Thursday, January 24, 2008

Keeping a watchful eye on a percolating gang situation

A local street worker has seen the signs and in his opinion a gang presence is already beginning to take hold on the North coast.

With port expansion and the introduction of container movement through it, police agencies across the province believe that organized crime will be taking an increased interest in Prince Rupert.

A recent report conducted by the provinces interdepartmental gangs unit, found that of the 129 known gangs in British Columbia, nine are active in Northern BC, with Prince George and Fort St. John to the two destinations of choice at the moment. Those findings, and a more detailed examination of the gang situation in the Prince George area was provided in a recent Prince George Citizen article.

As if to empahsize the problems in that city just today, Prince George was rocked by a brazen shooting outside of a popular city restaurant on the city's Central avenue, which many seem to be attributing to the city's increasing drug trade. It's those kinds of big city type crimes, and the violent fall out that accompany them which local street work officials are fearful of in our community.

Myles Moreau, a local street outreach worker for over twenty years has seen a huge increase in the number of young people using and addicted to highly dangerous illegal drugs in our community, and knows of at least two gangs which have set up shop in the city, with more testing the waters looking for their share of a lucrative if highly disruptive lifestyle.

If even a small measure of Moreau's concerns are fact, its a call for the community to make sure that it's elected representatives at all levels of government are on notice that they have the power to turn the tide against an unwanted incursion into our urban fabric. From federal and provincial politicians who can put in place laws to make those activities unprofitable and liberty limiting for those who pursue them, to local politicians who can ensure that the local police have the proper resources available to tackle a dangerous problem for our city.

Moreau's warnings to the community were provided in Wednesday's Daily news and should be made required reading for city council members as well as anyone concerned about the health and safety of our young people, who face far more pressures in their lives now than their parents ever had to contend with.

Street worker bracing for gang influx
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pages one and three

With the Fairview Container Terminal operational and container traffic expected to increase exponentially, the possibility of increased organized crime activity within Prince Rupert is something police and other stakeholders have on their minds.

Street Outreach Services Coordinator Myles Moreau is one local citizen concerned about the impact that an increased organized crime presence would have on the city. He says at least two gangs are already established in Prince Rupert, and more are settling in slowly, but surely.
"I've had a few businessmen comment on seeing new faces and characters around, and I've seen some new people coming into town whether from Alberta or elsewhere down the line," said Moreau.

"Now, with the RCMP speculating there are seven different gangs vying for control of the North, I really feel that by summer they are going to be settled in and we are going to start seeing some fights going on for sure. Even if three or four get into town, we're going to have some kind of bloodbath on the streets."

Moreau says that in his 20 years of outreach work on the streets, he has never seen so many young people using and dealing dangerous drugs, particularly crack cocaine and heroin.

In combination with the rampant drug sales and abuse by young people, Moreau believes other problems such as teen prostitution will only increase with an influx of criminal activity.

"I'm seeing 12-year-olds getting wired, 13-year-olds selling themselves to feed addictions," said Moreau.

"High school kids are playing with coke and heroin. When I worked in the high school years ago, our big concern was the smell of pot on somebody's clothes, or alcohol on their breath. Now, we have kids on crack, and the drugs they're doing are very violent."

A recent article in the Prince George Citizen reported that gang activity is growing in strength in Northern B.C.

The Citizen report said seven of 129 known organized crime groups are already operating in the North.

Constable Craig Douglass, North District RCMP headquarters spokesman, said that while seven of the 129 known gangs in British Columbia may seem a small percentage, that number only reflects the groups the RCMP have tracked into the region. He says there are likely more groups active in the North, but they either have yet to be tracked and profiled, or are just not as identifiable as other high profile gangs who "fly colours."

Douglass also says that all the identified groups in the North are subsidiaries of the Hells Angels to some degree, but they vary in their levels of allegiance and connectivity to the main branch.
"We are aware of the potential problems for Prince Rupert and are working on them," said Douglass, who himself grew up in Prince Rupert. "We have criminal analyst positions and their job is tracking these things. There are three of those positions in Prince George, one federal, one provincial and one municipal, but they're not bound by the borders of the community. They help analyze information and spit it back out in such a way so that police can use it for investigative purposes."

Douglass says that while Prince Rupert would be impacted by an increased organized crime presence, most drugs would be either imported or exported through Prince Rupert and not necessarily stay in the city.

Moreau contends that regardless of whether more drugs end up on the streets, when criminal elements set up operations in a community, there are other ways the gangs derive income in addition to narcotics.

"Once we've got gangs settling in, we'll have white-collar crime that we'll have to start dealing with," he said. "People a lot of times forget about the white-collar crime, the same way when we talk drugs, people forget about pharmaceutical drugs."

While he suggests a lack of manpower in the local RCMP has led to an increase in the drug trade on the streets, Moreau feels the problem of organized crime is something the whole community needs to confront in order to be at all effective in curbing activity. He says city councillors need to wake up to what's going on out on their streets, and business leaders need to set examples by refusing to do business with those people they know to be involved in criminal activity.

"People in their own neighbourhoods need to keep their eyes open and make the calls, in order to let these people know they're not welcome in the community," said Moreau. "I'm trying to put together a group, 'For Safer Communities', that will be made up of regular citizens, not people who like to go to meeting after meeting without seeing any product."

Anyone interested in contacting Moreau or finding out more information about his community efforts can reach him at 622-2767.

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