Evidence of meeting #9 for Justice and Human Rights in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was gang.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kimberly Fussey  Director, Inland Enforcement, Prairie Region, Canada Border Services Agency
Robert Bonnefoy  Warden, Stony Mountain Institution, Correctional Service Canada
John Ferguson  Officer in Charge, Drugs and Integrated Organized Crime, D Division, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Robert Bazin  Officer in Charge, Border Integrity, D Division, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Clive Weighill  Chief of Police, Saskatoon Police Service
Jim Poole  Winnipeg Police Service
Tim Van der Hoek  Senior Project Manager, Preventive Security and Intelligence, National Headquarters, Correctional Service Canada
Nick Leone  Winnipeg Police Service

2:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

I call the meeting to order. Today is March 30, 2010, and this is meeting nine of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We are continuing our study on organized crime.

As most of you know, we've been travelling across the country seeking input on how to address organized crime, at least from a federal perspective. We've visited cities such as Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Winnipeg is the last place we're visiting.

We expect we'll be issuing a report sometime over the next two to three months. Hopefully that will help Canada move forward in fighting organized crime.

We're so glad you've taken this opportunity to appear before us.

For the record, we are pleased to welcome the Canada Border Services Agency, represented by Kimberly Fussey.

Correctional Service Canada is represented by Robert Bonnefoy, Christer McLauchlan, and Tim Van der Hoek--no relation to Ted Vanderhoek, who used to be the chief of police in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

We will also hear from Inspector John Ferguson and Inspector Robert Bazin of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

From the Saskatoon Police Service, we have Clive Weighill.

Lastly, we have Constable Nick Leone and Inspector Jim Poole from the Winnipeg Police Service.

Welcome to all of you. I think you know the process. Each organization has ten minutes to present, and then we'll open the floor to questions.

Let's start with the Canada Border Services Agency.

Ms. Fussey, you have ten minutes.

2:05 p.m.

Kimberly Fussey Director, Inland Enforcement, Prairie Region, Canada Border Services Agency

Thank you.

Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee, thank you very much for inviting Canada Border Services Agency to participate in today's hearing.

The prairie region of CBSA is responsible for securing the prairie, NWT, and Canada's borders at our ports of entry, which consist of 37 land borders, five airports, and two marine locations.

As the director of inland enforcement mainly responsible for the immigration program for the prairie regions, I'm responsible for both programs in enforcement and hearings in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Northwest Territories.

The inland enforcement operations, which are responsible for the investigation, detection, and apprehension of violators of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, or IRPA, are located in Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Edmonton.

The hearings operation, or hearings program, is located in Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton. This is responsible for representing the interests of both the CBSA and the citizenship and immigration minister before the Immigration and Refugee Board. This includes the immigration division, the immigration appeal division, the refugee protection division, and, in some instances, Federal Court proceedings.

The inland enforcement or immigration officers in this region work in unison with our port of entry operations, criminal investigations, and intelligence division both regionally and nationally to meet the program mandate.

The mandate for inland enforcement--

2:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Sorry to interrupt. Somebody has a Blackberry on the table.

Could you take those BlackBerrys off the table and put them into your pocket or holster? Thank you.

Please continue.

2:05 p.m.

Director, Inland Enforcement, Prairie Region, Canada Border Services Agency

Kimberly Fussey

The mandate for inland enforcement includes conducting lengthy and complex investigations of suspected war criminals, national security cases, and organized crime groups. The officers locate and remove foreign nationals who enter Canada illegally or individuals, including permanent residents, whose admissibility status changes after they have entered Canada.

This activity involves investigations in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies, which includes the RCMP and Canadian municipal police departments. Many of the people or individuals removed from the prairie region have been deemed inadmissible due to criminal activity committed in Canada or overseas. Some of those individuals have been or are currently members of various recognized organized crime groups, including, to name a few, the outlaw motorcycle gangs, Afrikan Mafia, MS-13, Clippers, Fresh Off the Boat, and Fresh Off the Boat Killers.

Enforcement related to organized crime is of great importance to our division and to CBSA. There is a specific section in IRPA that describes membership in an organized crime group as making one inadmissible to Canada. For your reference, this is section 37.

Section 37 refers to both permanent residents and foreign nationals who are inadmissible on the grounds of organized criminality:

(a) being a member of an organization that is believed on reasonable grounds to be or to have been engaged in activity that is part of a pattern of criminal activity planned and organized by a number of persons acting in concert in furtherance of the commission of an offence punishable under an Act of Parliament by way of indictment, or in furtherance of the commission of an offence outside Canada that, if committed in Canada, would constitute such an offence, or engaging in activity that is part of such a pattern; or (b) engaging, in the context of transnational crime, in activities such as people smuggling, trafficking in persons or money laundering.

