- Asian Organized Crime And Terrorist Activity In Canada,
- A Report Prepared under an Interagency Agreement by the
Federal Research Division, Library of Congress July 2003
- KEY FINDINGS
- * Despite several border concerns that need to be addressed,
the sheer length of the U.S.-Canadian border, at over 5,500 miles and containing
vast zones of virtually nonexistent border demarcation, make it unlikely
that any amount of funding can entirely address the border issue.
- * The Big Circle Boys gang has demonstrated the greatest
expansion in Canada since its presence was detected there in the late 1980s.
With cells present in cities throughout North America, and a willingness
to cooperate with ethnically diverse groups, the Big Circle Boys have become
extensively involved in the Southeast Asia heroin trade and are responsible
for a high percentage of the counterfeit credit cards in North America.
- * The 14K triad is the fastest growing group in Canada
and has a presence in New York and other U.S. cities.
- * Vietnamese organized crime groups in Canada are expanding
rapidly in high-technology crimes and are believed to be involved in the
trafficking of women. Their extensive networking activities have led to
fear that such groups eventually will be organized into formal and structured
- * Faced with the likely spread of Asian organized crime
groups and given border porosity and immigration laws, for the foreseeable
future Canada will continue to serve as an ideal transit point for crime
groups to gain a foothold in the United States.
- U.S.-CANADIAN BORDER ASSESSMENT
- Commercial Activity
- The U.S-Canadian border stretches approximately 5,500
miles... of 113 designated land crossings, 62... were unguarded at night
as of October 2001.
- Contributing to the problem, sparsely populated mountainous
regions, prairie, and forest where in many places border demarcation is
virtually nonexistent, comprise the vast expanse of the border. In comparison
to Mexico, which has approximately 9,000 Customs, Immigration and Naturalization
Service and Border Control personnel guarding the 2,000-mile United States-Mexican
border, only 965 such U.S. personnel were guarding the Canadian border
as of October 2001, and only 2400 Canadian Customs personnel were on duty.
According to a September 2002 article in The News Tribune [Tacoma, WA],
only 346 U.S. Border Control agents were assigned to the U.S.-Canadian
border, including the border with Alaska. This number averages out to one
agent for every 16 miles, and represents an increase of only 15 people
since September 11, 2001. Given these conditions, the porosity of the U.S.-Canadian
border represents a continued problem.
- Akwesasne Reservation
- Adding to the issue of border porosity is the use of
the Akwesasne reservation as an illegal border crossing. The reservation,
consisting of 14,000 acres, is home to the St. Regis Mohawk Indians. The
territory reaches from Cornwall, Ontario, and Massena, New York, along
25 miles of the St. Lawrence River channels and 20 islands, to just north
of Vermont. The Mohawk Nation Council controls the entire expanse of the
reservation's territory. Although not recognized by either the government
of the United States or Canada, the council has demanded and has been granted
the right of the Mohawk people to have freedom of movement across the U.S.-Canadian
border, as well as the right to transport goods across the border without
controls or payment of taxes. This demand was granted with the condition
that non-native people are not allowed to take advantage of the rights
of movement and tax-free trade. Despite this requirement, the region is
used as an illegal border crossing for Asian organized crime groups, among
others and, therefore, constitutes one of the primary gaps in border security.
- Although U.S. and Canadian authorities have the right
to inspect the land for illegal contraband or persons crossing without
permission, this right is often not exercised. Instead, a militant group
of Akwesasne, equipped with stockpiles of small arms, acts as defenders
of the land, exercising control over the individuals entering their territory.
The group receives its funding almost exclusively from the proceeds of
criminal activities. The Walpole Island and the Niagara area also continue
to be used by Asian organized crime groups as a convenient route to smuggle
both contraband and people across the border, due to its geographic location
between Ontario and Michigan at the mouth of the St. Clair River.
