Youth gangs in Canada: What do we know?

What is a youth gang?

Youth gangs typically consist of young people who:

  • self-identify as a group (e.g. have a group name)
  • are generally perceived by others as a distinct group
  • are involved in a significant number of delinquent incidents that produce consistent negative responses from the community and/or law enforcement agencies.

There are other important characteristics of a youth gang that help us to understand the phenomenon. The Montréal Police Service’s definition of youth gang explicitly incorporates the anti-social and delinquent behaviours that are distinctive of youth gangs. It defines a youth gang as:

“An organized group of adolescents and/or young adults who rely on group intimidation and violence, and commit criminal acts in order to gain power and recognition and/or control certain areas of unlawful activity.”

Who joins youth gangs?

The 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs and other sources suggest that youth gang members cut across many ethnic, geographic, demographic and socio-economic contexts . However, youth at risk of joining gangs or already involved in gangs tend to be from groups that suffer from the greatest levels of inequality and social disadvantage.

Aboriginal youth are more vulnerable to gang recruitment and organized crime than non-Aboriginal youth and they are increasing in numbers and influence in Western Canada.

Many youth who join gangs have also been identified as youth who are using drugs and already involved in serious and violent crime. Furthermore, youth who display higher levels of previous delinquency are more likely to remain in the gang.

The reasons for joining a youth gang are various. Some seek excitement; others are looking for prestige, protection, a chance to make money or a sense of belonging

Guns, Gangs and Violence Reduction Strategy

Ontario is committed to fighting illegal gun and gang violence by providing new resources to local police, prosecutors and community partners across the province. As part of our strategy, we’re investing in initiatives including:

  • a provincial gun and gang support unit that will support gun and gang investigations and prosecutions, and improve provincewide coordination
  • funding programs across Ontario to support major investigations involving multiple police services to target organized crime areas that fuel gang operations such as drug, gun and human trafficking. This includes the Gun and Gang Specialized Investigations Fund and the GTA/Greater Golden Horseshoe Gun and Gang Fund.
  • more funding towards community policing programs to improve prevention and intervention of gun and gang violence by building stronger communities, as well as to enhance enforcement in at-risk areas
  • increased corrections intelligence and security with enhanced training for correctional staff on the identification of security threats, improved intelligence reporting and court preparation, as well as specific challenges such as contraband smuggling
  • more supports to survivors of human trafficking, including dedicated prosecution resources, and future enhancements to the Safer and Vital Communities Grant

Ontario also continues to invest in prevention programs for communities and youth at high risk of involvement in gangs, gun violence and victimization, to help break the cycle of offending. These programs will help to address root causes and risk factors of violence and help prevent criminal activity. They also support at-risk youth and young adults with alternatives to entering gangs or exit strategies for those already involved in gang activity.

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