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Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing

This project was undertaken by an external, independent researcher to explore, and provide information about, an issue or topic. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Government of Canada.

pencil on a book Aboriginal Organized Crime in Canada: Developing a Typology for Understanding and Strategizing Responses


E.J. Dickson-Gilmore, PhD.
Carleton University
Chris Whitehead
Carleton University

Research and Evaluation Branch
Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing Services Directorate
Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Government of Canada.

Executive Summary

Scholarly attention to the phenomenon of organized crime in Canada is limited and not well-developed generally. In large measure, the relatively small body of research on the topic may be linked with the difficulties implicit in the study and analysis of an activity whose participants have little other than direct adverse interests in being studied, and who work assiduously to disguise and obscure their identities, practices and processes. Within the small literature on organized crime, only a very small percentage considers aboriginal participation in organized illicit activities, and these analyses tend to assume that those definitions and assumptions which inform the study of organized crime generally will also apply or “fit” its study among aboriginal communities.

The present study explores the theory and, to the greatest degree possible given the limitations of the data, the reality of aboriginal participation in what may be defined as ‘organized crime’ in Canada, engaging the possibility of a definition of ‘aboriginal organized crime’ and the proposal of a ‘typology’ of participants. In considering the development of a definition, the researchers expand on Beare’s definition of organized crime to include the dimension of motivations -whether social, political or economic - which theorists agree are crucial in understanding organized crime activities, but which do not appear in current definitions of the term. This addition is shown to be especially important for the study of aboriginal involvement in criminal activities in general, and organized crime in particular, as extant data and analyses of crime trends within aboriginal populations suggest strongly that profit is a rare and unusual factor motivating such activity. Given the consistent emphasis in the organized crime literature on profit as the fundamental mobilizing factor behind a wide range of illicit pursuits, this would seem to constitute an important deviation in traditional understandings of organized criminal activities and those who engage in them. In addition to amending Beare’s definition to acknowledge motivations, the definition of ‘aboriginal organized crime’ is further altered to address the unique issues of context informing these activities as well as the nature of the relationships between those participating in aboriginal organized crime networks.

Informed by this definition, the paper explores current patterns of offending among the aboriginal population, arguing that organized activities constitute only a very small percentage and, in many respects, unique permutation in those patterns. From here, following careful qualifications concerning the use of typologies and the dangers of unfounded generalizations about organized crime, its origins and participants, the researchers move into a proposal of a typology of aboriginal participants in organized criminal activities. This typology contains four types which are positioned on a continuum defined by motivations and which, based upon the current state of knowledge of aboriginal participation in organized crime, include the (1) Activist/Nationalist Type; (2) Random/Opportunistic Type; (3) Activist/Opportunistic Type; and (4) Criminal/Opportunistic Type. The motivations which are reflected in the titles given to each type exist on a continuum within that type, and are part of the larger continuum upon which all the types reside. This larger continuum is bounded by profound nationalism/activism on one end, and almost pure, instrumentalist opportunism on the other; each type has a more or less precise incipience and conclusion on this continuum, and as one moves within the smaller continuum of each type, the motivations and sentiments it contains will progress toward the motivations and sentiments inherent in the type which follows. The continuum may be envisaged as follows:







There may also be some overlap between the types, as individuals may originate their engagement in illicit activity in one type, and gravitate over time into another. For example, an individual may start out as a random/opportunistic, and progress into a criminal/opportunistic – a range of combinations and permutations may emerge, and it is likely that, as knowledge of aboriginal involvement in organized illicit activity progresses, additional types will be added to the typology.

Following a detailed elucidation of each type, the paper raises the important issue of state responses to aboriginal participation in organized crime. Here it is argued that prevention through social justice is a more promising strategy than reaction through criminal justice; that is, broad-based social reform and the honouring of treaty and aboriginal rights holds the potential to remove the majority of motivations for aboriginal participation in such activities, freeing the police to respond to the most compelling and intractable criminal elements.

To obtain an electronic copy of the complete report (PDF), please send a request by e-mail to the Research and Evaluation Section (Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing Services) of the RCMP