Measuring organized crime in Canada: Results of a pilot project

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by Christopher Munch and Warren Silver

Organized crime has long been identified as a government priority and a public safety issue. As a result of high profile incidents in the 1990s and extensive consultations by the government, the Criminal Code of Canada was amended in 1997 to help identify criminal organizations and to protect justice system participants (Parliament of Canada n.d.).The aim of this and subsequent legislation was to provide law enforcement and justice officials with tools to respond to organized crime, including a clear national definition of a criminal organization (see Text box 1), broader powers through sentencing guidelines, and the ability to seize property obtained for the benefit of organized crime (Parliament of Canada 2014).

Since then, a number of reports have underscored the issue (40th Parliament Speech from the Throne 2010; Criminal Intelligence Service Canada 2014). For instance, in 2006 Public Safety Canada outlined the issue as follows:

To address the issue of organized crime, data are needed to inform both resourcing and policy questions related to detection, prevention and officer and public safety. Recent reports have indicated that the complexity of organized crime creates additional resource demands on policing (Public Safety Canada 2013; Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security 2014; Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Research Foundation 2015). Further, the nature of organized crime is to constantly evolve to adapt and exploit new opportunities—characteristics which, without data and data sharing among law enforcement and those responsible for public safety, make it even more challenging to fight (Criminal Intelligence Service Canada 2014). Despite the need for data to inform resourcing and policy, there are currently no standardized data to monitor the nature and extent of organized crime at the national, provincial/territorial or local levels.

This Juristat article provides an overview of existing measures of organized crime in Canada and raises awareness regarding data availability and the efforts being made to collect national police-reported data through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR).Note 1 The article draws from a pilot project launched to determine best practices in the collection of police-reported data on organized crime.

The data presented in this article include organized crime data reported by police services involved in the UCR organized crime pilot project for the years 2013 and 2014. These data are limited to a select group of police servicesNote 2 reporting on a select group of UCR violations (murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, and conspire to commit murder for Phase I of the pilot data collection, and; drug production and trafficking for Phase II of the pilot). The data are not representative of Canada and are limited to the police jurisdictions that participated in the pilot.

This Juristat article was funded by Public Safety Canada.

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Text box 1
A criminal organization, as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada

467.1 (1) The following definitions apply in this Act.

criminal organization means a group, however organized, that

  • (a) is composed of three or more persons in or outside Canada; and
  • (b) has as one of its main purposes or main activities the facilitation or commission of one or more serious offences that, if committed, would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of a material benefit, including a financial benefit, by the group or by any of the persons who constitute the group.

It does not include a group of persons that forms randomly for the immediate commission of a single offence.

Source: Criminal Code of Canada. 2016. R.S.C., c. C-46.

End of text box

Canada’s data on organized crime

While there are various estimates of organized crime in Canada, there is no single, comprehensive source that tracks the number of criminal incidents occurring each year in Canada that are committed for the benefit of organized crime.

For instance, one source of data is publicly released results of specific efforts to address organized crime by specific agencies. In 2011, the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC) together with the Canadian Integrated Response to Organized Crime identified organized crime as a national tactical priority and implemented a multifaceted, multi-jurisdictional investigational strategy across Canada. This strategy led to over 137 arrests and the seizure of 376 kg of cocaine, 1,000 liters of Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate or GHB (also known as 'date rape drug'), 379 firearms, over 400 kg of explosives and 4 million dollars in currency. In addition, in 2013, CISC estimated that there were 672 organized crime groups in Canada. Knowing these numbers, however, provides little information about how effective police are in combating organized crime or the nature and extent of the problem. The CISC counts of the number of known organized crime groups are used primarily for investigative purposes and to assist in managing operations. They do not provide information on actual counts of organized criminal activity, the types of crimes being committed or the characteristics organized crime incidents possess.

A second source of data are quantitative studies using indirect measures, such as co-offending studies as well as network analysis (e.g., Saunders and Lawrence 2013; Bouchard et al. 2015; Glässer et al. 2012; Carrington et al. 2013). For instance, the study by Bouchard et al. estimated, based on incidents involving co-offending, that organized crime incidents represented between 0.07% and 2.93% of all incidents reported by the Service de Police Ville de Montréal. It also estimated that the salary cost of organized crime represented about 4.9% of this police service’s average annual budget. This study further reported that organized crime incidents, as determined through co-offending, are more complex and require a disproportionate number of resources compared to cases by single offenders, simple criminal conspiracies, or binary co-offenders. While quantitative, these measures are indirect and produce only estimates.

