ST. JOHN’S, N.L.
Organized crime has grown and evolved to the point where it is increasingly wielding its influence over the country’s smaller towns, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada warns in its annual report.
Nearly 800 organized crime groups now operate in the country, up from 600 several years ago, with a makeup as diverse as the country’s cultural mosaic, RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli said yesterday.
«Organized crime has come to represent the darker side of globalization by exploiting the same things we’ve come to take for granted — the free flow of goods and people around the world and the rapid advancement of technology,» Zaccardelli said.
Such vast networks of illegal activity are no longer simply the scourge of Canada’s largest urban centres, Zaccardelli added.
«It wasn’t that long ago we used to say that organized crime was more or less contained in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver,» he told a news conference.
«We now know, for example, you cannot hide from organized crime . . . any rural community in Canada can be affected now in a major way.»
The Greater Toronto Area continues to be a hub of street gang activity, the federal agency report says. Roughly 80 of Canada’s 300-plus street gangs are in the city, with dozens more lurking in the suburbs of Markham, Mississauga, Vaughan and Richmond Hill.
Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island were the only two provinces without an existing or emerging street gang presence, the report concludes. But Royal Newfoundland Constabulary police Chief Joe Browne said that doesn’t mean seemingly remote provinces are immune to the threat of organized crime.
«Several organized crime groups have taken advantage of our geography and relative isolation to facilitate illegal activities,» Browne said.
«The reality is that organized crime operates wherever there is profit to be made — big cities, small towns, rural areas and remote coastlines. Any part of Canada can be an entry point for contraband.»
The 30-page report, compiled by a network of criminal intelligence experts from police and government, also noted that a rising quantity of the drug ecstasy is being produced in Canada and smuggled to the United States, Japan and Australia.
But much of the report reinforces what’s already known — that low-level street gangs are more visible to the public than highly sophisticated illegal networks, and that criminals are more often using high-tech means to obtain personal financial information to commit fraud.
«I think we have to admit that we don’t know what we don’t know, which is what really scares the hell out of us,» Zaccardelli said.
«That’s what keeps us awake at night … but we’re getting better and we’re closing that gap.»
Part of the problem in evaluating organized crime activity is that it’s fluid and constantly adapting to new technologies and law enforcement measures, said Ron Melchers, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.
«I’m not sure to what extent we’re going to ever be able to resolve these questions because organized crime is like all crimes,» Melchers said.
«It’s such a shifting terrain that it’s very difficult to make any definitive statement whatsoever.»
Photo: RECORD FILE PHOTO , RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli says organized crime is reaching into small towns and rural areas.