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Structure and Composition

There is no single organizing principle for organized crime groups in Canada, but their criminal operations are largely networked and opportunistic.They are networked in that very few groups are able to run their operations without the assistance of one or several other groups and/or individuals.The assistance of the latter comes either from their access to a key product or ability to provide a needed service (i.e. skills, contacts, access to smuggling routes). Most organized crime groups are also opportunistic in that they are venturing into new activities and will exploit advances in technology to facilitate their existing criminal activities, or to advance in new criminal markets.

Organized crime groups frequently engage in co-operative criminal ventures, some of which are temporary in nature, based upon mutual need.These relationships may dissolve quickly or provide a foundation of trust for future joint criminal ventures. In other cases, such co-operation may be more long-standing and wide-ranging, based upon historical alliances and/or personal connections. Moreover, the relationship between groups may be based on mutual co-operation and relative equality, or hierarchical whereby a lower-level crime group plays a more supportive role or is in a subordinate relationship with a stronger, more established and connected crime group.Although few of these hierarchical relationships are formalized in sets of rules and laws, outlaw motorcycle gangs for example do have such a formalized structure for dealing with its support crime groups. Essentially, these supportive crime groups are used to train the younger generation, identify those candidates with the potential to become full-fledged members, as well as exclude undesirables. In this kind of relationship, the advantage for the dominant group is that the subordinate one further insulates the dominant group’s members from the day-to-day criminal activities that would bring them into direct contact with the authorities and/or their rivals. Other benefitsfor the dominant group include the payments in money, goods and services they receive from members of the subordinate group.

“Like a cancer, organized crime attacks the very foundation of our Canadian society, by overtaxing the health care system as a direct result of drug abuse and gratuitous violence, by undermining the credibility of our financial institutions through major commercial crime and money laundering and, finally, by targeting the most vulnerable.”

RCMP Assistant Commissioner
Pierre-Yves Bourduas,
Commanding Officer,
“C” Division (Quebec)

In terms of internal group dynamics, there are few groups that maintain a formalized hierarchical structure. Rather, a substantial number of organized crime groups operate in a more fluid environment whereby individual gang members operate their own criminal enterprises, sometimes independent of other group members and with associates occasionally belonging to other criminal organizations.As an example of a non-hierarchical structure, these cell-based organizations offer the group greater resilience in that the dismantling of one cell does not automatically lead to a weakening of the entire group. However, a cellbased structure does not mean that there are no leaders within the group.

“For most Canadians, organized crime is invisible; this is one of its sustaining characteristics. Organized crime, by definition, comprises coordinated efforts to advance criminal enterprises that are fundamentally contrary to the values and principles of Canadian citizens. It is malignant to our communities, takes many forms and has far-reaching impact.”


Chief Cal Johnston,
Regina Police Service

The internal composition of many organized crime groups reflects the multicultural nature of contemporary Canadian society.Although shared ethnicity remains an important organizing principle for a number of the country’s crime groups, there are other,multi-ethnic criminal organizations equally influential within the criminal environment. In other words, it is no longer unusual to have groups that were once ethnically exclusive to now include members and associates from a multitude of cultural backgrounds. Several newly established and emerging groups (many of these being street gangs) are also multicultural. It is important to note that in Canada, groups have emerged from the streets, schools, and prisons of certain localities, where the people have a common bond be it ethnicity, shared experience or economic status. It is in these neighborhoods, schools and prisons that the friendships (and occasionally conflicts) between group members are forged and developed, and the identity of the group established.

Organized crime groups also exploit legitimate businesses, professionals and other community members to assist them in their criminal ventures and launder their criminal profits. In some instances, providers of this assistance may be unaware of their exploitation by organized crime, while others, lured by the profitability of their relationship, either may suspect but remain silent or knowingly and openly participate.

While many members of organized crime groups shy away from publicly flaunting their criminality and criminal associations, some (often members of outlaw motorcycle gangs or street gangs) seek to display their uniqueness and lifestyle through their clothing attire, tattoos and demeanor.Those seeking to remain inconspicuous look to integrate themselves within their economic, social, and cultural communities and establish personas of legitimacy, normality and respectability, and thus insulate themselves from law enforcement attention. Others publicly display their criminally-acquired wealth through expensive residences, vehicles and jewelry while otherwise seeking to maintain a low profile.


Violence and Intimidation