CBSA helps to ensure that Canada's population is safe and secure from border-related risks.

I understand that the focus is not so much on the statistics or on our case-related information. I have some of those, if you are interested. Otherwise, I would be pleased to answer whatever questions you may have.

2:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

I think what we're interested in is whether there are any federal initiatives, legislative or otherwise, that would be helpful to you as you do your work in addressing organized crime. You can think about that, and we'll come back with questions.

2:10 p.m.

Director, Inland Enforcement, Prairie Region, Canada Border Services Agency

2:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

We'll move on to Correctional Service Canada.

Mr. Bonnefoy.

2:10 p.m.

Robert Bonnefoy Warden, Stony Mountain Institution, Correctional Service Canada

Good afternoon.

l am Robert Bonnefoy, warden of Stony Mountain Institution, situated north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. I am here with Christer McLauchlan, security intelligence officer at Stony Mountain Institution, and Tim Van der Hoek, former security intelligence officer at Stony Mountain Institution and current senior national project manager, preventive security and intelligence, at national headquarters.

Thank you for the opportunity today to provide you with information on gangs and gang management in our federal correctional facilities.

Criminal organizations pose a serious threat to the safe, secure, orderly, and efficient operation of Correctional Service of Canada institutions. There are approximately 54 different types of gangs operating inside our institutions, with the majority of their members having had gang affiliations prior to their incarceration. As of January 2010, approximately 29% were serving time for drug-related offences.

CSC is taking a multi-pronged approach to aggressively combat the complex problem of gangs and organized crime and to manage, in particular, high-profile offenders who are involved in organized crime.

As Ms. Fox indicated to you yesterday, CSC is using an intelligence-led risk management model in which intelligence serves as a guide to operations. It focuses on preventive and proactive initiatives. We are working closely with our criminal justice partners, and we are ensuring complete, clear, and timely information sharing with our local, national, and international partners, stakeholders, police agencies, and communities.

The management of gangs is a complicated matter that will require further investments to improve effectiveness. CSC is seeing increased numbers of members and associates of gangs and criminal organizations due to an integrated approach to gang management adopted by law enforcement groups and agencies.

CSC's gang population inside our correctional facilities remains consistent with the gang demographics found in the community. That is to say that we face a myriad of gang types, such as traditional organized crime groups, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and street gangs. However, with the emergence of street gangs and similar types of groups, such as aboriginal gangs, the service has seen quite a change in its offender population, and more specifically in gang demographics.

As of January of 2010, 2,019 offenders under CSC's jurisdiction were identified as members or associates of a criminal organization, including gangs. Of those offenders, 65% were incarcerated and 36% were under community supervision. As of December of 2009, 491 were identified as members or affiliates of aboriginal gangs, the largest group type in CSC today, with the prairie region managing 87% of these aboriginal gang members.

The growth of gang members has created a number of challenges for the Correctional Service of Canada. They include issues of power and control through intimidation, extortion, and violence; incompatibility and rivalries between various criminalized groups; drug distribution within institutions and continued criminal links with outside criminal organizations; recruitment of new gang members and individuals to pursue extremist ideologies; the potential for intimidation, infiltration, manipulation, and corruption of staff; and gang leaders, through financial resources or external networks, attempting to interfere with correctional operations.

Although CSC normally promotes integration among offenders, the complexity of gang dynamics and the variations in their actual structures do not allow for a one-size-fits-all gang management strategy. Existing gang rivalries and incompatibilities sometimes mean that the service has to segregate or separate certain types of gangs.

The service assesses each situation individually and develops approaches and interventions at the local level that will be most effective. These include providing all gang members with an opportunity to disaffiliate from their gangs and taking appropriate measures to prevent gang members from exercising influence and power in our institutions or in the community.

The service is focusing resources on enhanced training of CSC staff in gang dynamics and awareness and in motivation-based interviewing techniques, particularly in relation to aboriginal gang members. In the prairie region, we are collaborating with our unions and law enforcement partners in the province of Manitoba to address aboriginal gang issues.

As the warden of Stony Mountain Institution, I am responsible for approximately 550 incarcerated offenders. In terms of our population profile, 204 inmates, or 38% of our prison population, are gang members; and of those, 158 inmates, or 77%, are members of aboriginal gangs. Compared with other institutions in the prairie region, we have the highest number of gang members at a medium-security site, the highest number serving time for violent offences under the age of 30, the highest number of aboriginal offenders under the age of 30—in fact, they account for one-third of our population—and the highest number of offenders under the age of 30 serving short sentences of two to three years.

Given the scope and complexity of our offender profile, population management has been an incredibly important tool in managing our gangs. Stony Mountain Institution is divided into five operational units—including four sub-populations—that are used to house incompatible gang members. Managing large numbers of gang-affiliated offenders becomes a daily challenge given its impacts on our operational routine. We need to ensure that we closely monitor throughout our institution the movement of incompatible gangs. Scheduling of programming and recreational activities also proves difficult, as we cannot integrate incompatible gangs with one another in programs or work assignments.

That said, through effective population management, we have been successful this past year in reducing the number of institutional incidents.

When managing gang dynamics, it is important to realize that the intelligence information we receive is fluid and constantly changing. It is imperative that we continue to monitor our institutional trends and ensure that we continue to gather and analyze intelligence information on a daily basis, both locally and regionally. As a result of this, two population reorganizations have taken place at SMI this fiscal year.

By staffing a third security intelligence officer, we have been able to focus on intelligence-led risk management. In addition to the local work on both gang management and population management, our security intelligence officers also work very closely with our provincial counterparts and local police agencies. This helps to ensure that we are looking at issues of gangs and gang dynamics in collaboration with one another, as opposed to operating in isolation. We are able to quickly share information and take an integrated approach to dealing with issues as they emerge.

In addition to the management strategies outlined above, SMI has also targeted correctional interventions to assist with gang management. We established the first Pathways unit in the country. Our Pathways unit houses 78 offenders and is devoted to providing a healing and traditional environment for offenders dedicated to following an aboriginal healing path.

The operational framework of the unit adheres to the principles of healing, as guided by elders and spiritual advisers. We offer aboriginal-specific initiatives, interventions, case management, and offender services. All unit staff receive cultural awareness training. The team takes a multidisciplinary management approach and it has been an effective intervention for offenders wanting to disaffiliate from aboriginal gangs, resulting in many offenders making a safe transition to minimum security institutions and healing lodges.

Thank you very much for your time today.

2:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

I will go now to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Inspector Ferguson.

2:15 p.m.

Inspector John Ferguson Officer in Charge, Drugs and Integrated Organized Crime, D Division, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

My name is John Ferguson. I'm the inspector in charge of drugs and integrated organized crime for the province of Manitoba. Joining me today is a colleague, Inspector Robert Bazin, the officer in charge of border integrity. Inspector Bazin will speak more to his background during his presentation.

Before commencing, we would like to thank the committee for inviting us here today and giving us the opportunity to speak about organized crime in Manitoba and the impact it is having on our community. We are hopeful that after our appearance the committee will be better informed on the state of organized crime in Manitoba, is aware of some of the initiatives that have been taken to combat organized crime, and has been alerted to some of the challenges that impact our ability to investigate organized crime.

As the officer in charge of drugs and integrated organized crime, I am specifically responsible for all major RCMP drug investigations in the province of Manitoba and for co-monitoring the Manitoba Integrated Organized Crime Task Force, MIOCTF.

2:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Inspector, I'm just going to get you to slow down a little so that our interpreters can keep up.

2:15 p.m.

Insp John Ferguson

All right.

For the committee members not familiar with MIOCTF, it is a provincially funded task force comprised of the Winnipeg Police Service, the Brandon Police Service, and the RCMP. MIOCTF's mandate is to target organized crime at the highest level.

Like most regions in Canada, Manitoba has had to face the reality that organized crime in this province is continuing to evolve and flourish. Through the advancement of technology and increased partnership amongst criminal groups, we have seen a number of organized crime groups evolve into more sophisticated criminal networks. No longer is their criminal activity restricted to one particular activity. Although the drug trade is typically the cornerstone of their criminal enterprise, organized crime groups in Manitoba have also become involved in other criminal activities such as counterfeiting and smuggling, just to name two.

With this evolution comes increased levels of threats and harm. As the stakes become higher, organized crime groups have adopted more extreme measures to protect their interests. With an increased propensity to commit violence, organized crime groups are also more aggressive in their attempts to infiltrate and corrupt personnel in law enforcement, government agencies, and businesses associated with finance and transportation. As an example of their propensity to commit violence, between 2007 and 2009, the province of Manitoba had 179 homicides. Of this total, 61 were associated with the three largest street gangs in this province. By our estimates, during this period, approximately 30% to 35% of the homicides committed were associated with organized crime.

Despite the fact that organized crime groups in Manitoba are evolving, the law enforcement community is responding. Capitalizing on key partnerships and focusing on integrated and structured investigations, law enforcement agencies in Manitoba have developed a number of proactive initiatives that have led to some success in the fight against organized crime.

In 2007, law enforcement agencies in Manitoba established the operational priorities steering committee as a means to communicate and assess all organized crime investigations in the province. Comprised of mid-level managers representing intelligence and operational units from the largest police services in Manitoba and Canada Border Services Agency, the committee meets quarterly to discuss current and future enforcement initiatives and to identify and rank organized crime groups according to potential threat. Based on the information that is provided, intelligence gaps and investigational opportunities are identified. Without question, the establishment of the committee has been key to our efforts in the fight against organized crime. Aside from assisting in the targeting of certain groups for enforcement, the committee has also allowed for open discussion, facilitated better information-sharing, and created an environment of trust and cooperation between agencies.

