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Monday, 14 April 2008

Dangerous World of Canadian Street Gangs

Calgary police were appealing for tips following two shootings that injured two young men.Neither shooting was a random act, said Calgary police, who summed up the gunplay as just the latest example of the "blatant disregard gang members have for innocent members of the community who could have been hit by errant bullets."
Michael Chettleburgh, author of Young Thugs: Inside the Dangerous World of Canadian Street Gangs, warns of a rise in the number of young people joining gangs and says the increasing gunplay on Canadian streets is a symptom of a burgeoning drug trade.
"Where there are guns and gangs there are drugs," Mr. Chettleburgh says. "A lot of the violence you see right now across the country, and it is different in different cities, is driven by gang rivalry associated with protection of markets."
Mr. Chettleburgh researched and wrote the 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs for the federal government and will release the results of a new survey this year.
Mr. Chettleburgh estimates there are between 11,000 to 14,000 gang members under the age of 21 across the country, up from 7,000 in the 2002 Police Survey on Youth Gangs.
In Winnipeg last month, a 15-year-old street gang member was one of three charged in a triple murder after masked shooters opened fire at a house party.
The shootings, a police source told the Winnipeg Free Press, were a result of increasing hostilities between the Central -- a youth-oriented street gang -- and Indian Posse gangs.Edmonton has logged a series of gang-related shootings since January, including several incidents where shots were fired into houses.
And Vancouver has seen 14 gang related homicides since January, according to police.
Last year, several highly public "gangland style" shootings at restaurants, along with the deaths of two innocent bystanders during a targeted drug related hit at a Surrey apartment, spurred police to create a multi-jurisdictional gang unit.
Only six months old, the Uniform Gang Task Force -- made up of 60 officers from Vancouver and surrounding municipalities along with the RCMP -- is in the process of becoming permanent, says Vancouver police inspector Dean Robinson.
The head of the integrated unit says police have laid "loads of charges" and seized three submachine guns among other weapons as the high-profile squad tries to move gang violence out of the "public domain."While there has no doubt been an increase in the prevalence of guns, it is the type of firearms and their use "at the drop of a hat" that worries Mr. Robinson most.
"We've gone from seeing fairly unsophisticated revolvers, to semi automatic pistols to hunting rifles sawed off, to machine guns and military-grade assault rifles," Mr. Robinson says.
In Calgary, Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta of the Organized Crime Operations Centre says it is not uncommon for police to find gang members wearing body armour.
Toronto Deputy Police Chief Tony Warr says the propensity for violence has reached down from major drug dealers to minor drug traffickers who carry guns because they are afraid of getting ripped off or shot by their competition."Where in the past it would have been a fist fight, now it is a gunfight over the same minor issues," says Mr. Warr. "There seems to be an acceptance of violence more generally by the community and it is reflected in the way kids are acting in school, what we see on television and by these gangs where, if they have a problem, they shoot a person."
In 2006, 8,100 people across the country were victims of violent gun crimes including robbery, assault and homicide, according to Statistics Canada.
Although the number of violent gun crimes in Canada has not risen in recent years the number of young people using guns in violent crimes has risen in three of the previous four years.That rate has gone up 32% since 2002, according to Statistics Canada.
Part of the is due to a growth in young people joining gangs, Mr. Chettleburgh says, but it is also due to better police intelligence as a result of more money and resources being dedicated to gang units in the wake of high-profile gun violence in recent years.
In Toronto, Mayor David Miller acknowledges a Canada-wide handgun ban isn't a panacea, but says it is the "the next step" in helping to reduce the number of victims of violent gun crimes.
Mr. Miller plans to personally deliver the petition to Parliament Hill in June. So far, it has 20,000 signatures.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has called Miller's campaign well-intentioned, but says handguns are already subject to a ban for all but a few licensed owners and collectors.


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