Skip to main content

A national police association is welcoming the publication of new crime data by Statistics Canada that provides the first quantitative look at gang and Mafia activity in the country.

“We need that data, we need that information, we need those connections,” said Stuart Betts, a deputy chief with the London Police Service and a representative of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which has supported the data-collection effort.

The figures – released as part of Statscan’s annual report on national crime trends, the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey – highlight the number of police-reported incidents between 2016 and 2018 that have been flagged as organized-crime related.

The data is significant, police officials and federal statisticians say, because it provides a tool to analyze the evolution of organized crime activity on a national scale. Over time, they say, the information will allow for more informed policing.

According to the Statscan report, the offences most likely to be related to organized crime or gangs were homicide, conspiracy to commit murder, money laundering, and the smuggling and illegal sale of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.

The report found 147 homicides flagged by police services as organize-crime related last year – up from 138 in 2017 and 119 in 2016.

Fraud was also increasingly tied to criminal organizations. In 2018, police services reported 2,415 fraud cases as organized crime-related, up from 1,969 in 2017 and 1,468 in 2016.

Rebecca Kong, the chief of policing services for the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, a division of Statscan, stressed that the report’s numbers are not perfect. A growing number of police services agreed to include their data in the report over successive years, she explained, so it would be difficult at this preliminary stage to identify annual trends.

But the collection and publication of the information is a good start, she said.

“The need for the data has been reiterated time and time again,” Ms. Kong said. She pointed out that politicians and policy-makers often request organized-crime data on hot-button issues such as cannabis legalization or guns and gang violence.

“From a policy and research perspective, and even an officer safety perspective, being able to understand the extent that organized crime is involved provides information for those who can make decisions around public safety.”

Traditional organized-crime groups remain active in Canada. Just last week in York Region, north of Toronto, a police organized-crime unit announced the arrest of nine suspected Mafia members in a raid that led to the seizure of 27 houses and five Ferraris.

The accused had allegedly laundered more than $70-million in Toronto-area casinos.

“We have to focus on the group themselves,” York Regional Police Detective-Sergeant Carl Mattinen said on Monday. “[We can’t] just identify a crime and investigate that crime, because as we know, most of the people higher up in these organizations aren’t getting their hands dirty any more.”

Though he could not comment specifically on the Statscan report, Det.-Sgt. Mattinen agreed that data is crucial in helping investigators determine their focus. It helps justify specialized units like his, which was established in 2017.

“That analytical work points us in the direction of where we should be,” he said.

Statscan’s annual Uniform Crime Reporting Survey draws directly from raw officer reports, so it reflects only those crimes that police are aware of.

According to Monday’s report, the overall crime rate in Canada was up roughly 2 per cent last year. Police-reported sexual assaults were up about 15 per cent year over year – though the report noted that fewer of these cases were being dismissed by police. “In 2018, 11 per cent of Level One sexual assaults reported to police were classified as unfounded, down from 14 per cent in 2017,” the report noted.

In 2005 the UCR survey was tweaked to give police the ability to flag crimes as suspected organized-crime activity. But a follow-up analysis by Statscan found the data was being underreported. For example, it pointed out that in 2009 police officers input almost 20,000 drug-trafficking events into the survey yet flagged only 45 of these events as suspected organized-crime activity.

In 2016, the police chiefs association endorsed the Statscan recommendations for better data, setting the stage for this week’s disclosures.

Deputy Chief Betts, who sits on a subcommittee with Statscan, said that in time the data may change people’s preconceptions about who organized criminals really are. The reality of today’s rackets is that they are often “outside that historic imagery that we have of organized crime,” he said. While street gangs, outlaw bikers and traditional mobsters remain big problems, he said, police who specialize in organized crime are starting to pick up on less violent groups that fly under the radar.

“That is why it is so important when we capture the data,” he said.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe