A clearer picture of the nation’s criminal underworld emerged this week, as Statistics Canada released detailed data on organized crime for the first time in a decade.
Within the report were figures that show more murders linked to gang activity and traditional organized crime happened in the Greater Toronto Area last year than anywhere else in Canada.
Investigators say the new data is a boon for police as they try to figure out which criminal organizations to target. But the local homicide numbers also point to a region that’s bucking a worldwide trend as its criminal organizations clash violently in a bid for power amidst increased instability, a leading expert says.
“It’s unusual compared to the trend in many other countries,” said Antonio Nicaso, a Mafia expert who teaches courses on organized crime at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“The tendency [elsewhere] is to use less violence and to adopt other strategies to deal with the proceeds of crime, and that’s what we see around the world. We see criminal organizations are more business oriented than violent.”
But in southern Ontario, these organizations are undeniably using deadly force. According to Statistics Canada, there were 36 gang-related homicides in the GTA in 2018 — a number that includes traditional Mafia, street gangs and other crime groups. That’s the same number as the year before, and the most killings of this sort seen in the region stretching back to 1991.
Montreal came in second last year with 24 murders, and Vancouver was third with 20 — though when adjusting for population, Edmonton actually recorded the highest rate of gang-related homicides with 0.98 per 100,000 people, followed by Vancouver in second and then Toronto and Montreal tied for third.
Provincially, there were 51 homicides either linked to or suspected to be linked to organized crime or street gangs in 2018, Statistics Canada says, a rate that’s been rising since 2014 and 2015. There were 21 such homicides in each of those years.
Couple those numbers with the attempt on the life of convicted mobster Pat Musitano in front of his lawyer’s office in Mississauga in April — and a host of other mob activity nearby in Hamilton — and the picture of an unstable region becomes even clearer.
“When you fight over turf, that’s what happens,” Nicaso said.
He traces the surge in violence back to the 2013 death of reputed Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto.
“This is a moment of great instability in the sense that after the vacuum left by Rizzuto, there is an imbalance of power within traditional organized crime,” he said.
Shootings, stabbings and beatings
As part of the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, Statistics Canada is now highlighting the total number of incidents police services have reported between 2016 and 2018 that have been flagged as related to organized crime.
“For the first time in a long time, we have actual data that we can publish,” said analyst Warren Silver.
Statistics Canada found that 34 per cent of reported human trafficking incidents in the province last year were linked to organized crime, as well as 24 per cent of all murders, Silver said.
According to the new data, the other offences most likely to be related to organized crime or gangs in Canada are laundering the proceeds of crime, smuggling and trafficking tobacco, cannabis and alcohol, and conspiracy to commit murder.
Statistics Canada says that nationwide, the vast majority of gangland murders are carried out via shootings. Last year, there were also 13 stabbings, nine beatings, and two deaths attributed to smoke inhalation and burns.
Jeff McGuire, the executive director of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, welcomed the new data.
“I think the statistics will enable our intelligence gathering organizations to develop the proper priorities,” McGuire said.
Low levels of police reporting
Silver told CBC News that organizations have been pushing for this data, as it can inform both resourcing and policy decisions. So why did Statistics Canada go so long without publishing it?
The Uniform Crime Reporting Survey originally started including data on organized crime back in 2005, Silver said. Police services were able to flag that specific incidents were linked to crime organizations when reporting to Statistics Canada.
But, Silver said, the organization found it was getting consistently low numbers of flagged cases — so in 2009, a joint decision between the federal agency and police services was made to suspend the collection and release of the data to improve the process.
Silver said it’s difficult for police services to flag every incident that’s linked to organized crime.
“It’s much more labour intensive than just reporting a robbery to us,” he said.
Though improved, the new data still doesn’t paint a complete picture. Just over 81 per cent of the province’s police forces sent data on organized crime to Statistics Canada last year, up from 78.2 per cent the year before.
Silver said the rest of the province’s police services are working toward reporting as well, but until that happens, the picture remains incomplete.