Two excellent examples of the increased cooperation amongst partner agencies in Manitoba relate to the work of MIOCTF and the integrated gang intelligence unit, or IGIU.

Arguably the two groups that have the most negative impact on our community are the outlaw motorcycle gangs and street gangs. Between February 2006 and December 2009, MIOCTF completed three very successful investigations that resulted in the arrest of five “full patch” members of the Hells Angels and 57 associates, including all members of their “puppet club”, the Zig Zag Crew. The third investigation is still before the courts, but of the 31 persons arrested in the first two investigations, 29 have been convicted and received a total of 190 consecutive years of incarceration; that's an average of six and a half years per person.

IGIU is an intelligence unit comprised of law enforcement investigators and correctional officers working under the mandate to gather intelligence on the 26 known street gangs in Manitoba. In the past two years, information gathered by IGIU has led to the arrest of 23 street gang members, involved in 12 separate murders. In addition, information gathered by IGIU was instrumental in the Winnipeg Police Service initiating an investigation into the government-funded anti-gang initiative known as Paa Pii Wak Safe Haven for Men. In that investigation, members of Manitoba's highest-ranking street gang infiltrated the organization and employed fellow gang members. Under the guise of being program workers, gang members assisted other gang members in being released from custody to the Paa Pii Wak facility, where they were able to continue with their criminal activity. This integrated investigation led to the arrest of several street gang members, but also resulted in the withdrawal of all government funding for the facility and program.

Although law enforcement in Manitoba has had a number of successes in the fight against organized crime, we are also cognizant that we too need to evolve and continue to change in certain key areas. Building on our best practices, such as the operational priorities steering committee, we need to continue to develop and strengthen our partnerships and strive to work more collaboratively. In short, we need to adopt a provincial law enforcement view as opposed to an agency view. As the illicit activities of criminal organizations transcend judicial boundaries, so too should the efforts of law enforcement.

In this vein we need to continue with the expansion and growth of integrated units, and develop and implement a new intelligence model that better ensures that our intelligence sharing is structured, continuous, and, above all, relevant. Looking at best practices in other jurisdictions, we see the advantages and benefits of developing a centralized body that is responsible for the collection and dissemination of all intelligence throughout the province, and for assessing the risks and identifying investigational opportunities based on one provincial threat assessment.

Our goal is to establish an intelligence structure that facilitates and expands the free flow of information and intelligence, ultimately leading to a more enhanced and coordinated investigational model. In Manitoba, we understand where we need to go and we will take the steps to get there.

Mr. Chairman, Inspector Bazin and I were informed that we were to be given 10 minutes each. I understand that is not the case. I was going to speak to some of the issues that we in law enforcement face in targeting organized crime. It is included in my written submission, so I will stop at this moment and allow Inspector Bazin to continue.

2:25 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

Go ahead.

2:25 p.m.

Inspector Robert Bazin Officer in Charge, Border Integrity, D Division, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Thank you, John.

Thank you to committee members for inviting us here today to discuss the important issue of organized crime in our communities.

I'll keep my comments very brief. I just want to touch on a couple of key areas.

I'm the officer in charge of border integrity. It's one of the federal programs of the RCMP here in Manitoba. I have the pleasure of working in my home province, having transferred here in 2008 following postings in Ottawa and throughout Saskatchewan. I've been working in the organized crime intelligence field since 2002.

As my colleague Inspector Ferguson has referenced, organized criminal groups are very active in Manitoba, and present us with incredible challenges in keeping our communities safe. I would, however, like to reference my opening comments in relation to organized crime's activities through our shared border with the United States.

As you no doubt have heard from others, organized crime impacts all communities in this province, from the city of Winnipeg to our smallest of communities. The vast rural areas of our province are not immune to this threat. In fact, organized crime has evolved, and effectively operates in many of our small rural communities, hamlets, and villages.

A good example of this was in 2005, near the southern Manitoba community of Sundown, which is but a few kilometres north of the U.S. border, just south of Winnipeg here, where our Red River integrated border enforcement team uncovered a significant organized crime network operating near the community. The resulting investigation--code-named Project Determine--was conducted jointly with our American colleagues, and resulted in the dismantling of a sophisticated very large-scale marijuana grow op being run by a nation-based organized crime group from Ontario with ties to British Columbia. The resulting investigation resulted in 37 arrests, with the seizure of over 28,000 marijuana plants and 5,500 pounds of marijuana bud, all valued at over $39 million.

