(This column was published in the North Shore News on Dec. 29, 1999)

 

Biggest 21st century threat: organized crime

By Leo Knight

AS we perch on the precipice of a new century, it's important to look back at what defined the past hundred years and project ahead at what will, probably, define the coming hundred years.  

 

The 20th century was marked by three important things: the rise and fall of communism, marked by the Cold War; two bloody and deadly world wars; and an increase in technological advancement, the like of which may never again be seen by mankind.  

 

It's the latter that requires us to pay the most attention.  

 

Much time has been devoted in this space to bringing you the reality of organized crime in this country and how it affects each of you.  

 

Successive governments in this country have done their best to ignore the problem while trying to convince you, the voter, that they have a handle on the problem.  

 

The examples of what I say are all around you every day in whatever journal you choose to browse with your toast and coffee.  

 

The case of accused terrorist Ahmed Ressam is a timely and nationally embarrassing example.  

 

We have, to put it mildly, become an international joke. As law enforcement agencies around the U.S.A. spring into high gear to try to determine the potential damage Ressam and his cohorts are planning, Canadian officials are busy trying to escape the blame for the potential carnage.  

 

Two federal cabinet ministers last week bravely went to the national media saying our sovereignty is inherently safe and the laws are sufficient to deal with the problem.  

 

Quite apart from the inherent dishonesty of their remarks, the stupidity they seem to attach to the public at large is insulting.  

 

Our justice system is in disarray if not collapse. The manner in which we handle refugee claims has made Canada the joke of the western world and the target of organized crime and international terrorist groups seeking entry into the U.S.  

 

The inherent problem is easily defined but not so easily corrected.  

 

The forces of organized crime are raking in huge profits from their endeavours. The police, for their part, are having to do with less, constantly seeking new and more creative ways to stretch a dollar. Not because the money isn't there, but because the various governments who supply the budgets can't, or perhaps won't, allocate appropriate resources.  

 

Outlaw motorcycle gangs are a clear example of organized crime. In B.C., the Hells Angels have about 90 colour-wearing members.  

 

Their profits from various illegal enterprises are astronomical. To take down one Hells Angel and his criminal operations requires a one- to two-year investigation with full resources including surveillance teams, wiretaps and a host of support.  

 

The cost for all this is between one and two million dollars. This is just for the investigative process. The cost of the subsequent trial is more.

 

The allocated annual budget for the newly formed Organized Crime Agency of BC (OCA) is a paltry $13.5 million.  

 

The Angels, for their part, know the odds are in their favour. But even at that, they spend a great deal of money and effort to protect themselves even further. They have an organizational "intranet" for internal communications to eliminate traditional communications such as telephones which might be monitored by investigating police. And they have over a hundred chapters around the world.  

 

This is not to say that governments throwing money at the problem will solve anything. That's too typical of an ineffective governmental solution. Without an effective organized response to the problem in policy, structure and inter-provincial and international cooperation, no amount of money will help.  

 

Organized crime recognizes no borders. Technology has made it possible to shift money around the world with a few keystrokes.  

 

North America is the largest market for illegal drugs in the world. By a long shot.  

 

The illicit drug trade here makes up a little over 2% of the GNP. And it is growing daily. In generating the huge profits the bad guys need to find new and creative ways to launder their money.  

 

Perhaps like no other business, organized crime requires cash flow and reinvestment to survive.  

 

The key to shutting down the criminals is to attack the cash. Unfortunately, not enough is being done.  

 

The United Nations once tried to make money laundering an internationally extraditable offence. Less than half the member nations agreed.  

 

If, for example, our governments made a law requiring lawyers, bankers and accountants to provide the identity of the owner of the money they are handling before the transaction is made, it would radically affect the amount of money available to the criminals and thus their ability to operate.  

 

If the threat of nuclear war was the defining point of the 20th century, then organized crime is poised to be the defining point, or threat, of the 21st century.  

 

We can no longer afford to ignore transnational organized crime. OCA and its $13.5 million budget is merely an attempt to provide a parochial solution to an international problem.  

 

Happy New Year. 

 

  -30-

 

 

 

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