REGINA -- Corrections and Public Safety Minister Peter Prebble promised a new effort to cut down on violence in Saskatchewan jails a day after a police report raised major concerns about gangs in the province's correctional system.
The NDP government came under sharp attack from the Opposition Saskatchewan Party Tuesday following the release of the Criminal Intelligence Service Saskatchewan (CISS) report on aboriginal-based gangs that found the province had the highest per-capita number of youths involved in gangs in the country.
Among the findings was that gangs established themselves in Saskatchewan in the mid-to late-1990s through the federal and provincial correctional systems and that they remain key to recruitment of new members.
The report also found that gang members make up about 25 per cent of the inmate population, and that "it is not uncommon to have gang members posturing for control within the correctional institution . . . gang members have been known to threaten, stab and assault rival gang members that are placed within their range at the jail."
Prebble said in an interview he was concerned about the report.
"We are now looking at special initiatives that can be taken to reduce violence within our correctional facilities, much of which is perpetrated by gangs. So that's going to be an important area of work in the months ahead," he said.
The issue will be addressed in the March 23 provincial budget, said Prebble, and details will be provided after that date.
Gang activity is illegal within the corrections system, but Prebble said the report shows efforts need to be "redoubled."
"We attempt to implement a zero-tolerance policy for gang activity, gang members are separated when they come into our correctional facilities whenever necessary. . . gang paraphernalia is prohibited" he said.
There is also a new emphasis on getting young inmates back into school and in touch with their cultural heritage, said Prebble.
The CISS report showed there are an estimated 1,315 members of youth gangs in Saskatchewan, with a combined total of 500 gang members in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert.
Police say there has been an increase in violent crime because of gangs competing for turf.
On Tuesday, Saskatchewan Party MLAs called on the government to follow the recommendation of CISS -- which is made up of 21 Saskatchewan police agencies -- for a comprehensive provincial strategy against gangs.
"This NDP government does nothing until it's dragged kicking and screaming by people and by the Opposition concerned about what is happening in this province. They take no action until it's in the headlines," said justice critic Don Morgan.
Justice Minister Frank Quennell said the government has already taken steps such as the passage of the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act and actions such as the auto theft strategy in Regina and the break-in strategy in Saskatoon.
Quennell said the government will introduce legislation this spring that will give additional tools to police, but he would not elaborate on what they are.
He said he will listen to what police have to say about further actions that need to be taken.
REGINA -- Officials with the Criminal Intelligence Service Saskatchewan (CISS) organization issued an urgent call Monday for a provincial strategy to deal with the crime and violence caused by aboriginal-based gangsters.
Representatives of CISS, which is made up of 21 police organizations in the province, released a report at a Regina press conference that noted that Saskatchewan has the highest per capita number of youth involved in gangs in Canada.
"There is a pressing and urgent need," to deal with both youth and adult gangs, said Regina police Chief Cal Johnston, chair of the CISS executive committee.
A comprehensive strategy that involves prevention, education and continued police enforcement is needed to deal with gangs, Johnston said.
Communities across Saskatchewan, along with the provincial government and police departments, need to work together to solve the problem, Johnston said.
Saskatoon police Chief Russ Sabo agreed a concerted approach is needed.
"I think coming forward (in the report) and letting the public know this is a growing issue in the community and the province is going to help in the long run to bring this under control," Sabo said.
Justice Minister Frank Quennell responded during a scrum with reporters at the legislature.
"I meet regularly with police services in Saskatchewan about the issues around organized crime so I'm aware of these issues," Quennell said. "We are working on providing resources and tools to our police service to combat these specified problems."
But Quennell said social, economic and community problems also need to be addressed as part of the solution to the gang problem.
While the presence of criminal gangs in Saskatchewan is no secret, Johnston said he and many other members of CISS were somewhat surprised by the extent of the problem.
"It happens in urban communities, it happens in rural communities and the deep impact of some of the behaviour is very pervasive," Johnston said.
While there are also non-aboriginal gangs in Saskatchewan, the report released Monday focused on aboriginal youth gangs.
The report indicated that there are an estimated 1,315 members of youth gangs in Saskatchewan and that number (on a per capita basis) is the highest in Canada.
A total of 500 gang members are believed to live in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, with the rest spread around other Saskatchewan communities.
"In particular, over the past year, residents of Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert have experienced an increase in extreme violence involving aggravated assaults, shootings and murders as gangs compete for territory," the report said.
While the drug trade is one of the biggest-paying activities for gangs, information released at the press conference indicated that gang members are involved in a wide variety of criminal activities, including robberies and thefts that are sometimes undertaken as part of an initiation process.
In addition to the larger cities, the report said gangs are active in southern Saskatchewan in smaller cities and towns such as Fort Qu'Appelle, Broadview, Indian Head, Yorkton, Carlyle, Moose Jaw and Kamsack.
Farther north, the report said gangs are active in places like North Battleford, Pelican Narrows, Stanley Mission, Pierceland, Meadow Lake and La Ronge. The report said the gangs operate under a wide variety of names such as the North Central Rough Riderz, Indian Mafia Crips, Indian Posse, Native Syndicate, Crazy Cree, Redd Alert and Tribal Brothers.
The Hells Angels are behind the crystal meth drug business in Saskatoon, sources say
The Hells Angels are using street gangs to deal illegal drugs such as "crystal meth," a highly addictive stimulant popping up everywhere on the streets of Saskatoon, say police.
"There is a tonne of crystal meth in town here. It's appeared in huge quantities over the past year," Saskatoon Police Services Sgt. Gavin Morgan told the Saskatchewan News Network.
"We do have intelligence that there are connections in the drug trade between the Hells Angels and the Native street gangs."
Crystal meth, otherwise known as methamphetamine or speed, is a powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system.
The high comes quickly but also wears off quickly, leaving the user with a tremendous desire for more.
Long-term problems can include severe weight loss, strokes and respiratory problems.
The connection was angrily denied by a member of the Angels, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In a brief interview, he said there's no connection between what he called his "club" and the street gangs.
He said the Angels are simply a motorcycle club and are not involved in any illegal activity, including the drug trade.
None of the heads of the province's largest street gang, the Indian Posse, would agree to be questioned about the alleged link between them and the Angels. One of the Indian Posse's Saskatchewan "chiefs" initially agreed to an interview but changed his mind two days later.
Morgan and others say there are demonstrable links between the two gangs.
"If the Hells Angels can find some group to do their dirty work, they'll do it. There are a lot of alliances being made," Morgan said.
"The Hells Angels insulate themselves well."
Crystal meth has traditionally been dealt by biker gangs, Morgan said.
The biker gangs would bring it up from the United States and sell it in Saskatoon, he said.
But the amount of crystal meth dealt in Saskatoon has exploded over the past year, he said.
There are indications the Angels have brokered deals with members of street gangs to sell crystal meth for them.
The Saskatoon Police Service's organized crime unit is currently investigating the alleged link, Morgan said.
Making a case could prove difficult, as witnesses are often too afraid to come forward when gangs are involved, Morgan said.
One community worker who has researched the gang issue extensively said some street gang members are used as "foot soldiers" by the Angels.
The gangs provide the Angels with a large labour force eager to make money, the worker said. Police have identified more than 200 members in Saskatoon alone.
She also spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing her facility could become a target.
According to a 21-year-old recovering addict, the Angels are "the big dog on the block" in Saskatoon's drug trade.
He said one of his friends is a drug dealer and member of a street gang.
That friend is often supplied by a member of the Angels.
"For anybody to believe the Hells Angels are legit is a lie. They just let the Native gangs deal it," said the man, now in a Saskatoon treatment facility.
He bought crystal meth as recently as October in an area of Saskatoon where several Hells Angel members live.
The same thing appears to be happening in other Canadian cities. Staff Sgt. Scott Mills of the Ontario Biker Enforcement Unit said the Angels are using "puppet" clubs and gangs in Toronto, Winnipeg and other cities to deal drugs and carry out other crimes.
"The Hells Angels are learning from previous prosecutions and are insulating themselves. They have someone else doing the hands-on criminal activity," he said.
The Biker Enforcement Unit was formed in 2000, and is made up of more than 100 federal, provincial, and local Ontario police officers.
Mills said crystal meth has been "a trademark commodity of the outlaw motorcycle gang" since the 1970s, and wasn't surprised to hear about the situation in Saskatoon.
The Angels have been declared a criminal organization in Quebec, and the Saskatoon chapter is part of the same club, Mills said.
"The Hells Angels in Saskatoon, in my opinion, are the same as the Hells Angels in Quebec or Ontario," he said.
Vaughn Collins, deputy commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, agreed.
"We've had concerns for some times with street gangs connected to outlaw motorcycle gangs in a variety of ways. I think that's an issue across the country," Collins said.
Regina also has a significant presence of Hells Angels and street gangs.
But there's no indication the two groups are selling drugs together in that city, said Regina Police Service Sgt. Bill Dombowsky.