Vol. 80, No. 3Just the facts

A man holding a handgun in an alley.



The federal government says gang violence is a serious threat to the safety of Canadian communities. That's because while crime rates in Canada have declined, gang activity increased. Gun homicides have also almost doubled over the past four years — and more than half are linked to gangs.

  • According to the Criminal Code of Canada, being involved in a gang or its activities, or even being aware of a gang's criminal activities — past, present, or future — can lead to as many as 14 years in prison.
  • There are more than 430 active gangs in Canada. Although most street gang members are adults, the Winnipeg Police Service says many begin their involvement as children.
  • A youth gang is a group of people who participate in criminal behaviour with the purpose of gaining power, recognition and control. They generally use intimidation and violence to get what they want.
  • Often, to get accepted into a gang, prospects have to get beaten up, commit a crime or possibly even have to seriously injure or kill someone. About 94 per cent of youth gang members in Canada are male.
  • The Canadian federal government reports that in the United States, some studies show youth gang members are responsible for a large proportion of all violent adolescent offences. On average, 20 per cent of gang members committed about 80 per cent of all serious violent adolescent offences.
  • Young people aged 12 to 17 and young adults aged 18 to 24 accounted for more than a third of individuals accused in police-reported criminal incidents in Canada in 2014, Public Safety Canada says.
  • In 2016, police in Canada reported 141 gang-related homicides, 45 more than in 2015. The largest increases in the number of gang-related homicides committed with a firearm were reported in Ontario and British Columbia.
  • University of Alberta sociologist Jana Grekul led a research team that interviewed 175 current and former gang members. Participants were asked why they first became involved with a gang. The Top 4 reasons were to get respect, money, protection, and to fit in.
  • Gang culture can quickly become gang lifestyle for those involved. Members can also rapidly become indebted to others. They then may be forced to do things that they don't want to do, such as committing violent crimes, drug distribution, theft and other crimes.
  • Indigenous gangs make up about 20 per cent of Canada's gang population. According to research conducted by Dr. Alanaise Goodwill, Indigenous youth join gangs to escape poverty and obtain the necessities of life. The second reason is incarceration. She says for a large number of Indigenous Canadians in jail, gang membership is often a key to survival.
  • Goodwill says many Indigenous youth who join gangs have parents who have been, or are a part of, a gang. She noted Aboriginal gangs can be traced back to residential schools, and joining a gang may serve as way to cope with past trauma.
  • In 2017, the federal government said it would spend up to $327.6 million over five years, and $100 million annually thereafter, in new funding to help support a variety of initiatives to reduce gun crime and criminal gang activities.
  • Public Safety Canada reports that the longer an individual is involved in gangs, the more problems that person may incur. That includes dropping out of school, lack of employment opportunities and/or success and exposure to drug and alcohol use. They may also weaken important connections with family, friends and their community.
  • According to Goodwill's research, the most successful way for people to leave gangs is to get a real or legal job. But she noted the jobs would need to provide enough money to roughly match the money made from being in a gang.
  • Researcher Jana Grekul asked gang members about ways to prevent young people from joining gangs. They responded that raising awareness about gang life was key to deterrence, as was the building of strong connections between youth, their parents, families, schools and the community.
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