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)

(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

Just Posted

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press Media file)
Rise in break-ins prompts Kelowna RCMP warning

Kelowna RCMP share steps on keeping your home safe

Stage one water restrictions will be back in place for some Regional District of Central Okanagan water users. (Black Press Media file)
Outdoor watering restrictions return to RDCO for the season

Customers who use water systems operated by the regional district will be affected

A provided photo of the suspect. (Kelowna RCMP/Contributed)
Kelowna RCMP investigating after business robbed

An undisclosed amount of money and merchandise were taken from the business

Two e-scooters parked on the sidewalk along Water Street in downtown Kelowna on Monday, May 3. Scooters parked on walkways are causing accessibility issues for some people with disabilities. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Helmet selfies and sober pledges: Changes coming after rough e-scooter rollout in Kelowna

A number of changes are coming to Kelowna’s e-scooter program, more could be on the way

(City of Kelowna/Contributed).
Site prep starts on Kelowna’s Pandosy Waterfront park

Construction for the urban beach area is set to start in September

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers tested more than 230 commonly used cosmetics and found that 56% of foundations and eye products, 48% of lip products and 47% of mascaras contained high levels of fluorine

White Rock’s Marine Drive has been converted to one-way traffic to allow more patio space for waterfront restaurants. (Peace Arch News)
Province promotes permanent pub patios in B.C. post-pandemic plan

More than 2,000 temporary expansions from COVID-19 rules

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Lake City Secondary School Williams Lake campus students Ethan Reid, from left, Brenden Higgins, Ty Oviatt, Kaleb Alphonse, Nathan Kendrick and Landon Brink with RCMP officers Const. Nicoll and Const. Stancec. (Photo submitted)
RCMP thank 6 teens for helping prevent forest fire in Williams Lake

The students came across fire in a wooded area and used the water they had to try and extinguish the flames

There is an emergency shelter near the Golden Ears peaks. (Facebook/Special to The News)
Hiker fogged in on Golden Ears, spends 2 nights

Talon Helicopters, Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue bring him home Monday

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Glen Lennon now resides in a neat and fully serviced unit in the Silver Crest Retirement Home, managed by Princeton and District Community Social Services. Photo Andrea DeMeer
Princeton RCMP and social workers find new home for elderly accident victim

“I love the sun and the sun shines on my patio here. I can go out and walk around.”

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

Most Read