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Youth Gangs

What is a "youth gang"?

A youth gang is a group of youth who gather to participate in criminal behaviour with the purpose of gaining power, recognition and control. These groups generally use intimidation and violence in order to manipulate other people and situations to get what they want.Footnote 1 Sometimes, people join gangs because they are bored, lonely, or because they are looking to be accepted, so much so that youth gangs are currently rising in numbers and influence across Canada, with a particular increase in Aboriginal gangs.

Warning Signs

Youth gangs are generally identified by a specific name, by being a distinct group and by their tendency to commit criminal acts within the communityFootnote 1. Wearing gang colours, for example black and white (Native Syndicate, the Manitoba Warriors) or red (Edmonton Red Alert) bandanas, and withdrawing from regular activities can be signs that a youth may be involved in a gang.  Areas with a high incidence of poverty, like many First Nation communities in Canada, usually see more of these groups, as people tend to come together in order to survive. A youth’s desire to be accepted by others directs them to participate in activities that appeal to the people that they want to befriend. A sudden drop in school performance may be another warning sign.Footnote 2


Movies might make it look cool to be in a gang, but reality often says otherwise. The impacts of youth gang behaviour can lead to serious consequences for gang members, the victims of gang violence and the families and communities of those involved. Consequently, people who are in gangs are often viewed differently by the rest of society, and even by close family and friends.

Legal Impacts

Gang culture can quickly become a lifestyle for the people involved.  Gang members are often indebted to the gang and members within it.  As such, they may be forced to do things that they don’t want to do, like committing violent crimes, drug distribution, theft and/or participating in the prostitution trade. Typically when people join a gang, they are aware of the risk and associated lifestyle; however, gang members may sometimes encounter a test of conscience, especially if the criminal act has severe consequences. Should they be convicted for their crimes, they may face jail time. Many gangs continue to grow in prisons across Canada as inmates often have no choice but to be recruited by existing jail-dwelling members in order to ensure their personal safety while incarcerated. Whether an individual faces jail time or not, a run-in with the law can lead to a criminal record, making it harder to get a job as an adult.Footnote 3

Social Impacts

Joining a gang impacts how others see an individual and treat them, and affects not only their family and friends, but will also greatly affect their future. Not complying with what the gang wants its members to do can also result in punishment, like getting beat up or having their lives threatened. Other more serious circumstances, such as gang-related trauma, may encourage youth gang members to take their own life.

It’s important to remember to be weary of manipulation from other gang members: they’re usually just looking out for themselves, and will do what it takes to protect themselves and their personal interests. There are many alternatives to joining a gang.Footnote 4 Footnote 5

What You Can Do


  • Take up extracurricular activities (e.g. sports, art classes) where you’ll meet people with similar interests.
  • Be yourself. You’ll eventually find people who like and accept you for who you are, and won’t force you to do anything that you don’t feel comfortable doing.
  • If you see that a fellow classmate is feeling left out, invite them to hang out with you and your friends. The person will really appreciate your kindness!
  • If you’re scared or concerned for yourself or a friend, talk to a trusted adult, such as a school guidance counselor, a parent, or even a police officer.
  • Remember that no one can make you do something you don’t want to do – so if someone is trying to pressure you into joining their gang, walk away. Tell an adult if the problem persists.

Remember that if you need someone to talk to, Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) is a resource to help you. The calls are completely anonymous, free, and the counsellors will keep everything you say private (unless you ask them to get the police involved). They are available 24/7, so don’t be afraid to call if you need some advice, or even just someone to talk to.


  • Be a good listener. Make sure to listen to what the youth is telling you, and look for any warning signs (e.g. talking about their friends committing crimes, even petty ones).
  • Suggest that the youth join a sports team or club at school, or enroll your youth in extracurricular activities that they enjoy to ensure that they’re interacting with people their age and outside of their school group.
  • Try to reinforce the youth’s strengths, such as being a good artist, or a good athlete. Making sure the youth is aware of his/her talents might help deter them from joining a gang.
  • Talk to the youth about their stresses and worries. Keep the lines of communication open.
  • If you are a teacher/educator/officer and are concerned about a youth, contact their parents or legal guardian to express your concerns.
  • If you need to, you can also always call the police for further assistance.


Footnote 1 Source: Public Safety

Footnote 2 Source: Acting Together

Footnote 3 Source: Kids Help Phone

Footnote 4 Source: Public Safety – Youth gangs in Canada: What do we know?

Footnote 5 Source: Acting Together – Youth Gang Violence