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

No lifeguards this summer for Cowichan’s Fuller Lake, Arbutus Park; Crofton pool closed

Fears of risk to health and safety during COVID-19 pandemic to blame

Elementary schools return with 40 per cent class attendance

RCMP issue 39 warnings in school zones around the region

North Cowichan parks reopening

Park Ambassadors to help address any issues

Wave washes over local businesses with reopenings

Third Wave Coffee Company accepts mini cupcake donations for Crofton Elementary PAC

Considerations made to keep Crofton drive-by birthday celebrations going

Trucks will tone it down or not use horns at all to bring some joy to kids and older folks

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

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

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

As two B.C. offices see outbreaks, Dr. Henry warns tests don’t replace other measures

Physical distancing, PPE and sanitizing remain key to reduce COVID-19 spread

Bank of Canada keeps key interest rate target on hold at 0.25%

Central bank now expects GDP to decline between 10 and 20 per cent compared with the fourth quarter of 2019

Friendly Cove and Kyuquot will remain closed until further notice

Transition of other B.C. communities will be monitored before a decision to ease restrictions

Racist incident shocks Vancouver Island First Nation

Port Alberni RCMP investigating after video shows truck wheeling through Tseshaht territory

Gold River organizes a shop local initiative to creatively boost economy

Local purchases can earn shoppers $200 gift certificates to be spent on businesses within Gold River

Young killer whale untangles itself from trap line off Nanaimo shore

DFO marine mammal rescue unit was en route as whale broke free from prawn trap line

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

Most Read