The “Face” of Organized Crime in Canada.

By Larissa Alszegi

 

Thinking back to the times of bootlegging in the 1920’s or the resurgence of biker gangs in the 1990’s, organized crime in Canada has since shifted and incorporated itself into mainstream society. So, if organized crime isn’t as recognizable as it once was, what is the face of modern organized crime in Canada? Using social media as a recruiting platform and acting within the anonymity of encrypted networks, organized crime is spreading faster than ever across the country and beyond.

According to the Deputy Chief of Operations for York Regional Police, Tom Carrique, the well-known and established Hell’s Angels is the largest growing gang in Canada, spanning across the country and connected with international affiliations. The use of social media has enabled this criminal organization to achieve a growing membership, expand their recruiting methods and provided them with efficient publicity which often portrays the Hell’s Angels as a charitable and loving group of motorcycle enthusiasts.

It is critical to understand the role of technology in criminal enterprises.  For example, technological advancements allow  organized crime organizations to locate  servers in countries well out of investigative jurisdictions. The lack of federal legislation does not assist law enforcement services as it does not provide them with lawful access to conduct much needed investigations. An extreme range of criminal activities are carried over the internet particularly through the “Dark Web”. This obscure and encrypted network is only accessible via specific software and allows people to remain anonymous.  Many activities over the Dark Web go uninterrupted due to server limitations and a lack of cooperation with law enforcement bodies and government agents. The 2013 police probe of Platinum Sports Book revealed just how profitably and successfully organized crime groups can operate. Valued at over $103 million using computer services set up in Costa Rica, this illegal sports betting ring was linked to the Mafia and Hell’s Angels.  For a cost of $100,000 to run, this operation also benefitted from having toll-free phone lines, a smart phone app and employed hundreds of bookies servicing thousands of clients within the Toronto area alone (Humphreys, 2016). In a joint effort that included the OPP, RCMP, and police services from York, Peel, Durham and Toronto, this operation was uncovered with the assistance of incriminating wiretaps. The investigation managed to seize $4.6 million in cash but only managed to effectively prosecute a few of the individuals actually involved. Additionally, within 24 hours of dismantling the associated websites almost identical websites were running and operating within a different domain and registered to islands in the South Pacific.

The previous logic in combating organized crime was to directly attack the proceeds of crime and their means and motivations but this approach has only pushed criminal organizations to legitimize their funds (Levi, 2015). In spite of the current Federal government’s plan to legalize marijuana in an attempt to combat organized crime, it is known to law enforcement agencies that crime groups have already infiltrated over 300 companies operating legally yet using their licenses for illegal purposes. According to Deputy Chief Carrique, the lawful production of medical marijuana is being used as a means of money laundering and exportation of cannabis to international markets. Modern Organized crime groups are learning how to use legal platforms to better grow their businesses and expand not only their operations but with diversifying clientele and recruitment. The Province of Ontario is a gateway for importation and exportation of weapons, drugs, human-trafficking as well as being a bridge to the east coast of Canada.

Within modern criminal organizations there is an extensive cross-over between legitimate and illegitimate operations. Current underground networks of loan-sharks and bookies are used as illegal banking and crediting institutions for both low and mid-level criminals. These players are often aided by established career criminals looking for high returns on legal investments which may be used to assist in financing organized criminal operations (Levi, 2015). Among local and internationally operating criminal activities, small amounts of actual money is required to remunerate criminals due to the high reciprocity of favours exchanged between members (Levi, 2015). Additionally, legal and efficient investments double as money-laundering operations and may be as diverse as: pubs, restaurants, casinos (both online and free standing), car dealerships, apartments, holiday resorts, and most recently, licensed marijuana producers.

Key distinctions may exist in regards to financing organized crime through legitimate business ventures in comparison to financing criminal activity directly through the underground market. Regardless of whether they operate in an entirely illegal framework or within legal parameters, both contribute to the prevalence and success of organized crime operations. In fact, it could be argued that organized crime ventures infiltrating legal frameworks are more damaging to the economic and social fabric of society as it assists with laundering their finances as well as establishing a level of legitimacy and credibility. Charitable donations and community initiatives may also serve as an avenue for criminal organizations to move large amounts of currency – exempt from taxation and public suspicion.

Organized crime disguised as legal ventures can be harder to investigate and prosecute and may gain the support of legal and established affiliations and partnerships who may unknowingly be contributing to criminal activities. Although less complex illegal activities of local groups can be intervened on a regional level, larger and more organized criminal activities require international cooperation, government support and an understanding of how creative and advanced their dealings infiltrate legally operating systems. More action must be taken by legislators to provide law enforcement with more tools to effectively intervene against harmful networks. The modern face of criminal organizations in Canada is not as recognizable as it once was in the past.

Watch for the OACP’s new Out of the Shadows publication on organized crime due out in the spring of 2018.

 

Larissa Alszegi will complete her Bachelor of Social Science – Criminal Justice degree at Humber College in 2018.  She served as a Placement Student with the OACP in 2017. Follow Ms. Alszegi on Twitter at @Lalaszegi. E-mail: larissaoacp@gmail.com  

 

References

Humphreys, Adrien. (2016, September 12). Man admits to role in $103M illegal gambling ring allegedly linked to Mafia, Hells Angels. National Post. Retrieved from http://nationalpost.com/toronto/man-admits-to-role-in-103m-illegal-gambling-ring-allegedly-linked-to-mafia-hells-angels/wcm/b2cff123-6211-4925-8541-74974c2aa5ad

Levi, M. (2015). Money for Crime and Money from Crime: Financing Crime and Laundering Crime Proceeds. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 21(2), pp. 275-297.