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Viewing entries tagged with 'calgary gangs'
In Part 1 of this article, I described the very real problem facing those accused of gang-related crimes here in Calgary. The laws in Calgary defining gangs and "criminal organizations" cast a very wide net, causing many people to be charged with additional crimes and sentenced to harsher punishments for no other reason than supposed gang-affiliation during the commission of an alleged crime.
The Calgary press, and to a large degree the Calgary Police, seem obsessed with the concept of "gangs." There's no doubt that Calgary suffered from a gang problem in the past, and no question that Calgary is better off since the gang violence of the early 2000s has past. But Calgary does not currently suffer a true gang problem, no matter what the police and press say.
There are several factors that may result in a higher risk of gang activity among youths. In some communities, gangs may seem like the answer to a lot of problems, especially for kids who may not think they have many other choices available to them. However, gangs are not just a problem in urban areas. In Calgary, gangs often spring up in the unlikeliest of places, snaring unwary kids and blindsiding parents with a host of new worries and possible criminal charges.
Most adult Calgarians will remember a time about a decade ago when Calgary was gripped by fear. Two rival gangs had emerged, and their turf wars had increased the level of gun violence in our city several times over. Then, a combination of law enforcement action and substantially increased social outreach meant to rehabilitate gang members and prevent at-risk youths from joining gangs seemed to be taking hold. The violence diminished, and the gangs eventually disappeared.
The word "gang" inspires fear for many in Calgary, but none know just how damaging the idea of gangs can be more than the family and friends of alleged gang members. When you see a family member—a son or daughter, brother or sister, nephew or niece—being accused of gang-related behavior or affiliation with a gang, you have every cause to worry.
If you read a newspaper—or, more likely, spot the headlines online—or pay any attention to the Calgary news whatsoever, you've probably seen a lot of stories in the past few months about an increase in "gang" activity. For many Calgary citizens who remember the gang violence we witnessed a little less than a decade ago, these stories understandably inspire a lot of concern, and even some fear.
The very word "gang" calls to mind a group of violent thugs looking to create conflict with the rest of their community. There is a sense of otherness, separation, and isolation and if we're honest an idea of "evilness": gangs are full of "bad guys" who oppose everything Calgary stands for, or so the thinking goes.
Calgary has seen its fair share of gang-related violence—more than its fair share, according to some, though historically Calgary was and is one of the safest and least violent cities in the world. Since the end of the FOB and FK gang wars, which came to a close with the dismantling of both gangs in 2009, many thought Calgary's days of gang violence were over.
Canada has been seen as a nation providing a chance for a better life to people from all over the world for most of its history, and Calgary has embodied that spirit of diversity, intrepid adventure, and opportunity as successfully as any Canadian city—arguably better than some. That doesn't mean we've been without our share of problems, and Calgary's gang wars from the first decade of this century remain a sharp reminder of this fact.
Calgary is still one the safest cities in Canada, however the recent spate of what Calgary Police have dubbed "gang-related" shootings has caused some to question this fact.
It has been nearly a decade since the Calgary streets have been gripped by the so-called "gang wars" of the late 1990s and the first decade of the current century. Since then, Calgary Police have been focusing on long-term investigations that have put many of the top members of these gangs behind bars.
Just a few years after Calgary Police and other law enforcement agencies successfully ended the gang violence between Calgary's two largest and most active gangs—the F.O.B. or "Fresh Off the Boat" gang and their rival, the F.K. or "Fresh Off the Boat Killers" gang—the Calgary Police Service is now saying that though gang violence and other gang related crimes are occurring less frequently, they are becoming harder to detect, investigate, and prosecute.
Following an investigation by the Calgary Police Service Guns and Gangs Unit and the Gang Enforcement and Gang Suppression teams, three young Calgary residents have been charged with a series of drug and weapons offences.
Two of the three young men accused of these gang-related crimes are 19 years old, and the third was only twenty.
A recent editorial in the Calgary Sun blames the lack of a permanent police chief for the Calgary Police Service for the increase in gang activity and violence the city has witnessed recently.
Rick Hanson, who held the position as the person in charge of the Calgary Police Service until he left six months ago, has helped to fuel this sentiment with certain statements made to the press.
Calgary's most recent shooting, which left a female victim dead and a male victim missing and presumed in hiding, does not appear to be gang related according to Calgary Police.
The shooting was not random, however, and one or both of the victims appears to have been the specific target of this violence. As the investigation—including the search for the male victim—is still ongoing, Calgary Police have not issued any further details regarding the potential motive for the shooting.
In what appears to be a direct carryover of the gang violence Calgary was witness to in the previous decade, a man with long-suspected ties to several criminal organizations was shot in front of his Arbour Lake home in Calgary on Thursday, August 27.
