Organized crime growing in Canada: report

August 20, 2004 

The 2004 annual report released in Vancouver by RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli. (CP/ Richard Lam)

VANCOUVER (CP) - Big-city police chiefs gave the public a report on the state of organized crime in Canada on Friday, but admitted it is a foggy snapshot of sophisticated operations that are hard for investigators to keep up with.

"This isn't like the old days where you could send in a couple of investigators to stumble their way through and make an arrest," said Vancouver Police Chief Jamie Graham. International organized crime groups have established huge networks across Canada to traffic drugs, import sex slaves, export stolen luxury vehicles and commit identity theft.

Groups like the Hells Angels are expanding their power base and the next major target will be Canada's emerging diamond industry, the chiefs warned.

The larger organized crime groups are building a network of workers, increasingly using street gangs to pull off large-scale operations.

To deal with this cross-country scourge, the police chiefs want average people to open their eyes, get suspicious and take some responsibility by reporting possible criminal activity.

"What we are asking for is enhanced block-watch," Graham said.

"A lot of organized crime groups are like rats. When you shine a light on them, they don't work very well."

Edgar MacLeod, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police which is meeting next week in Vancouver, said the "buy-in from ordinary Canadians" is the only way to keep up with such a massive global problem given limited police resources.

"We know the ways of the past are not the way to tackle the problems of the future," he said.

He hopes they will read the report and "get mobilized, get concerned," and lobby the federal government to give the police more resources and stronger laws to punish criminals.

For example, police want more freedom to use wiretaps and stronger sentences.

They say the entire judicial system needs an overhaul or at the very least, all three levels of government should be coming together to review it and support the work police forces are doing on the ground to co-ordinate efforts.

The 2004 annual report was produced by the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada and released in Vancouver by RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli and Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino.

The group has 380 member agencies including the RCMP, the provincial, regional and municipal police departments as well as intelligence and regulatory agencies.

One of its major concerns is Asian organized crime, which the report says is a threat in all areas of Canada.

Asian-based crime groups are described as being highly influential and active in the Vancouver area, Calgary, Edmonton and Greater Toronto. They supply illicit drugs to other organized crime groups, the report found, often using aboriginal and other street gangs to do their leg work.

They are also heavily involved in human smuggling, which Zaccardelli warned is getting worse.

"It's one of the greatest emerging international tragedies. Wherever we have information we work very closely with other countries. It's high on the radar but it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better," he said.

The report found Eastern European-based gangs, concentrated in Ontario, have also formed strategic partnerships with other organized crime groups in Canada and internationally.

The Hells Angels remain the largest and most powerful outlaw motorcycle gang.

Meanwhile, Italian-based organized crime is centred in Montreal, the Greater Toronto area, Hamilton and the Niagara region. It's also present in Vancouver and Calgary and appears to have some influence in other regions, the report said.

The report found there is no indication that organized crime has infiltrated the primary diamond industry in Canada, but warned it will try.

"We've seen it happen in other parts of the world, which is major indication that it will be attempted here," said Zaccardelli.