A third source of information on organized crime are qualitative reports using more direct measures. These measures would include, for instance, internal analytical reports on linkages and patterns of organized crime, disruption reports evaluating the effectiveness of operational strategies and tactics, as well as gang units’ reports that track information, descriptions and activities (McDonald 2009). While these may tell us about the characteristics of organized crime, these studies, which are rarely made public, do not give us a sense of the overall number of organized crime incidents.

To respond to gaps in data, a vehicle exists to collect ongoing national data. This vehicle is Statistics Canada’s Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey, developed in collaboration with the policing community. In Canada, the vast majority of police services already report detailed crime data to Statistics Canada via the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR2). In 2005, the survey was amended to allow police to flag any incident as related to organized crime (which includes gang activity).

The objective of this amendment was to begin monitoring the nature and extent of organized crime offences dealt with by police in Canada. However, since the launch of the UCR2 organized crime flag in 2005, data have been under-reported by police. For example, despite the fact that drug trafficking is heavily linked to organized crime, in 2009 only 45 incidents of drug trafficking were flagged as linked to organized crime despite police reporting a total of 19,309 drug trafficking incidents. For this reason, Statistics Canada, along with police representatives, decided in 2009 to suspend publishing the data and focus on improving reporting.

That year, a consultation of police services was conducted by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS) to determine whether the under-reporting is related to the nature and complexity of organized crime itself, or related to a lack of quality assurance processes and/or training on how to report the data via the UCR2.

Following the 2009 consultation, the CCJS, with the support of the policing community and Public Safety Canada, made significant investments to address the recommendations.

These efforts include:

Findings from the organized crime data pilot project

In 2013, selected police services agreed to collect and verify data on a number of specific violations in an effort to improve the quality of UCR organized crime data. The goal of this pilot was to identify obstacles in processes or systems that made it difficult to report quality data and to identify and develop best practices that could be shared with other police services.

For the reference year of 2013 and 2014, participants agreed to report the organized crime flag to Statistics Canada for all incidents of first and second degree murder, manslaughter, attempted murder and conspire to commit murder. These violations were specifically chosen because of their relatively low number (hence ease for verification) and the possibility of links to organized crime. These were also chosen because Statistics Canada’s Homicide Survey, which also collects data on murder and manslaughter and reliable data on links to organized crime for these violations, would provide a secondary source for validation of the UCR2 data. For the purpose of this Juristat article, this group of offences is referred to as “homicide-related” offences.

In 2014, the pilot was expanded to include incidents of drug trafficking and drug production. These drug offences were chosen because intelligence threat assessments have indicated a high correlation between organized crime and the illicit drug trade. These offences were also chosen to test validation procedures since the specialty units dealing with enforcement of these crimes are the units most often working with organized crime units within police services.

Other violations, such as extortion, cannabis possession and serious assaults, were considered for the pilot but not chosen. These violations were proposed, for one, because they are known to commonly be associated with organized crime offending, but certainly not always. Secondly, inclusion of these would assess how police would ensure accurate flagging of a large volume of incidents as organized crime or not. However, participating pilot agencies indicated a lack of resources to include these types of offences in the pilot project.

It is important to note that the data collected for the purpose of the pilot are not representative of Canada and are limited to the police jurisdictions that participated in the pilot.

Homicide-related offences

The police services that participated in Phase I of the pilotNote 5 reported that 15% of their homicide-related incidents were committed for the benefit of organized crime (Table 1). More specifically 20% of homicides, 13% of attempted murders and 25% of conspiracies to commit murder were reported by these 13 police services as having been committed for the benefit of organized crime.

Based on data from these 13 police services, the use of firearms in homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime was greater than in overallNote 6 homicide-related incidents. For instance, in more than three-quarters (79%) of homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime, a firearm was the weapon causing injury. In comparison, firearms were used in 30% of homicide-related incidents overall.

When a firearm was used to cause death or injury in a homicide-related incident committed for the benefit of organized crime, handguns were reported in 73% of incidents. Similarly, handguns were reported in 76% of overall incidents when a firearm was used to cause death or injury.

Knives or other piercing or cutting weapons were used in 17% of homicide-related incidents benefitting organized crime. In contrast, these weapons were used in 40% of overall homicide-related incidents.

Other weapons, such as physical force (1%) and other weapons (3%) were rarely used to cause death or injury in homicide-related incidents benefitting organized crime. These were more often used in overall homicide-related incidents. These other weapons included physical force (11%), explosives (8%), clubs or blunt instruments (4%), fire (2%), motor vehicles (1%), and other weapons (4%).

