Youth gangs are not a new phenomenon in Canada. Theoretical and empirical research and evaluation efforts continue with the goal of better understanding and responding to this issue. Advances have been made in defining the nature of youth gangs and their activities, the motivations for joining, and the risk and protective factors that influence involvement in a gang lifestyle.

While a precise measure of youth gang involvement and prevalence of their activities in Canada is not currently available, in the last number of years strides have been made in understanding affiliation among several key populations, namely Aboriginal youth, immigrant youth and young women. Greater insight into specific risk factors, pathways to involvement and desistance, and guidance for prevention and intervention efforts can assist in the future development of solutions to address youth gang involvement and gang-related activities in Canada. Public Safety Canada continues to support effective youth gang prevention and intervention strategies that are known to work based on empirical evidence and lessons learned from past implementation and evaluation experiences.

Prevention refers to services, programs or activities designed to prevent people from joining gangs. Prevention often focuses on young persons. Situational gang crime prevention focuses more on the situational causes of crime and less on the dispositional traits of specific offenders and often addresses the environmental and opportunistic factors that influence offender decision-making.

Information provided by the Integrated Gangs and Weapons Enforcement Unit of the Hamilton Police Service (HPS) showed a growing trend in youth gang involvement in the Hamilton area. The 2009 HPS report showed a 7% increase in crime among youth (ages 12-17) and increased accessibility to gangs due to internet recruitment efforts.

To address the issue of youth gangs, Living Rock Ministries, a non-profit Christian outreach based in downtown Hamilton, delivered the Gang Prevention Strategy (GPS) with approximately 2.3M in funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC). The program was implemented from April 2007 to March 2011. It targeted youth aged 13 to 25 who were at risk of gang involvement, or were already gang-involved.

In Atlantic Canada, the Bacchus outlaw motorcycle club runs the drug trade, according to police biker crime specialists. In the West, bullets fly when the Red Scorpions clash with the United Nations crew. In the Prairies, the White Boy Posse’s migration east from Edmonton has spilled blood in Saskatchewan.

Gang activity even blights Ottawa, one of the world’s safest cities.

The capital logged a record 49 shootings in 2014, prompting police to address concerns about gangland disputes. Among those incidents was a targeted Boxing Day shooting that wounded one man during what investigators called “infighting” between members of the Crips.