- Immigration and Refugee Policy
- Canada's immigration policy and entrepreneur program
allow foreign nationals to enter the country with relative ease and become
Canadian residents, thereby positioning themselves for easy access to the
United States. Each year approximately 300,000 people are allowed entry
into Canada, twice the number per capita that the United States allows
in. In addition, few restrictions apply to countries of origin for persons
seeking entry into Canada. Unlike the visa waiver program in the United
States, which grants entry without a visa to residents of only 27 countries,
Canada grants visa-free entry to residents of nearly 60 countries. This
number includes Greece, Mexico, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. Canada relies
on paper identification for immigrants, forged versions of which are available
on the black market for roughly $1,000. Those found to be misrepresenting
themselves at the border do not face any ban. They are merely turned away
and can attempt to re-enter the country immediately. Asian criminal groups,
especially those from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, as well as terrorist
groups, exploit these policies. A report in the Hong Kong Kuang Chiao Ching
indicated that Chinese organized crime groups from these regions are increasingly
using Canada as a base because of their ability to obtain legal residency
in Canada relatively easily and then freely enter the United States.
- Canada's refugee policy has been very welcoming since
the mid-80s. It was then that the Canadian Supreme Court broadened the
definition of "refugee" by guaranteeing a hearing for anyone
entering the country claiming to be a refugee, even if that person could
provide no documentation... In contrast to the situation in the United
States... people rarely are detained because of lack of identifying papers...
- The process of determining a person's eligibility for
refugee status can take years, and even if a refugee claim is denied claimants
often can stay in Canada if they declare that they will be put in danger
when returning to their native country. While awaiting a scheduled hearing,
a refugee claimant is eligible for welfare or employment and is covered
by the national healthcare system. Refugee claimants may also avail themselves
of the public education system. The number of refugee claimants was 44,000
in 2001, up from 22,000 just three years before; the number of refugees
allowed entry each year is now approximately 30,000. However, possibly
60 percent of all claimants possess insufficient documentation or no documentation
at all. Hence, many just disappear, often skipping their asylum hearings,
and enter the United States illegally. Currently over 25,000 arrest warrants
are outstanding for those people who have skipped their asylum hearings.
- Canadian Ports
- According to a March 2002 article in the National Post,
a Canadian Senate committee on national security, which met in February
2002, identified Canada's ports as a breeding ground for organized crime
and terrorism. In 1996, when the government began to disband the port police
service, private security companies began assuming security responsibilities
at Canadian ports. The senate committee reported that 36 percent of employees
in charge of going over manifest lists for cargo containers at the port
of Montreal, 39 percent of the dock workers at Halifax, and 54 percent
of the dock workers at the Charlottetown port had criminal records. In
addition, several ports do not have adequate identification requirements
for employers nor do they have adequate security fencing. Organized crime
groups reportedly exercise great control over Canadian ports and have been
cited as major conduits for drug smuggling, the export and import of stolen
automobiles, and the theft of cargo. Officials fear that terrorists could
use the ports to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction into the country.
The committee additionally reported that the Chretien government had been
receiving warnings on the state of Canada's ports for six years, but continued
to ignore the advice of law enforcement officials.
- ASIAN ORGANIZED CRIME
- Unlike traditional organized crime groups such as the
Italian La Cosa Nostra, Asian organized crime groups, including both those
groups that were established in Canada and those that originate abroad
but have members operating in Canada, lack a set structure at the operational
level even if a hierarchy exists at the organizational level...
- Even when part of a specific well-known group, such as
the Big Circle Boys, for example, members often operate in small, cell-structured
groups or partnerships, if not independently, when engaging in illegal
activities. Subsequent to the achievement of a particular goal, these partnerships
often are dissolved... It is not at all uncommon for members and associates
of these groups to conduct numerous dissimilar criminal activities, often
with different groups simultaneously, be they ethnically homogenous or
heterogeneous. It is because of this decentralization that specific details
on individuals and groups are often unavailable, at least in open source
research materials. In contrast to the Cosa Nostra, which is organized
in a pyramid structure, making it possible for law enforcement to trace
the organization to its highest level, Asian organized crime groups are
organized more as autonomous mini-pyramids, with small cells and mini-bosses
dictating the actions of only their particular cell...
