How B.C. became a world crime superpower
Forget forestry or fishing. B.C.'s big, multi-billion-dollar growth industry is crime. And business is booming.
JASON KIRBY AND NANCY MACDONALD | May 7, 2008 |
Also at Macleans.ca:
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- A Q&A with Premier Gordon Campbell on crime
- B.C. is home to the world's dumbest and drowsiest kidnappers
- Cops have a deadly, and highly entertaining, weapon against car thieves
By almost any measure it was a thriving enterprise, with subsidiaries in eight countries and a flourishing distribution business. Even more impressive, it was run out of Vancouver, a city that's seen many head offices disappear over the years. And with its strong sales, the venture would easily have been considered one of British Columbia's largest private companies. That is, if the operation at the heart of it all wasn't a criminal syndicate trading in marijuana, cocaine, heroin, guns and real estate.
In December, officers from the RCMP and Vancouver Police Department showed off the results of a 14-month investigation called Project E-Paragon. Working with police in the U.S. and Australia, officers seized $168 million worth of drugs, along with luxury homes, exotic vehicles, millions in cash and weapons. More than 100 people were arrested worldwide, including the alleged ringleader, 50-year-old Yong Long Ye of Vancouver. The allegations regarding the crime ring have not been proven in court, but police believe they've broken up an incredibly complex and profitable operation. And if Canadians are inclined to believe this was a one-off scheme, an aberration to the postcard-perfect image British Columbia projects to the world, think again. "There are lots more, we don't have a shortage of targets," says RCMP Supt. Doug Kiloh, of the combined special forces enforcement unit in Vancouver.
Consider, for a moment, just a few figures that show the size and scope of the crime industry in B.C.:
· There are an estimated 20,000 marijuana grow ops in houses across the province, and many thousands more hidden in the mountains and valleys of the interior. It's conservatively estimated that marijuana is an industry with revenues of $5 billion to $7 billion a year.
· In the last few years, according to the Canadian Border Services Agency, more than $1 billion worth of cocaine has been seized at borders in the Pacific region. One media report last fall found the amount of cocaine recovered at B.C.'s borders more than tripled in the previous two years.
· The province is the main port of entry for chemicals used in the manufacture of drugs such as methamphetamine and ecstasy, while B.C.-based Asian gangs are the largest suppliers of ecstasy to Canada and the U.S.
· In the last year there have been roughly two dozen gangland slayings in the Vancouver region. The number of homicides in B.C.'s Lower Mainland in the first four months of this year was nearly three times that of Toronto. And when Maclean's recently looked at Canada's most dangerous cities using data from Statistics Canada, 11 of the top 20 were located in B.C. Meanwhile the number of gangs operating in the province has jumped from less than 10 a decade ago to 129.
Add it all up, and you can't help but see British Columbia for what it is — a key hub in the world of international organized crime. For all its natural beauty and its Birkenstock reputation, police now put Vancouver on par with New York and Los Angeles when they talk of cities in the grip of criminal syndicates. By some estimates, criminal activity amounts to roughly seven per cent of the province's total economy. Though hard and fast numbers about the size of organized crime are impossible to determine, it's safe to say that alongside construction and tourism, criminal activity is one of B.C.'s strongest growth industries. "We can quibble about a billion dollars here or a billion dollars there," says Darryl Plecas, a criminology professor at the University College of the Fraser Valley. "But the bottom line is there's no question this is a multi-billion [dollar] industry." And as Western Canada positions itself to be North America's most important commercial corridor to Asia, with the much-heralded Pacific Gateway initiative, criminal gangs are poised to expand their operations in a huge way. Crime is big business in B.C., and business, unfortunately, is booming.