Part 1 focused on the early life of aboriginal children and how it serves to funnel them into trafficking. Part 2 will focus on the traffickers who victimize those children, who use them and sell them for profit, specifically gangs.
Gangs, or criminal organizations, are a problem that is increasingly evident in Canada. Not to say they haven’t been here that long, but a recent spate of gang related violence in large metropolitan cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal has forced the issue into the public eye. The last two decades have seen spikes of violence and murder between gangs; in Montreal, the Hell’s Angels fought openly with Rock Machine for control of drug trafficking, Vancouver had wars between local gangs and incoming Triad/asian gangs and Toronto has recently has experienced American style shootouts that lead to inflated murder rates. All three of these saw street violence and the death of innocent civilians, and all three relate to drug trafficking and turf issues. We shall focus on the lesser known trafficking, sex trafficking, and lesser known gangs.
The Criminal Code, section 467.1(1) defines a criminal organization as :” a group, however organized, that
is composed of three or more persons in or outside Canada; and,
has as one of its main purposes or main activities the facilitation or commission of one or more serious offences, that, if committed, would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of a material benefit, including a financial benefit, by the group or by any one of the persons who constitute the group. ” (1)
And Bill C-95 was recently added to give police more powers and gang members longer sentences (1). While very broad and encompassing, law enforcement, academics and to a lesser extent, the general public , generally conceive of two types of criminal organizations, the “true” organized crime, like the famed biker clubs or the Italian Mafia families that had roots in Montreal, and street gangs, made up of younger people and much more localized (while also ignoring the fact that the law also perfectly fits with corporations, who break the law all the time for profit, but that is the subject for another post). Canada has over 100 gangs or criminal organizations identified by law enforcement (2), with over 50 identified as operating in the prison system (3). Both numbers represent a significant increase recently, with further evidence that more gangs are moving into Canadian territory to operate, specifically the famously violent mexican drug cartel(4), and notorious street gangs like MS-13.
While criminal organizations like the Mafia or Hell’s Angels receive lots of attention from authorities and the media, street gangs are generally treated like local problems, to be dealt with by municipal forces. To me, the distinction is a false one, and problematic. First of all, most street gangs are not a localized problem, with many “smaller” street gangs having affiliates, or “reach” across several provinces. This can create jurisdictional issues, between municipal forces, Aboriginal Police, and with the RCMP, which can greatly hinder investigation and prosecution. Secondly, there is an interconnected nature between organizations of different sizes. The larger organizations use smaller street level gangs as distributors and muscle, and also as feeder pools for membership into the larger, more powerful groups. Small gangs do not have the finances, connections or ability to smuggle large amounts of drugs or people across international borders, and the larger organizations do not want their members on street corners pushing drugs or beating up shopkeepers. When was the last time you saw a Hell’s Angels member pushing dime bags? They leave the dirty work to the street gangs.
Criminal Organizations are, at their core, about money, and have increasingly turned to sex trafficking, both here and in the U.S., as a reliable, less risky source of income (5). With the increased risk associated with drugs, due to the ongoing “war on drugs”, and increasingly stiffer sentences, the gangs find human trafficking/sex trade a more attractive option. The sentences are lighter, the “resource” is “reusable” for years (as opposed to drugs, which require a constant source of new product to make money), and it brings in a lot of money; It is estimated by CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, our domestic spy agency) that each trafficked person is worth about 280 000 dollars per year (6). I have seen debate online about how big the “industry” is wordlwide, but if they are arguing about whether it is worth more than drugs or weapons trafficking, clearly it is a huge problem.
There are many aboriginal gangs in Canada, generally believed to be local. Some of the more well known include Redd Alert, Indian Posse, Native Syndicate and Manitoba Warriors. These are merely the larger ones, and though they generally considered localized, they have long reach. The influence of aboriginal organized crime in the trafficking of aboriginal children is immense. They are responsible for much of the initial contact, using aboriginals to approach the children and begin the grooming process. This happens on reserves, with gangs collecting the children from their own community, it happens to runaways, who are met at the airport by locals tipped off from the reserve, and it happens in schools, with older girls recruiting younger ones (7). The aboriginal aspect of this is important, as the children are more likely to trust another aboriginal, especially if they are new to a big city, or if they are looking to escape a reserve. In the case of lone traffickers/pimps, this often takes the form of the boyfriend ruse, buying gifts, gaining trust, etc, but with street gangs, the other methods include the lure of the gang community, drug addiction or straight out violence.