- Canada's Asian crime groups are more complicated to combat
than groups such as the Italian Cosa Nostra because of historical and geographical
factors. Asian organized crime groups place high priority on ethnicity
for membership in their organizations. This fact is especially true for
the more traditionally oriented Chinese triads. There are few, if any,
accounts of non-Asian members being accepted in their networks. Hence,
given the lack of Asians in U.S. and Canadian law enforcement, the networks
are difficult to infiltrate.
- U.S. and Canadian law enforcement authorities presently
are unable to strike at the core of many triads, which often are located
in countries where broad cooperation between law enforcement officials
currently does not exist. And in many cases, the independent and cellstructured
nature of most Asian organized crime groups makes it unlikely that destruction
of the central authority of the more organized triad groups would have
any substantial detrimental effect on operations in Canada and in the United
States. The presence of various cells from the same organization in different
cities or countries also gives these groups contacts that they can trust
and do business with. These cells have proven to be of great advantage
to a criminal group like Big Circle Boys, for example, allowing the group
to combine its various assets and expertise for the perpetration of transnational
- Types of Crime
- Heroin Trafficking
- The United States-Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment
of December 2001 estimates that 95 percent of all heroin entering Canada
originates in Southeast Asia. Chinese organized crime groups in Canada
almost exclusively traffic heroin produced in Southeast Asia, primarily
originating in parts of Burma, Laos, and Thailand, known as the "Golden
Triangle" region. Canadian intelligence additionally suggests that
Burma is becoming a major source of ecstasy and that Asian organized crime
groups soon will move to exploit the situation.
- According to the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada
(CISC), all major heroin seizures in 2000 and 2001 involved Asian organized
crime groups, although these groups may link with other groups to facilitate
their activities. The report further found that Southeast Asian heroin
usually enters Canada through Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal via international
airports and major British Columbia marine ports. The CISC also reports
that Asian organized crime groups use the northern half of Saskatchewan
for the importation of heroin and cocaine from British Columbia and Alberta.
In addition, the CISC reports that Chinese and Vietnamese drug syndicates
based out of Edmonton, Alberta, and Calgary now have established a permanent
presence in these regions and that Ontario groups are continually involved
in the large-scale importation of heroin.
- The presence of these groups in Canada is a threat to
the United States. The groups that smuggle heroin into the United States
often operate on both sides of the border and control distribution. Furthermore,
several organized crime groups overseas are involved in shipping heroin
to Canada for the very purpose of exploiting the porosity of the U.S.-Canadian
border. Heroin trafficking, in particular, involves the cooperation of
various groups at different levels to get the product to its final destination.
For example, street gangs often act as enforcers who are, in turn, supported
by more established and powerful groups.
- These trafficking groups are independent and diverse,
composed of both triads and other criminal organizations. Although individual
triad members reportedly are involved in trafficking heroin to the United
States through Canada, the triads as organizations do not control the trade.
Triad membership is more a prerequisite for sellers to gain permission
to sell drugs at the street level. No such membership seems to be required
for entering the international drug market...
- It is not uncommon for a member of one triad to team
up with another triad member and work for the leader of a heroin smuggling
group who is not a member of any triad at all. The situation is viewed
as a private business transaction. Still, triad membership can be essential
for purposes of networking and the development of criminal relationships
based on trust. It should also be noted that no consensus exists on the
degree of triad involvement in the Canadian drug trade, and some officials
believe that the triads control the market.
- Trafficking of Women
- Trafficking of persons, both for sexual exploitation
and labor, is the fastest growing form of organized crime. It has been
increasing dramatically in Canada, aided by the ruling of Human Resources
and Development Canada in April 1998, that foreign nationals employed as
"exotic dancers" were not displacing Canadian workers. This ruling
created a legal avenue that was quickly exploited for illegal activities.