While the need to integrate our investigations with our domestic and international colleagues is necessary, working within an integrated or sharing environment is not without its challenges. Specifically, certain legislative restrictions and the interpretation thereof are having a negative impact on our ability to share information with both domestic and specifically international partners. We require a legislative scheme that is clear with respect to the sharing of criminal intelligence so as to facilitate more effective and efficient investigations against organized crime.

In Manitoba, our shared border with the United States is a vast area, spanning 460 kilometres, with a sprinkling of small communities, lakes, swamps, and forests. Organized criminal groups recognize the advantage of operating in this area, as the risk of detection to their activities is minimal. In addition, the close proximity to the U.S. is attractive to them, given its large population, the many potential consumers of their illicit goods, and, more importantly, the ready access to all types of firearms, which is the number one tool of organized criminals.

It's in this area that the RCMP in Manitoba operates an integrated border enforcement team jointly with Canadian Border Services Agency, as well as the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Together we are searching to identify and disrupt criminality and national security threats at and between our ports of entry.

Organized crime exists for one purpose, and that's for money. It's about greed, corruption, and the power that comes with it. Many organized crime groups are diversifying away from high-risk, high-return activities, such as drug trafficking, to low-risk activities while still maintaining the high returns.

2:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

One moment; we have some side conversations happening here.

Given the fact that some of these individuals have come from as far away as Saskatchewan, let's give them the attention they deserve.

Thank you.

2:30 p.m.

Insp Robert Bazin

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The importation and selling of counterfeit goods is one such activity, and it is gaining significant momentum in Manitoba and across the country. Almost anything manufactured can be counterfeited, including sunglasses, batteries, automotive parts, to name but a few. Also included in this list, however, are pharmaceuticals, which by their nature present enormous risk to public safety.

The risk of apprehension in counterfeiting and trademark violations is extremely low. Investigations, often crossing international boundaries, can be very complex, and involve victims in multiple jurisdictions and countries, making prosecution difficult and in some cases impossible.

Several organized crime groups in Manitoba have expanded in the trafficking and distribution of contraband tobacco, which mostly originates from southern Ontario. The resulting loss of federal and provincial tax revenues has significant impact on the economic integrity of this country, including that of this province.

When speaking to the threat of organized crime in Manitoba, I would be remiss if I did not make brief mention of the port of Churchill in Manitoba's far north. The port of Churchill is the closest ocean port to the vast grain-growing area of western Canada. While this port is currently open about five months of the year, global warming is having a significant impact on the area. Government and other estimates report that ocean access into Hudson's Bay could become ice-free sometime between 2013 and 2050.

For example, in October 2007, the first vessel from Russia arrived in Churchill directly from the port of Murmansk. While there is currently little intelligence to suggest that organized crime is targeting this port, the opportunity for organized crime to gain relatively easy access into North America through this route should not be overlooked. As a result, it's an area that remains a high priority for the border integrity program of the RCMP.

I will speak very briefly about one specific challenge to our investigations. That's the issue of technology in our laws and the need for updated and “lawful access” provisions in our legislation, about which I'm sure you may have heard before.

Organized criminals are adept at using the newest technology available to avoid or delay the interception of their communications by law enforcement. As an example, they often use pay-as-you-go cellphones as a means of avoiding police wiretaps, changing them frequently. There is no legislative regime that currently exists compelling persons to show proof of identification, as an example, when purchasing a pay-as-you-go cellphone, nor is there any requirement on the part of the cellphone dealer to maintain a record of subscriber information.

Updated lawful access legislation is critical to enhancing our ability to intercept private communications, a keystone of organized crime investigations.

It has been my pleasure to highlight a few points relating to our organized crime situation. Together with my colleagues, I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.

2:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

We'll move on to the Saskatoon Police Service.

Chief Weighill, you have 10 minutes.

2:30 p.m.

Chief Clive Weighill Chief of Police, Saskatoon Police Service

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

My name is Clive Weighill. I'm the chief of police for the city of Saskatoon.

For those of you not familiar with Saskatoon, it's the largest city in the province of Saskatchewan, with a police service of over 600 sworn and civilian staff. I'm very pleased to provide information to the committee regarding gang and organized crime in the province of Saskatchewan, and in particular in the city of Saskatoon.

Generally, Saskatchewan is not facing many of the organized crime issues that some provinces are encountering, or the larger cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, or Winnipeg. We have chapters of outlaw motorcycle gangs in Regina and Saskatoon, and in recent years, because of the booming economy, we have seen the beginning of gang activity coming to the province from British Columbia and Alberta.

Most of our gang activity, however, is predominantly attributed to local aboriginal street gangs. Gang activity started in the early 1990s, with inmates within the correctional centres who, upon release, remained affiliated.

I would suggest to the committee that the primary reason for enticement to gang life is the marginalization faced by the aboriginal population in our province. A large percentage of the aboriginal population is living in poverty in poor housing, facing racism and the continued fallout from the residential schools and the restrictive Indian Act.

