Gangs make use of the “Unknown” Advantage
BY S/SGT LINDSEY HOUGHTON
© 2021 FrontLine Security (Vol 16, No 1)

Gangs have been embracing the “unknown” advantage for contracting out their dirty deeds.

A great number of Canadian gangs and gang members have always been transient, expansion minded, and not afraid to fight it out for territory. Such conflicts and “gang wars” have been waged across the country for years. 

One of the most famous of these conflicts was “Biker Wars” in Quebec between the Hells Angels and the Rock Machine. Over a period of eight years (1994-2002), this fight ultimately claimed the lives of over 150 people (including two prison guards), left many others injured, and culminated in the 1995 car bombing and tragic death of 11-year-old Danny Desrocher. The Hells Angels remain one of the greatest threats to public safety and most influential criminal organizations in Canada. Their Canadian members are some of the wealthiest of their worldwide peers.

Still ongoing is the “gang war” in British Columbia. This violence goes back to the early 2000s with the Red Scorpions and Wolfpack and aligned groups against the United Nations and their aligned groups, and has spilled over into several provinces and even countries around the world. During one high profile trial in British Columbia, the courts dubbed their actions as “human safaris”. I have yet to hear a better and more vivid description. 

Over the past decade, we have seen increased travel, movement, and expansion of some of these gangs across Canada. Gangs like North Preston’s Finest out of Nova Scotia, the Indian Posse and Redd Alert, two Indigenous gangs with foundations in the prairie provinces, and the aforementioned Wolfpack and United Nations (UN) out of British Columbia have all expanded and built networks and alliances across the country. 

A quick internet search for “gangs in Toronto” (or any other major Canadian city), results in a long, or very long, list of names. However, while some or many of the names might be commonly known by people in that particular region, they are most often an unknown in other parts of Canada, including to many in law enforcement. 

Adding to this unknown is the gangs’ common practice of recruiting young people, mostly men, into their fold to carry out the dirty work as ‘foot soldiers’ in their ongoing war, and it is not hard to understand why gangs in different parts of the country are increasingly creating alliances with counterparts in other jurisdictions that go beyond the more traditional business and commodity transactions. 

Over the past several years, at least in British Columbia, we have seen more and more gangs contracting young gang members who are unknown to law enforcement to carry out shootings. 

Predominantly from Alberta and Ontario lately, they are being hired as contract killers for local British Columbia gangs. In some cases, the contracts can be lucrative – up to several hundred thousand dollars. 

In April 2015, then 18-year-old Knowah Truth Ferguson from Hamilton, Ontario, along with two other Ontario men, were contracted to travel to B.C. and kill well-known Hells Angel and Wolfpack leader Damion Ryan. Ferguson wore a burqa to Vancouver International Airport and tried to shoot Ryan while he was meeting with a rival gang member at the food court. The gun jammed when Ferguson pulled the trigger and Ryan fled unharmed. 

As expected with such a high-profile attempted murder inside one of Canada’s busiest airports, a large-scale joint forces police response was immediately initiated and, within days, Ferguson and the others were arrested. 

During his sentencing in 2018, the B.C. Supreme Court Justice noted how Ferguson was a troubled youth who had been living in Hamilton with someone involved in a criminal lifestyle. Just before he turned 18, he came to B.C. on a bus with another person on the promise of “making a lot of money doing contracts”. The Damion Ryan contract was worth $200,000. 

Knowah Ferguson was sentenced to a total of 11 years, 7 years for the attempted murder, and 4 years for the conspiracy to commit murder. Prior to his arrest, he had no previous criminal convictions and perfectly fit the profile of an “unknown” who was willing to take the risks.

In a more recent case, two men from Alberta were allegedly hired to kill Hells Angel Suminder Grewal in BC. They were arrested shortly after Grewal was shot to death in a Starbucks drive-thru in August 2019. The Edmonton men pleaded guilty in June 2021, and sentencing is scheduled for September. 

For the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia (CFSEU-BC), B.C.’s integrated anti-gang police agency, working on cases that involve unknown, out-of-province, contract hitters, is unfortunately nothing new. In both the cases mentioned above and others, the CFSEU-BC played a role, whether significant in terms of devoting surveillance, investigative teams, and other resources in a formal “joint forces operation” with other agencies, or by providing support, such as with analysts and intelligence. 

Gangs, their members, and how they conduct their violent illicit businesses will continue to adapt and evolve. Whether it’s utilizing technology to their advantage, or “contracting out” murders to outsiders, rest assured they will do everything possible to find ways to stay one step ahead of both their rivals and law enforcement. 

Analysts and investigators from agencies across the country regularly meet to discuss files, intelligence and the inter-provincial movement of gang members. Whether this trend of contracting out-of-province killers will continue in British Columbia remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain – it has never been more important for those agencies who are charged with the task of suppressing, disrupting, and investigating gang-related violence to increase and improve communication, information sharing, and relationship-building Canada-wide so we are all positioned to react quickly, decisively, and as best-informed as possible. 

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Organized Crime Agency of British Columbia Staff Sergeant Lindsey Houghton currently leads the Combined Forces Special Enforce­ment Unit of BC’s (CFSEU-BC) Community & Public Affairs team. Photos courtesy of CFSEU-BC.

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