News outlets have been stirring up fears in relation to the spike in gun violence Calgary has been experiencing recently, but in fact this violence has had no real impact for the vast majority of Calgarians.
Shootings in Calgary, both recently and historically, have been largely limited to inter-gang violence, where gangs specifically target rival gang members, frequently in "turf wars" surrounding the illegal drug trade.
Many in law enforcement and Calgary at large view gangs as simple bands of ne'er-do-wells who have selected a life of hardscrabble crime and isolation rather than joining the bigger community. Anyone who has studied the issue, including any experienced Calgary criminal defence lawyer, knows that the factors affecting gangs are far more complex. Most gang members feel ostracized and isolated from society before they join gangs, and the gang itself fills the needs that would normally be filled by society, including a sense of self-worth, an occupation, and position of respect in the community.
A spate of recent shootings in northeast Calgary can be linked to groups involved in feuds over the drug trade, according to Calgary Police.
Gang violence had largely died down following the introduction of certain widespread social programs engaged in by the Calgary Police, which both steered at-risk youths away from gangs and helped enable investigations that led to several high-profile arrests of gang leaders.
Many people in Calgary look down on those accused of gang-related crimes, assuming they are somehow bad at heart. From the outside, it can seem like gang membership is a choice that certain people make—people who for some reason enjoy a life of violence, crime, and isolation from the rest of society. Looks can be deceiving, though, and in reality most gang members see very little choice and opportunity, and already feel like society has made them outsiders.
Violence and gang activity go hand in hand in the minds of many Calgary citizens, who remember the spate of gang-related shootings that affected the city years ago. In more recent times, though, a variety of social programs has helped steer many Calgary youths away from gangs and the violence is all but non-existent.
Despite the changes Calgary has seen, Alberta's laws regarding gang affiliation and violence—especially assault are charges—are very broad, giving Calgary Police and other law enforcement broad licenses to arrest or detain those suspected of either crime. Being charged with a gang-related assault means facing a conviction on two separate crimes, with the penalties pertaining to both, and that's a scenario that is more than plausible given the current state of Calgary's criminal justice system.
During the height of gang violence in Calgary, Alberta passed new legislation making the definition of a criminal gang much broader, and making it far easier for Calgary police and other law enforcement agencies to bring a charge of gang affiliation against those who otherwise could not be accused of any crime. This makes it especially important for Calgary citizens to understand gang laws, and to understand their rights when it comes to a defence against criminal charges of gang involvement or gang affiliation.
Five years ago, the Government of Alberta introduced the Alberta Gang Reduction Strategy, a program aimed at reducing gang membership by helping those who were at risk for gang involvement or who wished to leave gangs they were involved with and empowering both communities and law enforcement to better address gangs and gang-related crimes throughout Alberta.
At the time the program was defined, gang violence was still a significant problem in Calgary and in other parts of the province, and gang-related crimes including drug and weapons trafficking took up much of the Calgary Police Service's time. As the Gang Reduction Strategy was implemented, and as Calgary added its own programs to help prevent gang enlistment and make it easier for individuals in gangs to find a better way of life, gang presence and violence in Calgary have been dramatically increased.
Gang violence in Calgary has declined in recent years as the two major gangs in the region were pursued by law enforcement, and as increasingly effective and available social programs helped youths in many at-risk Calgary neighborhoods and families find better alternatives to joining a gang. This is an unquestionable good, for those who might be affiliated with gangs and for Calgary at large: violence helps no one, and doesn't defend justice.
Everyone deserves justice, and the full protection of their rights no matter what crimes they've been accused of. When it comes to Calgary citizens accused of gang-related crimes, this is more true than ever.
It's easy to make gang members look frightening or downright evil in the press. Few people realize how young and vulnerable most future gang members are when they first start to see gang life as an attractive option; having worked on numerous gang-related cases in my capacity as a Calgary defence lawyer, I am acutely aware that clients accused of gang affiliations want a secure and happy life as much as anyone in Calgary.
Alberta's crackdown on all kinds of crime, from harsher impaired driving or "DUI" laws to the increasing attention being paid to drug violations, has many hidden consequences. Some of these new laws can put innocent people and those accused of minor crimes at risk of potentially severe penalties, and that doesn't serve anyone in the province or our city of Calgary well.
Newer laws involving criminal organizations or gangs are especially worrisome. Not only are the penalties for gang-related behavior made harsher, in many cases, than the penalties for the same crime committed by non-gang members, but what constitutes a gang is now more broadly defined. Simply "participating" in a gang or other criminal organization is now a crime in and of itself, without any other illegal activity necessary for a charge to be laid against you.