitated many OC leaders during the 1980s. By 1985, about two-thirds of the alleged Mafia bosses in the US were under indictment or convicted (President’s Crime Commission. In 1984 alone, a total of 2,194 indictments occurred, almost all of which involved alleged Mafia members.). By 1988, 19 bosses, 13 underbosses, and 43 captains had been convicted. Furthermore, the prison sentences imposed on high-ranking organized crime figures during the 1980s tended to be very lengthy.

The problem with all this activity is that the US government had failed to produce even a scintilla of evidence that any of these prosecutions had resulted in a diminution of organized crime’s illicit ventures. The federal government simply had no means to determine amount of harm caused by organized crime with which to measure such an impact. But other indicators seem to suggest that organized crime was still alive and quite healthy despite these law enforcement efforts.

The traditional prosecutorial model of attacking organized crime—the conviction and temporary incapacitation of the heads of a crime family for discrete crimes—has not greatly diminished the family’s power and ability to survive, if not flourish. No doubt, the unenviable record of short term success in prosecuting the leaders while leaving intact the infrastructure of organized crime weighed heavily on the Congress in 1970 as it considered remedial legislation.

Organized crime in Canada
It was only in the 1970s that the existence of a highly organized criminal network in Canada become known to the public thanks to various court cases as well as Québec inquiries into the Mafia, the widely publicized report of the Waisberg Commission into construction violence in Ontario, and a series of mob killings in Montréal and Toronto.

In 1984 a joint federal-provincial committee of justice officials estimated that organized crime in Canada took in about $20 billion in revenues annually. The committee was formed in response to a 1980 report by the British Columbia Attorney General's office, which claimed that organized crime figures had interests in Canada's textile, cheese and disposal industries, as well as vending machine companies, meat companies, home-insulation companies, auto body shops and car dealerships, among others.

Further, the joint committee calculated that organized crime revenue also came from pornography, prostitution, bookmaking, gaming houses, illegal lotteries and other gambling, as well as loan sharking and extortion. These and other activities such as white collar crime—insurance and construction fraud and illegal bankruptcy, arson, bank robbery, motor vehicle theft, computer crime and counterfeit in credit cards. These crimes  made up about $10 billion in organized crime revenues. Narcotics accounted for the other $10 billion in gang revenues.

Organized crime provides illegal services desired by some members of the general public, such as gambling, prostitution, and contraband alcohol and tobacco sales. In every large Canadian city, local bookmakers used to be involved in organized crime through an elaborate system established to protect the individual bookie from large losses. Today organized crime provides many underground sports betting and illicit card game operations.

Other organized crime activities are not driven as much by public demand. They involve the importation and distribution of harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine, Internet and credit card fraud, and murder and extortion. Other activities that aid and abet organized crime include the ongoing corruption of public officials and the laundering of the proceeds of criminal activities.

One of the simplest ways to ‘launder’ money is to engage in activities in which there is a constant flow of cash, such as slot machines and gambling. If the owner of a gambling casino claims to have taken in $1 million when he has actually taken in only $100 000 in which has been added $900 000 of illegally obtained money, it is almost impossible to demonstrate that the $1 million was not procured in the normal course of business. Neighbourhood coin laundries have also been popular ways of laundering organized crime money in Canada.

Without the corruption of government officials, organized crime groups would find it difficult to exist. The efforts of organized crime members to corrupt police officers, judges, politicians, lawyers, and government and civilian officials are probably more harmful to society than any other form of organized crime. 

A number of countries have passed legislation prohibiting participation in the activities of a criminal entity or organization. Perhaps the best known of these laws is the American Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. Enacted in 1970, RICO defines racketeering very broadly, including murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, drug dealing, and a list of federal offences, such as loansharking, counterfeiting, mail and wire fraud

RICO also contains provisions according to which citizens can sue for damages to their business or property. They stand to recover threefold the damages sustained, as well as the cost of the suit. RICO also has asset forfeiture provisions, as well as those pertaining to the divestiture of the interests of criminals in businesses and unions. These issues are discussed in the sections on the Seizure and Forfeiture of Assets and Injunctions, Divestitures, and Trusteeships. Canada has a similar provision of seizing the property of criminals.

Determining if a person is a member of a criminal organization
In Canada, for a court to determine whether an individual participates in or actively contributes to any activity of any criminal organizations, the Court will look at the following to determine if any persons in Canada are members of criminal organizations;

They use a name, word, symbol, or other representation that identifies, or is associated with, that criminal organization;

They frequently associate with any of the persons who constitute the criminal organizations;

They receive any benefit from the criminal organizations;

They repeatedly engage in activities at the instruction of any of the persons who constitute the criminal organizations.
Police powers under Bill C-95 in Canada
This legislation provides police agencies new powers to use in their fight against organized crime. The amendments include:

1.    A new offence – participation in a criminal organization – with a penalty of up to 14 years in jail.

2.   Greater police discretion in using electronic surveillance against gangs for up to a year compared with the previous 60 days.

3.   Expanded proceeds of crime laws to allow seizure of all proceeds from gang-related offences.

4.   Additions to the Criminal Code concerning the use of explosives in criminal gang activity.

5.   A new peace bond, designed to target gang leadership, would allow a judge to prohibit associating or communicating with other gang members.

6.   A change in bail provisions. Anyone charged with a gang-related offence would be held without bail until trial, unless he/she could show why detention was not justified.
7.   Tougher sentencing.

8.   New sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code aimed at delaying parole eligibility for certain organized gang offences.

The story of organized crime in Canada is as old as this nation's founding, with pirates ravaging the east coast, even as hired guns by colonial governments. Since our nation's earliest times, government and crime groups have found that collusion can have its mutual benefits. Organized crime has had a significant impact on the shaping of this country and the lives of its people. The most violent and thuggish outlaw motorcycle gangs like Hells Angels have been raised to mythic proportions. The mafia in Montreal created and controlled the largest heroin and cocaine smuggling empire in the world, feeding the insatiable appetite of our American neighbours. Even today, criminal gangs are taking control of some of the streets in Vancouver, Toronto Montreal  and other cities in Canada in which in some gangs, their members are in their teens and twenties.

 In Part two, I will present to my readers some of the organized criminal gangs existing in Canada.  

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