Gangs changing tactics as closed borders, COVID-19 deal impact

Police are also seeing drugs laced with more cutting agents because of the lack of supply

(Black Press Media files)

Gangs and organized crime groups in B.C. are changing how they operate and run their illegal business due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, police forces say.

Since physical distancing protocols were enacted more than a month ago, illicit drug prices across the province have gone up, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit said.

“Their primary commodity is harder to obtain with borders being shut down, trade and movement of people and goods more regulated and scrutinized. It’s resulted in a supply issue,” said Sgt. Brenda Winpenny, a spokeswoman for the province’s anti-gang unit.

Police are also seeing drugs laced with more cutting agents because of the lack of supply, she added.

But there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in gang violence, such as drive-by shootings, with gang members more conspicuous with fewer people on the streets, Winpenny said.

The Vancouver Police Department has seen a similar scenario, but it has noticed a difference on the supply of illegal drugs.

“The main proponent of how they get their finances, which is drugs, hasn’t slowed,” said Sgt. Aaron Roed. “The amount of drugs on the street, the cost of drugs on the street, has remained constant since before the pandemic.”

Investigators are working to understand how Vancouver-based gangs are getting around locked down borders.

“They’re still getting their supply. Unless they had stockpiles in the past, which we don’t believe they’ve had,” said Roed, adding police couldn’t speculate on how gangs were maintaining supplies.

Both Roed and Winpenny emphasized that police will have a clearer sense of how gangs have been affected once the pandemic ends and crime data becomes more available.

One expert said it’s difficult to assess all the short-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has prompted gangs to shift to other forms of drug dealing.

“Getting drugs to the streets has been the biggest challenge given how conspicuous this sort of activity can be with fewer people and cars around,” said Benoit Gomis, a researcher who focuses on organized crime and terrorism.

“It’s forcing them to think of other retail distribution avenues including online sales and courier deliveries.”

A rise in phishing scams as well as diversifying into selling essential goods, like personal protective equipment, will help gangs bring in revenue as drug trafficking routes become more restricted, said Gomis, a sessional lecturer at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto and a research consultant at the University of Bath in the U.K.

Winpenny said B.C.’s special enforcement unit fears a rise in the targeting of vulnerable groups, such as children and those who have lost their jobs, as the economic impact of the pandemic extends.

It’s a concern echoed by Antonio Nicaso, a professor at Queen’s University in Ontario who researchers organized crime and the mafia.

“Loansharking is one of the easiest ways to make money,” he said.

Despite impacts to traditional money-making means, such as extortion or sports gambling, Nicaso said many Canadian gangs are in a healthy financial position.

“With a major crisis, they have an opportunity to take advantage. They may take over failing businesses or lend money to their owners to prop them up,” he said.

But Gomis believes the pandemic, and the impact it has had on organized crime groups, does offer policymakers a chance to change Canada’s approach to drug trafficking.

“Perhaps moving towards a more comprehensive, well designed, public health oriented regulatory framework for more illicit drugs would help give authorities more control, including over quality, supply, price, actors involved and how they respond in times of crises,” Gomis said.

Nick Wells , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

B.C. gang problemCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: City of Parksville announces gradual re-opening plan

Sports courts and playgrounds to open June 5

Search and rescue crews help locate 62-year-old Nanoose Bay mountain biker

RCMP: Man got lost on trail and did right thing by calling for assistance

RCMP: Parksville cyclist hurt after being clipped by passing vehicle

59-year-old man suffered minor injuries; driver failed to stop

COVID-19: RDN utility bills in the mail, deadline extended

Residents given until Sept. 8 to settle accounts

If Trudeau won’t stand up to Trump, how will regular people: Singh

Trudeau did not directly answer a question about Trump’s actions amid protests

VIDEO: Internal investigation into aggressive arrest by Kelowna Mountie

A video allegedly shows a Kelowna Mountie striking a man several times

Greater Victoria drive-thru window smashed after man receives burger without mustard

Greater Victoria Wendy’s staff call police after man allegedly rips Plexiglas barrier off window

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Woman fights off attacker while jogging in Port Alberni

RCMP look for witnesses of daytime incident

22 new COVID-19 test-positives, one death following days of low case counts in B.C.

Health officials urged British Columbians to ‘stand together while staying apart’

Murder charge upgraded in George Floyd case, 3 other cops charged

Floyd’s family and protesters have repeatedly called for criminal charges against all four officers

Gold River ready to welcome visitors and restart local businesses

In contrast to single-industry remote communities, Gold River’s diversified economy might help it better survive after reopening

Feds get failing grade for lack of action plan on anniversary of MMIWG report

‘Instead of a National Action Plan, we have been left with a Lack-of-Action Plan’

Most Read