Crime network rebuilding alongside Fort McMurray

Alberta Prime Time - Discussing the latest in crime topics are Steven Penney with the University of Alberta, Greg Dunn a Calgary Defence lawyer, and Mark Cherrington a Youth Justice Advocate.


Crime Network Rebuilding Alongside Fort McMurray

Michael: As Alberta’s boomtown continues to rebuild from the fire, so too does it’s criminal network.

Brad Lundeen: They are a self-identified outlaw motorcycle group and a lot of motorcycle groups are involved in criminal activities - that’s the nature of those motorcycle groups.

Michael: Two men were arrested last week by the Alberta Law enforcement team or alert and Wood Buffalo RCMP in relation to a drug trafficking investigation. The men are believed to be Hell’s Angels support clubs known as Tribal and Syndicate. The arrests are evidence of what an author and expert in motorcycle gang says is an increase in drugs and organized crime in the region Toronto base. Yves Lavigne says it is up to politicians , health officials and community members to report crimes and put an end to legal drug trafficking in their community. RCMP are advising anyone with knowledge of criminal activity to report to a gang tip line. Stephen, how much of an impact does a gang tip line have - potentially have - on Fort McMurray’s illegal drug trade?

Stephen: I think in the long term it’s likely to have very little impact. I mean, I sympathize with the police. They have to make their best efforts to combat violent organized crime, there is no question about that , but you know this is a long running saga in terms of the war on drugs and it’s a supply and demand issue. If there is a significant demand for illegal drugs, there will be a supply. The profits are simply too great, it is too lucrative. Someone is going to end up supplying those drugs and so you may be able to take down particular gangs or particular individuals but at the end of the day, they are going to be replaced.

Michael: There is always someone to fill that spot isn’t there?

Stephen: Exactly.

Michael: Greg, is this the type of criminal activity that’s necessarily visible to your average Fort McMurray resident?

Greg: Right, I mean, you know as Stephen said and following up on that is really at the end of the day these visible gangs, I call them visible gangs, and street gangs at the lower level and outlaw motorcycle gangs somewhat higher are really the tip of the iceberg in terms of the drug trade and they really operate largely as distribution agents, sometimes they’ll be a midlevel in terms of transporting but really, at the end of the day the drug infrastructure is one that most people will not see and even if they do see it, it won’t be recognizable. I mean from the inception of when the drug is produced in a foreign jurisdiction, to when it’s imported into Canada before its transported from places of importation like Vancouver, you know, Calgary or Edmonton - places of distribution and then ultimately distributed - much of that is underwater and will never be seen by the general public, will never be seen by someone calling in on a tip line.

Michael: So Mark, what should the community do then?

Mark: Well, I think there are two avenues - first of all is that higher sophisticated criminal behaviour through motorcycle gangs and other gangs, sophisticated gangs and I think the only answer is a strong law enforcement approach. I’m thinking when you are looking at the aspect of demand so when you are looking at the users of the drugs and the activities involved in obtaining money for drugs that’s usually involving lower end criminals - mostly, you know, starting off with young people in youth. I think that’s where the second approach needs and you need strong crime prevention programs. You need a very healthy and robust education system. You need a very in-tune medical system and you need a very compassionate child welfare system working in collaboration with community and looking at best practices in the area of crime prevention, we need to target where the demand is and the young people that are involved in sort of you know, buying product off these sort of more sophisticated gangs. The street level gangs and the young people that are just sort of at risk of becoming involved in criminal activities or developing mental health issues or addictions - that’s where our dollars need to be focused. For these motorcycle gangs and for these higher end criminal gangs, it has to be law enforcement in my opinion. A tip line I think is just wrapper, it’s wrapping paper. It makes it look pretty but it does nothing.

Michael: Okay, to our last topic for the panel. Have you googled yourself recently? If you’ve ever been arrested south of the border, you might want to. Some legal experts are raising concerns over the practice of websites demanding money to remove mugshots. Websites like busted mugshots dot com and bail bond city remove personal information arrest records and mug shots from the web for a fee, ranging anywhere from 20 to 400 dollars. The website’s disclaimers note that all mugshots and arrest records posted are already publicly available and they cannot guarantee accuracy or the most up-to-date status of convictions. Is this legal, Stephen?

Stephen: Well, it’s difficult to know for sure without looking at an individual case and how the law would apply in Canada. It’s not necessarily defamation if it’s true that you were arrested and it’s not necessarily going to be easy to establish that this is some sort of extortion or blackmail again if it’s public information and they don’t ask for the money ahead of time if the information is published. It is I think in some cases at least pretty reprehensible conduct and we have to be I think concerned about how this kind of information is released so it becomes available in the public domain so it can be used for these kinds of nefarious purposes and we do have some privacy legislation and some legal tools that may limit the availability of this and I think that’s where we really ought to be focusing our attention to ensure that, say someone’s mugshot after they’ve been arrested isn’t widely circulated and available to the general public because after all that person may never actually be convicted of any offence.

Michael: So Greg, what worries you about this trickling into our province?

Greg: Sure, well, and I mean again, segwaying into what Stephen says there is that, we are dealing with this issue right now in Alberta in which the crown prosecutor’s office in both Calgary and Edmonton have essentially digitized disclosure, so for more layman’s terms arrest reports, mug shots investigations have been put on electronic form and so they’re being provided to defence council in electronic form. As we know about electronic documents, they are fairly easily transferrable. They may be on a computer - if they are on a computer they are most likely on a storage server of some sort that could be on-site, that could be off site. That could be in the United States, or it could be in Jakarta. It could be in a cloud somewhere. So the fact that we’ve gone to electronic documents, expression, the criminal defence or the criminal sphere is concerning to me and segwaying into something like this in which people may be taken advantage of breaches in terms of cyber security and utilizing this information for the purpose of inappropriate gain like they are doing here with the mugshots.

Michael: Alright gentleman, we’ll have to leave it there. Mark, we’ll catch you first next time around.