In terms of relationship of the accused to the victim, homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime more often involved a stranger (50%) than homicide-related incidents overall (38%). A criminal relationship was identified as the closest relationship in 24% of homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime. This compares with 4% of overall homicide-related incidents.

Victims of homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime tended to be younger than victims overall. Over three-quarters (77%) of victims were under the age of 35 compared to 60% of victims of homicide-related incidents overall (Chart 1).

Victims of homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime were more likely to be male (90%) than victims of homicide-related incidents overall (72%) (Chart 2).

In homicide-related incidents benefiting organized crime, almost all accused were male (96%). In comparison, 88% of accused in homicide-related incidents overall were male (Chart 3). In addition, those accused in organized crime-related incidents also tended to be younger than overall accused. Nine in ten (91%) of accused in homicide-related incidents benefiting organized crime were under the age of 35 compared to three-quarters (74%) of those accused in homicide-related incidents overall (Chart 4).

Based on the pilot data, homicide-related incidents that were committed for the benefit of organized crime were less often clearedNote 7 by the police when compared to overall homicide-related incidents. Four in ten (42%) incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime had been cleared compared with over seven in ten (73%) of homicide-related incidents overall.

Chart 1 Age of victims of homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime, selected police services, 2013 and 2014

Description for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Age of victim (years) (appearing as row headers), Organized crime-related incidents and Overall homicide-related incidents, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age of victim (years) Organized crime-related incidents Overall homicide-related incidentsData table Note 1
percent
Under 18 4 9
18 to 24 44 24
25 to 34 29 27
35 to 44 17 16
45 to 54 3 11
55 and older 3 13

Chart 2 Sex of victims of homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime, selected police services, 2013 and 2014

Description for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Sex of victim (appearing as row headers), Organized crime-related incidents and Overall homicide-related incidents, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Sex of victim Organized crime-related incidents Overall homicide-related incidentsData table Note 1
percent
Females 10 28
Males 90 72

Chart 3 Sex of accused in homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime, selected police services, 2013 and 2014

Description for Chart 3
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Sex of accused (appearing as row headers), Organized crime-related incidents and Overall homicide-related incidents, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Sex of accused Organized crime-related incidents Overall homicide-related incidentsData table Note 1
percent
Females 4 12
Males 96 88

Chart 4 Age of accused in homicide-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime, selected police services, 2013 and 2014

Description for Chart 4
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Age of accused (years) (appearing as row headers), Organized crime-related incidents and Overall homicide-related incidents, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age of accused (years) Organized crime-related incidents Overall homicide-related incidentsData table Note 1
percent
Under 18 12 9
18 to 24 54 35
25 to 34 25 30
35 to 44 3 12
45 to 54 6 9
55 and older 0 5

Drug-related offences

Phase II of the pilot project examined drug-related UCR2 incidents of trafficking and production of heroin, cocaine, cannabis, methamphetamine, methylenedioxyamphetamine, and other drugs regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Police services that participated in Phase II of the pilotNote 8 reported that 56% of these drug-related incidents were committed for the benefit of organized crime. Specifically, this was reported for 57% of drug trafficking and 15% of drug production incidents.

Cannabis incidents were less likely to be identified by the participating agencies as benefiting organized crime compared to incidents involving other drugs. Slightly less than one third (32%) of cannabis-related incidents compared to 61% of other drugs incidents were reported as being committed for the benefit of organized crime.

When looking at drug-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime, the accused tended to be slightly younger in cannabis-related incidents than in other drug-related incidents. Of the drug-related incidents reported to the pilot, 65% of accused identified in cannabis-related were aged between 25 and 54, compared to 75% of accused in other drug related offences (Chart 5).

Chart 5 Age of accused in drug-related incidents committed for the benefit of organized crime, selected police services, 2014

Description for Chart 5
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5. The information is grouped by Age of accused (years) (appearing as row headers), Cannabis and Other drugs, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age of accused (years) Cannabis Other drugs
percent
Under 18 5 1
18 to 24 22 15
25 to 34 34 31
35 to 44 17 23
45 to 54 14 21
55 and older 8 9

Recommendations to improve data on organized crime in Canada

As a result of the pilot project and subsequent consultations with police, a number of best practices were identified for collecting and verifying police services data on organized crime.Note 9 Police services consulted indicated that for police to be able to collect and report quality data on organized crime, it must first be recognized and communicated by the Police Service Executive as a priority. Then, it is recommended that the on-going quality control of records be the responsibility of a dedicated staff member imbedded in the organized crime sections. Further, it is recommended that the analysts have access to the quality data to produce information that will allow the Police Service Executive to conduct intelligence-led policing and decision-making. This latter piece will be the return on investment and services reporting to the UCR and would also be contributing to a larger provincial/territorial and national story regarding the state of organized crime.

