When organized crime is mentioned, what comes to mind for most people is the Italian Mafia. But one of the most powerful and dangerous criminal groups is the Triads, a centuries-old Chinese crime gang that has a strong and ubiquitous presence throughout the world, including Canada.
Triad societies, with their secret initiation rituals and code of loyalty, have long overshadowed Chinese communities around the globe. As with other Asian gangs from countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea, they prey upon their own, often using fear and intimidation tactics as well as outright physical violence.
Thought to be the world’s largest criminal fraternity, the Triads, or Chinese Mafia, have a long history in Canada. They initially established operations there in the 1850s, when the Chinese began arriving in North America to build the railroads and work in the goldfields. Many of the migrants—desperate to escape China after the horror of the 1850 Taiping Rebellion in which 20 million died—were brought in illegally by the Triads.
The Triads provided passage to Canada, and those who came had to work for years in low-paying jobs or as prostitutes to pay off their transportation debt, just as the many illegal aliens who have been smuggled into the country do today. Many used Canada as a jumping-off point to enter the United States, again just as they do today. Because the predominantly male Chinese population at the time was either barred from mixing with local women or did not wish to, the Triads brought in women and girls from China, some as young as 12. They also imported opium, the use of which was legal at the time, and ran gambling and prostitution houses. Before long, crime and drug addiction began to spread across the country.
In modern times, in addition to human trafficking and drug smuggling, the Triads are involved in such unsavory practices such as arms dealing, economic espionage, counterfeiting, and money laundering. Hong Kong, home to more than 50 Triad societies totalling hundreds of thousands of members, is a key transit point for the large amounts of Golden Triangle heroin and methamphetamines that flow into North America. The Triads controlled most of the drugs’ transportation.
A 2004 Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC) report stated that Asian organized crime presents a major threat in Canada because of its many widespread and well-run criminal operations. CISC said Asian-based street gang violence is on the rise in several cities, and that the street gangs have connections with more sophisticated Asian organized crime groups—in other words, the Triads. At a local level, Asian gangs are involved in a long list of criminal activities: credit card fraud, luxury car theft, prostitution, home invasions, staged vehicle accidents, contract killings, assaults, welfare and employment insurance fraud, drug trafficking, software piracy, loan-sharking, and illegal gaming. While scattered from coast to coast, Asian gangs are most active in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto, the CISC report said.
Former diplomat and organized crime specialist Brian McAdam says the Triads often form an alliance with other Asian gangs, such as the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese gangs now largely control marijuana growing-operations in Canada and sometimes collude with Hell’s Angels, thought to be British Columbia’s largest organized crime group. The Vietnamese gangs, known for their extreme violence and preference of automatic weapons, often take on the dirty work at the street level for the Triad, McAdam says. “Within each Chinese community, there’s usually a strong Triad presence controlling and extorting money from the businesses, and if there’s drugs, they’re bringing them in,” says McAdam.
In addition to setting up legitimate companies in Vancouver and other Canadian cities as a front for their activities, McAdam says the Triads have in many cases been successful in compromising members of the police force as well as politicians at the federal and municipal level. He says the leaders of the benevolent societies and the Masonic temples in various Chinatowns are often Triad leaders, who may contribute large political donations as well as promise the vote of the Chinese community.
In 2003, the Asian Pacific Post reported that veteran police Superintendent Garry Clement warned Ottawa in an internal memo of attempts by the Chinese Mafia to make connections with Canadian politicians.
In its International Crime Threat Assessment report, the U.S. government said Asian organized crime in Canada poses a security threat to the United States. The report details how Chinese criminal organizations from Hong Kong, China, Macau, and Taiwan have exploited the country’s immigration policies and entrepreneur program, and are using Canada as a base for their operations in the United States. “Canada has become a gateway for Chinese criminal activity directed at the United States, particularly heroin trafficking, credit card fraud, and software piracy,” the report stated.
James Dubro, author of Dragons of Crime: Inside the Asian Underworld, says many organized crime gangs smuggle their illegal booty through the native reserves that straddle the Canada-U.S. border in Quebec and Ontario. He says it’s difficult for police to do anything about it since those reserves have their own police force which is itself often corrupt. “Everyone uses [reserve land]—the mafia, the bikers, the Triads, the Vietnamese gangs. They all use it for people smuggling, drug smuggling and everything else.”
Worldwide, human trafficking is one of the biggest money makers for the Triads. In 2004, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) estimated that 600 to 800 people are brought illegally into Canada each year, and another 1,500 to 2,000 are trafficked through Canada into the United States. While some trafficking victims are pressed into forced labor, most women and children are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Dubro says that because many Hong Kong nationals who moved to Vancouver in the 1980s after Hong Kong was returned to China had links to organized crime, Asian gangs have become the “dominant criminal force” in British Columbia. It was in the 1980s that the Big Circle Boys, a gang largely consisting of former Red Guards who moved from China to Hong Kong after the Cultural Revolution, set up shop in Vancouver.
The Vancouver RCMP said last year that they were shifting their focus to going after the gang kingpins rather than the minor players, and to that end have compiled a list of B.C.’s 20 top crime bosses. But Dubro says when it comes to Asian gangs, because they often have connections in high places and because their most powerful members do not operate at the street level, nabbing the key players is easier said than done. “The big guys are very hard to get.”
Epoch Times Victoria Staff
Dec 06, 2006