The North is a land of opportunity, with unparalleled fishing, hunting and scenery. Tourists from all over the world are attracted to the North, hoping to capture that magical moment that will provide a lifetime of memories.
Organized crime, particularly the 856 Gang, has also taken notice of the opportunities the North presents. For the past three or four years, RCMP federal investigations units (FIUs) in Yukon and the Northwest Territories have noticed an influx of 856 Gang members who have taken up residence in Yellowknife and Whitehorse to peddle their illegal wares.
This gang started out with a group of teenagers in Aldergrove, B.C. (near Langley), where the telephone prefix is 856. The gang eventually developed into a larger entity that got involved in the illegal drug trade and gun violence.
Members of the gang are known to tattoo 856 on the inside of their lips (either one or both lips, depending on their rank within the gang).
In Yellowknife, the gang was hard to miss, with gun-toting members threatening bar staff and aggressively attempting to take over the local drug trade. In response, the FIU in the Northwest Territories began Project Goblin, which culminated in late 2013 with the execution of six search warrants.
The searches uncovered large quantities of cocaine, cash and several firearms; 10 members and associates of the 856 Gang faced charges as a result of that investigation.
The success of Project Goblin provided a welcome, albeit temporary, relief from the gang's presence in Yellowknife. It did not take long for them to regroup.
In August 2014, the group was targeted in Project Gloom. Two search warrants and five arrests later, the group was again laying low, with a minimal presence in the territory. As a testament to the 856 Gang's resilience, they soon sent another crew to sell cocaine and collect drug debts left behind by the previous gang members.
This led to an April 2015 drive-by shooting and what the media described as a "wild police chase" through the streets of Yellowknife. Two 856 Gang members were arrested for attempting to murder one of their own. Despite the apparent infighting and problems cementing their presence in the community, the gang sent yet another batch of replacements north. All seemed quiet on the 856 Gang front after two more search warrants in July 2015, with 23 suspects arrested.
In an interview with CBC North, Sgt. Dean Riou stated that those arrests left very little presence of the 856 Gang in Yellowknife. However, information was received the next week that the 856 Gang was back again with a whole new crew.
Meanwhile, FIU investigators in the Yukon began to notice individuals in the city associated with the gang. Project Monarch was born in the spring of 2014, bringing charges against 12 individuals for selling drugs on behalf of the 856 Gang.
The investigation resulted in the execution of two search warrants where several loaded firearms, cash, cocaine, MDMA and heroin were seized. High-ranking members of the gang were charged and the disruption to the gang in Whitehorse was significant — the 856 Gang is not known to have re- established themselves in Whitehorse.
The presence of this gang moving north from B.C. has created a new and unique challenge to policing in the territories. The issue is being tackled head-on by general duty members and the FIUs with assistance from RCMP units in Langley, B.C.
During the sentencing of a local man convicted of selling drugs for the 856 Gang in Yellowknife, the drug trade was described by the territorial court chief judge as "an insidious beast and something that needs to be taken very seriously by the courts," further stating that drug traffickers were "vultures preying on vulnerable members of the community."
Apparently, the 856 Gang has no shortage of vultures.
Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 1, 2016).