Prior to the formation of street gangs, the inner city sex trade and drug activity was run by family lines to protect their turf. This has now changed dramatically, such that we now have approximately seventeen confirmed street gangs in the province of Saskatchewan, with seven known gangs in the city of Saskatoon alone.

Most of the gang structures are very fluid, with cross-membership on occasion when alliances are beneficial. They have not reached the sophistication of traditional organized crime, but they have a hierarchy with enforcers. Drug trafficking is a prime motivator.

If I may, I'd like to provide the committee an image of a very general, stereotypical lifestyle that entices youth to join the gangs.

A youth wakes up one morning wondering where his brother is; he may have been picked up by the police the night before. The youth goes downstairs for breakfast. He finds no parents home, or possibly he has a single parent with many children to look after. He looks for breakfast and finds little or no food in the house. He begins to get dressed but finds little clothing, or little clothing that's been laundered properly, so he picks the best he can and goes off to school. He looks around for his school books. He may not have done his homework the night before.

On his way to school, his biggest worry is that somebody will stop him and try to steal his lunch money, or maybe just chase him around for the fun of it.

When he arrives at school, he may not be prepared for the day. He may not have studied for the upcoming exam, may not have done his homework, and is probably not doing very well academically. And he doesn't feel as though he really is welcome or fits in.

He leaves the school and meets a few guys who suggest they might want to rob somebody on the street for some beer. He starts to find that violence, drugs, and alcohol provide some excitement and power. He gets enticed by gang members to join their gang, to start running drugs, enforcing debts, intimidating victims and witnesses.

Soon he has a position of power and belonging that the family or the school cannot compete with.

The gangs have become far more structured and violent in nature. In 2006 there were four homicides linked to gang activity; in 2007 three homicides; in 2009 four homicides.

We've also seen a steady increase in the number of home invasions linked to drugs and gang affiliation, as well as assaults and robberies. Most recently, we've experienced innocent people not associated to any criminal activity being stopped on the street and having their faces cut by broken beer bottles by youth attempting to show their bravado in order to be accepted into a gang.

Unfortunately, intimidation is occurring on two fronts: criminal and social. In relation to criminal activity, victims of crime are threatened with harm if they report their crime to the police. Witnesses are threatened not to cooperate with the police. It's not uncommon to witness someone giving testimony in our court, only to have a few gang members sitting in the back of the audience gesture in a shooting motion to their head or a motion that their throats are going to be slashed. It doesn't make one want to cooperate with the police, and quickly one's memory fails. Our investigators spend countless hours reassuring witnesses and protecting them prior to and after their testimony.

On a social side, there are many excellent citizens living in the inner city. When they come forth to provide some social activism to enhance the community, and possibly point out some gang problems, their house are broken into, they may be assaulted or intimidated, and now they're afraid to come forward and promote a healthy community.

Our service works with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the Saskatoon Tribal Council, the Central Urban Métis Foundation, Saskatchewan justice, social services, health, and education, and community-based organizations to create strategies of prevention, intervention, and enforcement to reduce the level of gang activity and involvement.

I must say, Mr. Chair and committee, that hiring more police is not the solution to this problem. Three strikes and you're out is not going to solve the problem. Longer jail sentences aren't going to solve the problem. Until we can tackle the social problems that are the contributors to crime—poverty, poor housing, racism, addiction, and abuse—gang activity will flourish and gangs will remain a viable option for those who are marginalized. We can lock gang members away, but if, when they are released, they return to the same environment they came from, it's very probable that they will once again re-enter their former lifestyle.

You know, from time to time I go out on patrol with the patrol officers. I take off my rank—I just look like the oldest cop in Saskatoon—and go out on day calls. Not long ago, we were working in the inner city and we had just pulled to the side, writing up some reports. A group of about 17 or 18 little kids came running up to our police car. They were in the range of eight, nine, ten years old. Some young fellow in their neighbourhood had been chasing them around with a BB gun and shooting them.

We looked around at the neighbourhood and I thought to myself, God, who is going to help these little kids? There were 17 or 18 of them there, most of them aboriginal, some non-aboriginal, very shabbily clothed. You could see the houses they were living in, and the torment of the lives they were living. You wonder: how is this ever going to change?

Those are the problems we're facing in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, northern Alberta, and the northern territories. We have a problem with a large marginalized population.

I talk about this time in and time out, Mr. Chair. If we cannot tackle the social problems that are driving this, a million cops aren't going to fix it.

Thank you very much for allowing my comments.

2:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

We'll move on to the Winnipeg Police Service, to Inspector Poole.

You've been in front of our committee before, have you?

2:40 p.m.

Inspector Jim Poole Winnipeg Police Service

Once--in the fall of 2008, I believe--on stolen auto issues.

2:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

At any rate, please proceed. You have 10 minutes.

2:40 p.m.

Insp Jim Poole

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and panel. On behalf of the Winnipeg Police Service and Chief Keith McCaskill, thank you for the opportunity to present this information today.

My name is Jim Poole. I'm an inspector with the police service, overseeing a number of units, including our street crime unit. With me is Constable Nick Leone, from our organized crime unit, a relative subject-matter expert.

The history of street gangs in Manitoba, and Winnipeg in particular, is that of a violent nature. In 1988 Winnipeg saw the appearance of the first structured street gang, which was quickly followed by the formation of rival gangs. The rivalry over colours, turf, and the drug trade quickly escalated. The street gang stage continued to evolve with the emergence of immigrant-based street gangs over time.

Cooperative working relationships have developed between some of these groups. Currently many of the street gangs and organized crime groups based in Winnipeg have developed interprovincial connections to further facilitate their criminal activities.

At any given time, there are a minimum of 12 street gangs operating within the city of Winnipeg, and this number grows as you factor in various splinter groups and rurally based gangs that have close criminal ties with Winnipeg-based gangs or that travel to Winnipeg to conduct criminal activity.

A common thread found in all street gangs in Winnipeg includes the use of violence and intimidation, as spoken to before by our colleagues. Street gangs maintain discipline within their own gangs and resolve disputes between gangs by the use of violence, which includes the extreme of murder. Street gangs will not hesitate to do bodily harm to their own members to set an example for the rest of the gang.

Street gangs rely upon intimidation and fear to prevent witnesses and victims from reporting incidents to the police and testifying in court. In Winnipeg, intimidation has reached the level of threats and violence being carried out against members of law enforcement and the justice system. It should be noted that gang-related activity is one of the most underreported crimes, due to the gangs' subculture philosophy of non-cooperation and fear of retaliation.

The acquisition and use of firearms by street gangs continues to escalate, with shooting incidents becoming more and more commonplace in the streets of Winnipeg. Increased violence between rival gangs has a significant impact on public safety, as well as officer safety.

Many Canadian citizens would be surprised to know that child soldiers are found in many of our cities. This is a disturbing trend employed by high-ranking gang members to recruit preteens and young teenagers into the gang, with the sole purpose of using those individuals to carry out violent acts, up to and including murder. Higher-ranking gang members are doing this to exploit the weakness of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to insulate themselves from prosecution. The belief is that a young person will receive only a light punishment for a crime that an adult could potentially receive a life sentence for. Between 2007 and 2009, 12 of the 30 gang-related homicides in Winnipeg were carried out by young offenders.

In addition to the premeditated acts of violence and intimidation, there continues to be an escalation of random violence used by gang members against unsuspecting victims of robberies and assaults. Car thieves, many of whom in Winnipeg are related to the various gangs, operate stolen vehicles with reckless disregard, instigating pursuits and deliberately ramming police cruisers. Two deaths of innocent civilians have been attributed to this type of wanton disregard and reckless activity in the recent past.

Due to the successes of the Winnipeg auto theft suppression strategy, or WATSS, the number of stolen vehicles in Winnipeg has shown significant decline over previous years. Though a success, this strategy will not claim victory, as any one stolen vehicle presents an extreme risk to the citizenship of Winnipeg.

In addition to movement between Winnipeg and surrounding rural areas, even the smallest and least sophisticated street gangs are expanding their criminal operations interprovincially. This movement between jurisdictions creates challenges for law enforcement in terms of ability for multiple law enforcement agencies to carry out effective investigations, and enforcement is often hampered by differences in policy, budget, and enforcement objectives.

The investigation of gang members who conduct criminal activities interprovincially can be difficult, as meaningful and timely information and intelligence is sometimes not effectively exchanged.

Investigations involving street gangs and organized crime tend to be more complex than traditional police investigations. They involve multiple accused who take part in various crimes and in differing degrees. These investigations can result in dozens of arrests, hundreds of charges, and thousands of exhibits. These crimes often span a myriad of specialized police investigative techniques, such as commercial or financial crime that crosses international borders, technological crime, drug crime, gang crime, human trafficking, and homicide.

It then becomes necessary that law enforcement adapts and forms specialized units of investigators who can work together. Law enforcement must realize that the philosophy of investigators being the “jack of all trades, but the master of none” will not effectively combat street gangs and organized crime.

Due to the enormous scale of their illegal activities, organized crime groups and street gangs are employing the latest and most sophisticated electronic technology available. The reasons are twofold: one is to avoid detection by law enforcement; and secondly, like any profitable business, it is necessary to facilitate the movement of large amounts of product--in this case contraband--and currency from place to place.