These recommendations were endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Board of Directors at their August 2016 meeting.

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Text box 2
International data on organized crime

The availability of international data to monitor the nature and extent of organized crime is limited. Most sources focus on qualitative analysis, describing human trafficking or the illicit drug trade. Where quantitative analysis does exist, it is usually limited to the number of criminal organizations and their characteristics, their structures, or estimates as to the cost of organized crime.

The General Assembly on Drugs and Crime as a Threat to Development on the occasion of the United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking cites an increase in both the scale and the geographic scope of organized crime and estimate the value of illicit trade around the globe at $1.3 trillion (U.S. dollars) and increasing (United Nations 2012).

The 2015 National Gang Report from the National Gang Intelligence Center derives its data from a survey administered by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators’ Associations and from a survey on Safe Streets and Gang Task Forces administered by the FBI Safe Streets and Gang Unit. According to its findings:

  • Approximately half of respondents report street gang membership and gang-related crime increased in 2015. The most prevalent crimes include drug trafficking, assault, threats, intimidation and robbery.
  • Approximately one third of respondents report an increase in threats to law enforcement.
  • Over 68% of survey respondents indicate prison gang membership has increased.

(National Gang Intelligence Center 2015).

In the United Kingdom, the Home Office estimates the social and economic costs of illicit drug supply at £10.7 billion per year, while organized fraud costs are estimated at £8.9 billion and human trafficking at £890 million. The total social and economic cost of organized crime are estimated at approximately £24 billion per year (Mills et al. 2013).

Germany published a statistical review entitled Organized Crime; A National Situation Report in which the Bundeskriminalamt estimates the total number of investigations in 2014 at 571 with a financial loss of €539 million, including a cost of €188 million related to drug trafficking (Bundeskriminalamt 2014).

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Detailed data tables

Table 1 Proportion of police-reported incidents related to organized crime, selected offences and selected police services, 2013 and 2014

References

40th Parliament Speech from the Throne. 2010. A Stronger Canada. A Stronger Economy. Now and for the Future. Canada.

Bouchard, M., C. Morselli, S. Hashimi, and M. Ouellet. 2015. Proportion of Criminal Incidents Associated with Organized Crime. Public Safety Canada.

Bundeskriminalamt. 2014. Organised Crime-National Situation Report 2014. Germany.

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Research Foundation. 2015. The Dollars and Sense of Policing, Public Safety and Well-Being in Your Community.

Carrington, P., S. Bennan, A. Matarazzo, and M. Radulsescu. 2013. “Co-offending in Canada, 2011.” Juristat. Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Criminal Code of Canada. 2016. C-46, section 467.1(1). Parliament of Canada.

Criminal Intelligence Service Canada. 2014. Organized Crime in Canada – Backgrounder.

Glässer, U., M. Tayebi, P. Brantingham, and P. Brantingham. 2012. Estimating Possible Criminal Organizations from Co-offending Data. Public Safety Canada.

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Mills, H., S. Skodbo, and P. Blyth. 2013. Understanding Organised Crime: Estimating the Scale and the Social and Economic Costs. Home Office. United Kingdom.

National Gang Intelligence Center. 2015. National Gang Report. Federal Bureau of Investigation. United States of America. (accessed August 22, 2016).

Parliament of Canada. 2014. Legislative Summary of Bill C-24: An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act and to Make Consequential Amendments to Other Acts.  

Parliament of Canada. N.D. Legislative Summary of Bill C-95. An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Organized Crime and Protection of Justice System Participants).  

Public Safety Canada. 2013. Summit on the Economics of Policing - Summit Report.

Public Safety Canada. 2006. Working Together to Combat Organized Crime: A Public Report on Actions under the National Agenda to Combat Organized Crime.  

Saunders, M., and A. Lawrence. 2013. An Organized Crime Severity Index: Discussion of a Proposed Methodology. Public Safety Canada. (accessed October 26, 2016).

Silver, W. 2016. Moving Towards the Collection of Quality Data on Organized Crime Through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR). Unpublished. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Statistics Canada.

Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. 2014. Canadian House of Commons.

United Nations. 2012. Thematic Debate of the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Drugs and Crime as a Threat to Development on the Occasion of the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. New York.

Notes

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