Notes on the organized crime activities in Canada

In 2006, the CISC criminal intelligence community identified nearly 800 organized crime groups operating in Canada. While many of these groups remain concentrated in and around major urban centres, a significant number operate from smaller communities across the country. Organized crime groups can be found virtually everywhere there is profit to be made from criminal ventures.
Just as Canada has become a more multicultural society, so too have many organized crime groups. Multicultural criminal organizations are increasingly evident, particularly among newly established and emerging groups, often as a reflection of the multi-ethnic demographics of their locale. Although cultural ties remain an influencing principle within the organized crime landscape, multi-ethnic groups can be based on the criminal capabilities of members rather than on their ethnic or cultural heritage.

Organized crime groups exploit legitimate businesses, professionals and other community members to assist them in their criminal ventures and launder their criminal profits. In some instances, providers of this assistance may be unaware of their exploitation, while others, lured by the profits, either remain silent about possible suspicions or knowingly participate.
Criminal groups target a wide range of professions with specialized skills in the legitimate economy, attempting to coerce or corrupt some individuals. For example, those within the commercial transport industry may be targeted to facilitate the movement of contraband. Other skills valued by criminal groups are those within the financial industry that facilitate money laundering or the concealment of proceeds of crime. While these individuals may be recruited from a wide range of professions, they represent only a small percentage of their peers.

Structure of Organized Crime Groups
There is no dominant structure for organized crime groups in Canada. Group structures can vary from hierarchical in nature, most notably exemplified by outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMG), to less-structured groups consisting of individual cells coalescing around dominant personalities.

As well, law enforcement is identifying crime groups that are based on temporary alliances of individual criminals who merge their particular skills to better achieve success in specific criminal enterprises. Once a specific criminal venture is completed, these individuals may continue to collaborate on further criminal activities, or the group may dissolve. Although the individuals may go their separate ways, they sometimes reform into new groups based upon the skill requirements of new criminal opportunities. The nature and success of such networks are largely determined by individual characteristics and skills among those who act as their component parts. Such individuals may not regard themselves as members of a criminal group, and may not be regarded as part of a criminal group by outsiders.

Capabilities of Organized Crime Groups
There are varying levels of criminal capabilities amongst organized crime groups across Canada. At present, those with higher levels of criminal capabilities are largely represented by a number of Asian criminal groups in the B.C. Lower Mainland and southern Ontario, some Italian crime groups in Ontario and Quebec, certain Hells Angels chapters in B.C., Ontario and Quebec, and several independent groups across the country.
This relatively small number of criminal groups is distinguished by their large-scale, sophisticated operations involving the importation, manufacture or distribution of a wide variety of contraband, as well as through financial crimes such as fraud and money laundering. However, these kinds of criminal groups have demonstrated an ability to shield themselves from disruption by law enforcement and rival criminal groups. A small number of street gangs, in British Columbia and Alberta, also have relatively sophisticated criminal capabilities; however, these are limited to a regional involvement in illicit drug distribution.

While the majority of criminal groups across Canada operate at a lower level of criminal capability and participate at a more limited scope and magnitude within their criminal markets, they can still pose serious criminal threats.

Most Eastern European and independent criminal groups and the majority of street gangs have lower levels of criminal capabilities. A number of Hells Angels chapters across Canada and other outlaw motorcycle gangs operate at a lower level of criminal capability that is often limited to distributing smaller amounts of contraband, such as illicit drugs, within a localized area.
Crime groups operating at a lower level are often more visible to the public, with some directly affecting the daily lives of individuals and communities, particularly the groups that use high levels of violence and intimidation. As a result, these groups potentially pose a more direct and immediate threat to the public safety of Canadians than higher-level groups whose threat may be more indirect and long term. Many street gangs across Canada have been identified as having this lower-level criminal capability but with a corresponding high propensity for violence that can be random, spontaneous and conducted within a public setting.

Organized crime groups in Canada use various means to conduct their illicit activities. The following section highlights some of the most prevalent characteristics and methods.

Violence and Intimidation
Most criminal groups use violence and intimidation as a means to accomplish various criminal objectives. This violence can be categorized as strategic or tactical. Strategic use tends to be employed most often by groups with higher-level criminal capabilities. Careful planning is used to advance multiple criminal activities, retaliate against other crime groups, or corrupt legitimate businesses as well as legal and government systems. In contrast, the tactical use of violence is typically opportunistic, and is carried out in the pursuit of short-term goals that may be in defence of the crime group’s share of a criminal market. It is often spontaneous in nature with an increased likelihood of occurring in a public setting, thus posing a particular risk to public safety. Some groups with lesser criminal capabilities, such as most street gangs across Canada and some independent groups in the B.C. Lower Mainland, are particularly involved in this type of violence.
Technology and Crime

Criminal groups are increasingly targeting communication devices to obtain sensitive personal and financial information in order to undertake theft and fraud. Mobile wireless devices, particularly those with integrated voice and data systems like personal digital assistants or some cell phones, remain vulnerable to attacks. As instant messaging is expected to expand significantly, criminals will use malicious codes to target communications devices and compromise the sensitive personal and corporate information they contain.

Malicious software will increasingly target voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) and wireless networks as this technology grows in popularity, as well as social networking sites that typically feature an interactive network of blogs, user profiles, photos and an internal e-mail system.
Money Laundering

According to the International Monetary Fund, an estimated $22 to $55 billion is laundered annually in Canada. Criminal groups will continue to exploit domestic financial institutions for money laundering purposes. Some organized crime groups launder their own proceeds while others contract out this service, particularly when the amount exceeds the group’s capacity to launder or the method of laundering requires specialized skills. Criminal groups typically seek to insulate themselves from the laundering process through the use of third parties, financial professionals and other financial intermediaries, such as online payment systems, currency exchanges and shell companies.

Criminal Exploitation of International Borders

Criminal organizations, such as Aboriginal smuggling groups operating on border reserve areas, remain involved in smuggling contraband across the Canada/U.S. border. As well, a number of strategically located individuals, such as some border residents and port employees, play varying roles in the illegal cross-border movement of people and commodities. Border entry points and the areas between these points are vulnerable to criminal exploitation as crime groups adapt smuggling strategies in response to enforcement scrutiny.

Criminal Exploitation of the Legitimate Economy
Canadian-based companies are vulnerable to exploitation by both domestic and foreign-based criminal groups. Businesses around the world continue to be targeted in schemes ranging from fraudulent telemarketing and extortion to stock market manipulation. Investments in legitimate businesses can also facilitate numerous criminal activities. In addition, some organized crime groups hide cross-border smuggling within the trade of legitimate goods, through import-export flows, or through companies involved in the transportation industry. Criminal exploitation of the legitimate economy continues to represent substantial short- and long-term financial threats to the legitimate business community and the domestic economic infrastructure.
Source: Criminal Intelligence Service Canada -2006 Annual Report-

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