Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Feb 23, 2009)


Gangs laughing in our faces


  By John Martin

Whether it's boxing, politics or any other contact sport, a sure sign that the battle is already over is when an opponent laughs at their adversary. When someone doesn't even take the competition seriously enough to refrain from treating them like a joke, it's game over.

This very much sums up the situation with gang violence throughout the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. Law enforcement, the courts, and all levels of government are viewed as so impotent that organized crime has no reason to take them or their threats seriously. The gangs are literally laughing in our faces, ever confident that they can do what they want.

A generation of court rulings regarding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been a godsend to organized crime. The restrictions on police and prosecutors that handicap them every step of the way are more than any wish list organized crime could ever have drawn up.

The present situation is one we created ourselves and must take full responsibility for. Numerous opportunities to bring in serious legislation with which to hammer organized crime have come and gone. Legislation south of the border that allows courts to lock up hardcore gang bangers for decades is instantly dismissed here as being "too American" so we give them house arrest instead.

Ever eager to cater to the ethnic vote, the federal government looked the other way for years as immigrants and refugee claimants with established organized crime connections rolled up their sleeves and set up shop here.

Police investigative resources were choked off even as domestic organized crime syndicates were expanding and becoming more violent.

For over a decade the federal Liberals, neck deep in their own money laundering and kickback operations, fought tooth and nail against each and every measure that would have hit organized crime with tougher penalties. In opposition they continue to do so.

And now we have rival gangs exchanging gunfire in shopping plazas. Gangsters arrested with illegal handguns and body armour make bail in a matter of hours because it's, supposedly, not in the public interest to detain them. Broad daylight executions have become the norm. Unable to even begin to cope with the backlog of files, anyone with a good lawyer, charged with anything short of murder, pretty well has a 50-50 shot at having charges stayed.

No wonder they're laughing at us. But to pinpoint exactly when organized crime knew they had nothing to worry about, we should look at the federal government's decision to disband the Ports Police in 1997. The Canadian government was warned by provincial attorneys general, police chiefs, prosecutors and even international security organizations that they were opening Canada's ports to illegal activity, including drug trafficking, human smuggling and even terrorism.

They were specifically warned that unprotected seaports would become irresistible for organized crime rings.

Submissions and testimony before the Commons Transport Committee were crystal clear that axing the Ports Police would leave us vulnerable to Asian organized crime and other criminal organizations.

Scott Newark, former executive director of the Canadian Police Association, said at the time, "There has never been another instance where [Canadian law enforcement] has been more clear and unanimous in its recommendations to the government, and they were rejected."

Organized crime is a global phenomenon that will always be a force to be reckoned with. BC, and the rest of Canada, are hardly unique in having to confront it.

But you'd be hard pressed to find another country that has been so accommodating and welcoming to these groups.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2009