Transnational Organized Crime and Canada: A Historical and Contemporary Perspective

by Oct 5, 2017

“Restricted Access”, a photo of Toronto Police Service. Flickr/Richard Minton

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Editor’s Note: On September 21st, the CIC Halifax Branch hosted Dr. Schneider, to speak about how transnational organized crime affects Canada in both historical and contemporary terms, including Canada’s well-established role as a source or transit country for illegal drugs, illegal migrants, deceitful mass marketing, counterfeit goods, and other contraband.

Canadians are celebrating the 150th anniversary of our country; how the Canadian nation was forged in the sacrifices of Canadians in two world wars and how our nation, which began as a coalition of French and English Canada, has evolved into a dynamic multicultural society thanks to successive waves of immigrants from the four corners of the globe.

Dr. Schneider’s talk made the case, documented in his recent book (Iced: The Story of Organized Crime in Canada, Harper Collins Canada, 2nd Edition, 2016 ), that Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) has been present in various forms throughout our history, operating parallel to legitimate trade and enterprises and often contributing significantly to our economic prosperity. So for example, the prohibition period in the U.S. provided a bonanza for Canadian producers and smugglers, and indeed some of the Canadians involved in the illegal smuggling of liquor later morphed into wealthy and respected entrepreneurs. From colonial times to the present, the profits to be gained from smuggling liquor, tea, opium and other hard drugs, fur pelts, livestock, cigarettes, etc., were more often than not the direct consequence of high tarrifs imposed on these goods by the British and subsequently by Canadian federal and provincial governments.

In today’s society, TOC is a pervasive and often destructive force. Over and above the crimes of theft, murder, assaults, intimidation, extortion, etc. by organized crime groups such as the Hells Angels, the activities of these criminal organizations can on occasion threaten the integrity of our economic institutions and pose a public health threat. Thus, in the current – and growing- public health crisis due to the presence of fentanyl and other toxic substances in illegal drugs, TOC plays a key role, since the supply chain for illegal drugs is operated and controlled by organized crime.

While our media since 9/11 has tended to focus on the threat posed by international and home-grown terrorism, it may well be that TOC is the greater threat to the integrity of our economic and judicial institutions, and to the lives of innocent people. Indeed, the outgoing Commissioner of the RCMP, Commissioner Bob Paulson, recently made a public statement to this effect (“RCMP’s Bob Paulson sounds alarm on organized crime in exit interview”, The Globe and Mail). This view should be seen in the context of the war on terror, where the federal government has put more and more RCMP resources into anti-terrorist programs, often at the expense of resources dedicated to fighting organized crime.
While the federal government’s decision to legalize marijuana may succeed in eliminating or at least diminishing the present black market in marijuana, it is also evident that eliminating the deadly role of TOC in drug trafficking in the larger sense is a much greater challenge which looms for Canada and the international community. Addressing TOC thus presents issues that involve the narcotrafficking scene in both North and South America, as well as other regions of the globe. This challenge has become a topic of intense debate in the Organization of American States (“OAS Secretary General Presents Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas”), as many Latin American governments clearly regard the war on drugs as a failure. It may be time for Canada to revisit this issue in the OAS and other international fora.
Professor Schneider’s perspective on organized crime in Canada is timely indeed!


Scott Burbidge
Scott Burbidge is a retired public servant who managed a program of police research and also served as a senior Policy Analyst. He served in the Ministry of the Solicitor General from 1976 until retirement in 1998. Since retirement, he acted as a consultant on various projects relating to policing and lawenforcement strategies. More recently, he participated in the year-long policy review which was an integral part of the Commission of Inquiry led by Mr. Justice Dennis O’Connor into the conduct of officials in relation to the case of Mahar Arar. Mr. Burbidge has been a member of the CIC (Halifax Branch) for the past decade, and is presently acting as Secretary to the Branch Executive.