Familial ties make gangs tough to fight: experts
TORONTO - A dramatic police crackdown on the notorious Driftwood Crips illustrates how gang culture in Canada has become less dominated by youth and more inter-generational - even supported by family members and elders in some cases, experts said Thursday.
The changing demographics became apparent after a series of early-morning raids Wednesday in cities across southern Ontario, where police arrested 95 men, women and youths allegedly affiliated with the north Toronto street gang.
"The reality in Canada is that the street-gang organism is extremely diverse," said Michael Chettleburgh, author of "Young Thugs: Inside the Dangerous World of Street Gangs."
"It's also an increasingly inter-generational gang issue where you will have a kid involved in gangs, an older brother, and perhaps even an uncle."
Most of the suspects appeared in court Thursday to face charges ranging from possession of stolen property to drug and gun trafficking and gangsterism.
Also Thursday, Toronto police held a news conference to show off a number of guns seized during the raids, including 24 handguns, four sawed-off rifles, four replica guns and 900 rounds of ammunition.
Const. Scott Mills, who works with Crime Stoppers, said he has heard of cases where children living in communities with a strong gang culture are often recruited into the fold at an early age.
"The younger kids are often groomed by the older members," said Mills, who is also executive operations director of the Ontario Gang Investigators Association, a non-profit organization that works to fight gangs.
"We get tips being called in ... that kids as young as eight, nine years old that are actually the lookouts or the runners for the drugs for the older people."
When familial relations begin to establish gang loyalties, it becomes even more difficult to deter youth from adopting the gang mindset, he added.
"It's usually the younger kids who are doing the hard-core stuff. Moms and dads aren't directly involved a lot of the time, but they are what I would call enablers," Mills said.
"They might try to discourage it, or may try to encourage it, but the bottom line is that they would never try to do an intervention that would involve the police or outside agencies. So these kids grow up in environments where the No. 1 weapon is fear, and the rule is, don't snitch."
That's another reason why programs targeted at deterring youth from joining gangs are often ineffective in the face of homegrown pressure, he added.
"That's why we need to have prevention, you need to have intervention, like gang-exiting programs, and sometimes you need enforcement," Mills said.
"But you can see how it's hard for the kids to break out of it if their moms and dads are involved."
Mills said he's confident things are beginning to change within the tight-lipped communities where gangs thrive. Officials behind Wednesday's raids say much of their intelligence came from community members and Crime Stoppers tips.
Chettleburgh, who has studied Canadian gangs for years, said the only solution is to invest money, jobs and legitimate economic opportunities in communities and neighbourhoods that often offer few alternatives to a life of crime.
"We can't just take entire families and throw them in jail and hope that they are going to be rehabilitated," he said.
"Nothing is going to change until we start giving kids what they need to say to themselves, 'This is a route to nowhere."'