Trafficking became illegal only in 2001 after the passage of the 2001 Immigration
Act; prostitution, however, remains legal in Canada.
- Traffickers subsequently have found ways to exploit the
system to provide sexual services. For example, foreign women can enter
Canada legally as students, visitors, domestic workers, or mail-order brides.
- Human traffickers also make use of the Chinese smuggling
network, known as "snakeheads," which often moves aliens into
the United States in maritime vessels. Some gangs charge immigrants as
much as US$40,000 for passage to the United States. The United States government
estimates that 30,000 to 40,000 Chinese were smuggled into the United States
in 1999, although reliable estimates of the number of Chinese who enter
through Canada are not available through open-source materials. Canadian
officials currently estimate that more than 50 immigrant-smuggling groups
are in Toronto alone...
- Profits from trafficking of women are remarkably high.
Smugglers may receive between US$5,000 and US$15,000 for every person successfully
smuggled into the United States, be that person a woman or a minor...
- The control that traffickers exercise over the persons
they traffic also mitigates against effective deterrence. In Canada, trafficked
women are generally required to testify against their employers in order
for the latter to be convicted. However, cooperation with Canadian or U.S.
authorities may expose the individuals or their families to great harm
at the hands of the organized crime group in their native country. Because
victims fear such reprisal, and hence refuse to testify, many criminals
have been successful at avoiding jail time.
- Financial Crimes
- Major financial crimes tied to Chinese organized crime
groups include credit card forgery, software technology piracy, and other
high-tech crimes. The groups also pursue more traditional crimes such as
vehicle theft, money laundering, and gun running. The Organized Crime Agency
of British Columbia (OCABC) has singled out Asian organized crime groups
as leaders in the counterfeit credit card business throughout North America.
The Lower Mainland of British Columbia has experienced a disproportional
outbreak of these crimes.
- Since 1999, credit card fraud has remained at extremely
high levels in Canada, although there has been a recent decline. According
to the CISC 2001 report, the total loss figure in 1999 was CDN$226.7 million
and in 2000 it was CDN$172.5 million. In 1999, the value of forged credit
card activity was CDN$123.6m; in 2000 it was CDN$81.1m; and in 2001 it
was CDN$182.7m... Asian organized crime groups have worked with East European,
East Indian, and Nigerian-based organized crime groups in this counterfeit
- Although South America and Mexico are emerging as centers
for producing counterfeit credit cards in the Western Hemisphere, ethnic
Chinese crime groups with operations in major commercial centers in East
Asia, particularly Hong Kong and North America, are most often identified
with fraudulent credit card activity...
- Large-scale manufacture and distribution of pirated software,
CDs, and DVDs are also common financial crimes that continue to affect
- The United States and Canada share a unique relationship
based on democratic ideology and geographic proximity. These advantages
have facilitated the development of a mutually beneficial partnership between
the two countries in the form of international trade, relatively open borders,
and integration between the two societies. Each country is the largest
trading partner of the other. However, the very benefits stemming from
this relationship continue to be exploited by both organized crime and
- Because of inadequate funding and insufficient personnel
on both sides of the border, the U.S.-Canadian border remains relatively
porous and can be crossed in many areas without fear of encountering security
personnel. The sheer length of the U.S.-Canadian border, at over 5,500
miles and with vast zones of virtually nonexistent border demarcation,
make it unlikely that any amount of funding can entirely address the border
- Ethnic Chinese triads, gangs, and syndicates have set
up vast operations in Canada and constitute the greatest criminal threats
in Canada. These Asian groups are involved in a wide variety of criminal
activities, primarily in large population centers. Although virtually homogenous
in makeup, Asian organized crime groups continue to deal with non-Asian
groups in pursuit of profitable activities.