The number of street gangs in Canada has grown considerably. These gangs pose a threat to life as well as property in urban and suburban areas. The primary strategy adopted in Canada is the use of policing force to suppress the activities of street gangs. This paper discusses the policing strategy commonly used in Canada as well as other preventative and rehabilitative strategies used to control the rise of street gang activity in Canada.
Strategies Implemented in Canada
A number of programs to prevent and suppress street gang activity have been implemented in Canada. Some of these have been developed within Canada while a number of such programs are based on similar programs in the United States and have been adapted to the Canadian context. These programs have been successful in varying degrees and provide lessons for improvement. In Canada, the primary vehicle for controlling street gang activity is through the law enforcement agencies. These law enforcement agencies are primarily used for the suppression of street gang activity in Canada (Lafontaine, Ferguson, & Wormith, 2005). In most of the large cities in Canada, street crime units have been set up to monitor and control the activities of street gangs. What further complicates the gang problem in Canada is that compared to the United States there are fewer corrective and rehabilitative programs offered to gang members in the federal institutions. Lafontaine, Ferguson, & Wormith (2005) are also of the opinion that most of the programs in Canada are based on reactive strategies and policies, which is a major reason for the increasing gang problem in Canada. Hence, there is a need to increase efforts towards developing a community-oriented program for street gang prevention and rehabilitation.
In a few cases, however, there has been success where law-enforcement agencies have worked efficiently at reducing street gang related activity. At the same time, such programs have been successful also because they incorporated an element of rehabilitation and correction. Linden (2010) identifies one such program that was implemented to control auto theft in Winnipeg, a city with the highest rate of auto theft in North America. The Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy (WATSS) involves collaboration between the police department and probationary services. Through the program, the crime factors were identified, the most at-risk youth were targeted, and precautions to prevent theft such as vehicle immobilizers were used so that the crime could be prevented. In addition, youth programming was also incorporated to deter them from engaging in auto theft crimes. Checks are routinely made to monitor the activities of the youth on probation and they are closely monitored to prevent any criminal activities. The program was successful as the rates of auto theft came down considerably during 2007-2009. Inspired by the success of the program, a more broad-ranging program called the Gang Response and Suppression Program was developed (Linden, 2010).
Linden (2010) also states that an approach that involves cooperation of multiple agencies and is aimed at prevention and rehabilitation as well as suppression of street gang activity would be successful in the Canadian context. MacQueen (2009) also reports that street gang activity in most Canadian states such as Quebec and Manitoba has increased exponentially in the past decade. He further criticizes the almost exclusive dependence on Canadian agencies on the use of law enforcement to suppress street gang activity as opposed to rehabilitation and prevention. He also cites the excessive demands on resources that such a strategy makes on the Canadian law enforcement agencies. As a result, even the few successes of this strategy turn out to be inefficient in the use of resources. He also criticizes the law enforcement agencies for turning soft towards street gang crime because of the spiraling number of street gang related crimes and their limited resources to apprehend the criminals.
In the light of the above discussion, it seems that the success of any effort at controlling street gang activity in Canada cannot be achieved on the basis of suppression through law enforcement agencies alone. It require a multi-pronged strategy where the root causes of street gang activity are identified and then addressed at various levels, involving the cooperation, resources and efforts of various sections of the community.
3.0 The Role of the Community
The role of the community is controlling the rise of gang activity in Canada is paramount. For any social problem, a coordinated effort that involves the contribution of all the stakeholders is essential. No single segment of society can effectively solve the problem alone. The community thus has an important role to play in addressing certain aspects of the problem and in providing support and assistance to other segments such as law-enforcement agencies in performing their role in the solution.
In understanding the role of the community in controlling the rise of street gang activity in Canada, it is important to identify the various community members and their role in the solution of the problem. In addition to law enforcement agencies, the role played by schools in the community is important. The schools in the community can play an important part in the prevention of street gang rise. Schoolchildren are soft targets for the gangs and they recruit new gang members from the schoolchildren in the community. Through education and awareness programs, school administrations can educate students through universal and selective programs to avoid involvement with gang members or gang activities. Schools can be used to teach the schoolchildren how to deal when approached by a gang member to join the gang. Appropriate behaviours can be taught to the schoolchildren so that they do not antagonize any gang member who approaches them while clearly stating their desire not to become involved with any activity of the gang.
School administrations can also monitor the school population for signs of gang affiliation such as behavioral problems, disciplinary issues, conflict with teachers and other students, playing truant and declining academic performance. Schools can also make arrangements for counseling for students who demonstrate signs of gang affiliation. Different strategies can be used for peripheral gang members and facilitators than used for more active members of the gang. Schools can also help to prevent the factors that lead to an increase in gang membership by providing structures and mechanisms that ensure inclusion of diverse students regardless of academic performance, race, language, religion or ethnicity. One successful program in Canada is the Winnipeg Gang Coalition for Healthy Communities. Under this program, the school administration is trained at strategies for reducing violence in schools to create a safe school environment; teachers are trained through awareness programs so that they may identify likely cases of gang activity in their students and provide appropriate remedies; parents also attend the awareness programs so that they may effectively deal with gang related problems in their homes and community (Lafontaine, Ferguson, & Wormith, 2005). These awareness and training programs are hosted by the Winnipeg Police force. The Winnipeg Gang Coalition for Healthy Communities shows how various segments of the community can come together to effectively tackle the problem of street gang activity in Canada.
The role of other community members is also important. Health institutions can play an integral role in the rehabilitation of peripheral and active gang members. Other social organizations can also help in equipping the former gang members with the economic and social skills needed to become a productive member of society. An example of such a program is The Circle of Life Thunderbird House in Winnipeg (Lafontaine, Ferguson, & Wormith, 2005). This house functions as a safe house where individuals who want to leave the gang can seek shelter as well as emotional support and help with rehabilitation. They are also protected against retaliation by their former gang members. Wong et al. (2012) are also of the opinion that a coordinated community effort is essential for solving street gang ascendancy in Canada, despite the fact that many of the community programs in force need to be improved.
4.0 The Role of Policing Strategy
According to Jones et al. (2004), the role of the police and other law enforcement agencies in controlling the gang problem in Canada is in influencing the legal system to address the causes of the street gang problem. This function of the policing agencies is known as gang suppression as opposed to prevention. As suggested by Jones et al. (2004), the policing function depends heavily on the entire legal system for its effectiveness in controlling gang activity. In this regard, they have been helped by a number of legislative changes to the Criminal Act of Canada where the definitions of street gang activity as well as the penalties have been revised time and again. According to Section 467.1 of the Canadian Criminal Act (Department of Justice, 2012), street gangs are classified as a criminal organization. In addition, any member, active or peripheral, can be prosecuted for a serious offence without the prosecutor requiring proving that a particular offense was committed. Individuals can be…