Organized crime groups are using encrypted BlackBerry technology, e-mails, and text messaging, making it increasingly difficult for law enforcement to conduct conventional wiretap intercepts. The use of remote off-site servers to store illegal data has become more commonplace, making it difficult to retrieve information for evidentiary purposes.

These technologies make conventional undercover, wiretap, and other police techniques obsolete. Law enforcement's ability to monitor this technology is limited due to the costly nature of these types of investigations. Organized crime groups are well aware of this and they use the latest technology to their benefit.

For the individuals and groups involved in organized crime and street gangs, it is a lifetime endeavour, with the goal being success that is measured in large sums of money and power. To achieve this goal, groups and individuals treat their criminal activities as a business that is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Put simply, law enforcement cannot be expected to undo in months what organized crime and street gangs have built over years.

Law enforcement, too, must set long-term goals, through ongoing use of the Privacy Act and undercover and surveillance operations. These operations need months, sometimes years, to see their investigative goals through to fruition. It is for these reasons that law enforcement requires special tools and dedicated resources to fight organized crime, because it is a specialized fight.

Within Winnipeg, in an effort to further crack down on violent gang activity that saw a steep rise last summer, the Province of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Police Service joined forces together with the criminal organization and high risk offender unit of probation services, under Corrections, as well as with the crown's office. They are targeting Winnipeg street gang members through the gang response and suppression plan, or GRASP. This is partially funded by the province, which is supplying some staff members for support to our processes.

Many of the aspects of GRASP are intended to mirror the Winnipeg Police stolen auto unit's WATSS strategy. It's a proven tool against auto theft, and we want to implement it in the gang realm. The WATSS program focused on stolen autos and it garnered success.

GRASP will be a collaborative effort, which, in addition to quelling gang violence in Winnipeg, is anticipated to enhance communication among law enforcement bodies and increase generated intelligence on gang members. Implemented in January 2010, GRASP ensures accountability of those released under court ordered conditions through intense supervision. A minimum of two checks will be conducted per week on these GRASP members. If breaches are discovered, intense follow-up will take place to bring the gang members back before the judicial system.

GRASP includes those offenders who have the highest likelihood of reoffending in a violent manner. People who are on our program will be, and are, on CPIC. For both officer safety and intelligence purposes, it identifies a person as a GRASP subject. The Winnipeg Police Service street crime unit has been tasked with this initiative.

To determine supervision priorities under GRASP, an integrated assessment team, comprising Manitoba justice officials and Winnipeg Police Service members, conducts a review of the gang members' past. Based on specific criteria, they are ranked and put into our program. The priority list of gang members will be reviewed regularly, as individuals of higher interest may be released from custody and added to the initiative.

That is just one of the things we have done recently regarding the gang situation in Winnipeg.

At this point, I would like to say thank you. We are open to any questions you may have.

2:50 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Ed Fast

Thank you.

We will open the floor to questions from our members.

Mr. Murphy, you have 10 minutes.

2:50 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I want to thank you all for coming. We've heard an awful lot of good testimony from various groups throughout the country, and there seems to be emerging agreement among lawmakers and witnesses. What I've heard is that in these instances, the kingpins, the masterminds, have ways of insulating themselves from culpability. Whether they use child soldiers or other pawns, it is a trend. We all agree that those kingpins should be punished with the full weight of the law, with the harshest sentences possible, to remove them from society.

We also agree, I think, that in terms of youth criminal justice--the chief from Saskatoon put it so well, about the torment of the lives they are living--and in terms of general concepts of YCJA, they are pawns. They will not be deterred or changed by lengthy sentences. Nor, as children, should they necessarily be put away without treatment. I think there is virtually universal agreement on that. There is agreement on early intervention. There is agreement on lawful access, on keeping up with technology, and on getting the money out of organized crime and counterfeiting. Those are all things that are agreed upon.

The grey area, the difficult area, is where the pawn and the kingpin become closer in their actions. It is where people in Canada are expecting that, regardless of age, people who kill someone should be meted out sentences that remove them from society for a time, that deter other people from doing the same, and that hopefully have some rehabilitative aspects.

What can you say, as a panel, to help us in that grey area? As you know, we're going to be looking at amendments to the YCJA to change the focus of it, really, to meet the needs of society. What can we say about helping the situation with respect to organized crime in your cities? There is a vast part of rural Canada that this doesn't affect, but that's why this organized crime study is taking place in the largest cities in Canada. It's an urban thing that draws on the hinterland.

What legislative tools in sentencing can we use that will keep in mind a balance? They've talked about putting away the kingpin and protecting the pawns who are retrievable.

Let's start with the chief--not because of age, Chief, but because of your articulate line about the torment of their lives that caught my attention.

2:55 p.m.

Chief of Police, Saskatoon Police Service

Chief Clive Weighill

You just wanted the youngest guy to go first.