Once the children are stuck in the lifestyle, they are usually transported across the country to work in various locations. In the Prairie provinces, these are referred to as triangles, between Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton for example (7), although a more realistic model would also include Fort McMurray, which boasts a thriving sex trade (While working there, I repeatedly witnessed a pimp/dealer show up on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in a trailer, offering drugs and girls to the in-camp workers right in the parking lot; of course security did nothing). They are also trafficked between larger cities like Vancouver (where a lot of runaways end up due to the temperate climate), Toronto and Montreal. They are even frequently sent down to the U.S. as well, in such significant numbers that the American authorities took notice, citing the problem in a 2008 report “Trafficking of Persons” (7). The children are not only moved around by gangs, they are also sold as property between them, or between gangs and individual pimps, increasing their movement, and their sense of being an object.
This movement of the victims helps the gangs in many ways. First, it spreads out the crimes over many jurisdictions, making them and the victims harder to track. Secondly, presumably it helps to increase profits, by always having a rotating stable of victims, the traffickers can constantly entice customers back, and they can all claim the victim is “new and fresh” over and over. Also, it increases the victims sense disassociation and helplessness, making them easier to control. If they are constantly being moved and kept of balance, never allowed to make friends or a sense of permanence, they will increasingly accept their role as chattle, will internalize their abusers lies.
Unlike many of the other posts I have written, this problem has a simple and obvious solution. A huge part of the problem here is the government and law enforcement. Trafficking wasn’t even a crime in Canada until 2005, and in ten years, there have only been 85 successful cases resulting in jail time for 151 traffickers (8). The government barely keep any stats, and the R.C.M.P. is no better. Not only will they provide no numbers for victimization rates, using the flimsy excuse that underground activity is hard to monitor, but they go on to say: “In approximately 50 percent of specific cases of domestic human trafficking for sexual exploitation, traffickers are associated with street gangs. However, intelligence does not indicate that human trafficking is an organized street gang activity.”(9). So they acknowledge that gangs are responsible for half of the trafficking (a number that most frontline workers believe to be low), but they say it is not an activity that gangs engage in, which makes no sense at all. Not only that, but “the RCMP’s National Aboriginal Policing Service wanted to examine the issue further, the report noted, but lacked the funding and human resources to do so” (7). So the RCMP’s Aboriginal unit, dedicated to aboriginal policing issues, knows there’s a problem, but lacks the funds to even examine the issue. This problem is scourging aboriginal communities, generation after generation, and the police dedicated to aboriginal issues can’t even write a report, let alone actually combat the problem. Several words come to mind here, but I will leave it at pathetic.
While there are many deep causes of gang activity and human trafficking among aboriginal communities, in the case of street gangs trafficking children, there is a clear solution: enforce the law. If people engage in these activities, and local police always know who they are, then charge them all, with the maximum charges; charge them with organized crime, charge them with human trafficking, charge them with child abuse, and lock them up. What is lacking here is political and law enforcement will to dedicate the resources to the problem. This is most likely due to a combination of institutionalized racism and the belief that most Canadians don’t consider this an issue. Even if were true that Canadians don’t care (and it isn’t), there is no excuse for law enforcement not doing their job and enforcing the law against violent criminals who ruin peoples lives. They know this is a real problem, but their collective reactions are almost insignificant. I have talked before about the allocation of funds in Canada, but this is another case where the priorities seem very out of touch.
I am not going to play the “this party” or “that Prime Minister” game, I believe that the real problem lies in the bureaucracies that actually make the decisions, like the RCMP, rather than the figureheads we elect. That being said, we need to make it loud and clear to those figure heads that this is an unacceptable state of affairs, that we will not tolerate a culture wide attack on aboriginal children. The same applies with the media, who only provide coverage of the issue when a report comes out, or an international body condemns us. We have to change the way they view Canadians, it is not right that they think we don’t care. Tell them how wrong they are.