More crime groups operating in Canada

Canadian Press


CALGARY — Canada has 950 known organized crime groups operating across the country, a jump of nearly 20 per cent from the past year, says an annual report by the Criminal Intelligence Service.

But RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said the increase is probably due more to better reporting of their activities by police than to an actual change in the number of criminals.

“The good news is that we're better at identifying these groups than ever before,” Mr. Elliott said in Calgary on Friday.

More than 380 different law enforcement agencies across Canada are members of the intelligence service, which gathers and shares information on criminal groups.

Mr. Elliott, just one month into his new job as head of the RCMP, said the collaboration allows police to track and arrest gang members who operate across city, provincial and territorial boundaries.

He said several large, multi-jurisdictional crackdowns on motorcycle gangs over the past year have led to the seizure of quantities of “illicit products” and the arrest of key criminals.

Organized crime groups vary widely in organization and size — from highly structured groups such as the Mafia and Hells Angels — to much more loosely formed street gangs.

While the criminal capabilities of these groups vary, a great many of them are involved in selling everything from street drugs and guns to stolen cars and human smuggling.

The annual report says about 80 per cent of organized crime groups are involved in the illegal drug trade, but no single group dominates the market.

Most groups continue to use legitimate businesses to hide their activities and launder their cash.

The report also confirmed that nearly all organized crime groups “network or collaborate” with each other on an informal basis, like combining funds to finance a large drug shipment or production operation.

Mr. Elliott, who is the RCMP's first commissioner without either police or military experience, said there's evidence of more sophisticated groups coming together with less sophisticated ones for specific projects.

Calgary Police chief Jack Beaton said market-sharing agreements between different groups are made especially in the lucrative drug trade.

“What we don't like to see ... is the violence that erupts when they can't come to a letter of understanding or memorandum of agreement,” he said. “And that's what we see often in our community.”

Organized crime groups also continue to make greater use of technology, particularly cellphones and other types of wireless communication that helps “insulate” them from detection by police.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the increase of crime on the Internet has also allowed criminal organizations to share information more easily.

“These groups will do that up until an issue becomes territorial — they'll want to enhance or increase their profits or territory,” Mr. Day said Friday from Vancouver.

“If they feel one group is moving in on the other, that's when we see some of the gangland-related crime and shootings that have taken place.”

Mr. Day said the increase in the number of organized crime groups is not a surprise. Part of the increase, he said, comes from the splintering of groups as they fight each other and move into new areas.

The report also says that while the illegal drug trade helps fuel the market for illegal firearms, most criminal organizations are not actively involved in the large-scale retail and distribution of banned guns.





Our commentary in the Globe and Mail

August 17, 2007

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