Andrew Seymour, Ottawa Citizen, July 31, 2008
More than half of Ottawa’s 600 confirmed street gang members were born outside of Canada, according to Ottawa police intelligence.
In a report published in the RCMP Gazette magazine, Ottawa police Staff Sgt. Mike Callaghan of the guns and gang section said that 314 of the city’s 600 confirmed gang members were born outside the country.
And the membership of Ottawa’s two “predominant” gangs—the West Side Bloods and the Ledbury Banff Crips—is made up of 57 different nationalities, according to the report.
The police intelligence is based on data collected in January 2006, although a report on the state of Ottawa’s street gangs commissioned by Crime Prevention Ottawa and released this year found that the number of confirmed gang members in the city remained roughly the same as earlier statistics.
According to Staff Sgt. Callaghan’s report, 95 per cent of Ottawa’s gang members are male—only 30 female gang members have been identified—with an average age of 17 to 25 years.
Only 56 confirmed gang members were under 18, although recent reports have suggested a trend of street gangs using children as young as eight to sell drugs or run guns because they are immune from prosecution.
The demographics of Ottawa’s 19 confirmed street gangs are emerging as Ottawa police hailed the deportation of two alleged members of the Ledbury Banff Crips to their home countries as a positive development, sending a strong message to current and would-be gangsters that their stay in Canada could be in jeopardy if they get involved in organized crime.
Remy Maliragora, 27, was deported to Rwanda last week following convictions for crimes ranging from assault causing bodily harm to robbery and forcible entry, while 23-year-old Sharmarke Ali was deported in January.
While Mr. Maliragora remained adamant he was not a member of the gang, evidence presented to an immigration and refugee board hearing suggested he frequently wore gang colours and was involved in a robbery where the victims were told “not to f—- with the Crips.”
During Mr. Maliragora’s immigration hearing, the former head of the Ottawa police gang section, Sgt. John Medeiros, testified that the Ledbury Banff Crips were formed in 1999 and consist of between 70 and 100 members.
The gang has a “corporate identity,” including territory, leadership and a “loose hierarchical structure” with “original gangsters” at the top and ordinary members below.
Sgt. Medeiros told the hearing that members of the Ledbury Banff Crips typically wore dark blue bandannas, although one senior member told him that the gang also wears black bandannas when they go on “special missions.”
Ottawa police Sgt. Anthony Costantini of the guns and gangs section said yesterday that the West Side Bloods have a similar-sized membership as their rivals, and were formed in the early part of this decade sometime after the creation of the Ledbury Banff Crips.
Sgt. Costantini said police are noticing new trends emerging in Ottawa’s street gangs, particularly in terms of how they are formed and the breakdown of traditional cultural-based allegiances in favour of ties based on the neighbourhoods where they live and operate.
This hybridization of Ottawa’s street gangs is leading individuals from a wide array of cultural backgrounds to work together to further their criminal enterprises, which revolve predominantly around the sale of crack cocaine, Sgt. Costantini said.
“The downside for them is less loyalty,” he said, adding the result has been some violent internal rivalries.
“With less loyalty you get fewer Bloods versus Crips and more Blood versus Blood or Crip versus Crip things,” said Sgt. Costantini.
Sgt. Costantini said police rarely see violence between the two gangs, who largely respect each other’s turf.
The Ledbury Banff Crips are based predominantly in neighbourhoods in the south and east sides of the city, including Overbrook and the Heatherington, Heron, Walkley and Russell roads areas.
The West Side Bloods operate in areas around Ritchie Street, Ramsey Crescent and Grenon and Carling avenues.
“They stay in their own areas,” said Sgt. Costantini.
However, unlike other organized crime groups, like the Hells Angels, the membership and leadership in Ottawa gangs is “fluid” and doesn’t involve junior members financing more senior members.
“If you are selling drugs for the Bloods, it doesn’t go up the food chain,” he said.
Sgt. Costantini said bandannas are still worn by Ottawa gang members, although they have been replaced by athletic clothing featuring the logos of sports teams. Often gang members will wear team colours that are similar to their gang colours.
He added that less than two per cent of the graffiti in Ottawa is gang-related.
“If you can’t read it, it is not gang stuff,” he said. “They want stuff to be seen.”