They come to Canada in search of a better life, more opportunity and often a fresh start. But for some immigrant newcomers it’s an opportunity that is being taken away by gangs.
“These are good kids, very good kids when they move here, with lots of potential,” Director of Immigration Partnership Abdi Ahmed said. “I know kids who in April were good kids. Who had no association with gangs. By September, they were hard core involved in street crime issues.”
These gangs are preying on children and teenagers who are new to the city and often have no where else to turn.
“Sometimes you cannot find employment as a young person,” said Abdi. “Language is a problem. (They) don’t speak it (or they are) discriminated, stereotyped as a refugee. They find they are isolated from a number of things.”
Those are the teenagers who are most often targeted.
“They are able to get some of these youth on board when they came to Winnipeg,” Det. Sgt. Steve Mitchell with the Organized Crime Unit (OCU) said. “They school them in the drug trade, the gang lifestyle… you know, how to operate and conduct themselves in that area.”
Police have identified at least two gangs that are heavily recruiting immigrants.
“There is a group that we do recognize with in the gang program called TFN,” Det. Sgt. Mitchell said. “There is also a newer spin-off group of that that’s been recognized by our Street Crime Unit and recorded by their units as well as our OCU members.”
Officers said gangs are targeting locations and cultures when it comes to recruitment but they have seen a trend when it comes to different immigration patterns.
“You have to consider placement and where in the city immigrant patterns emerge,” said Mitchell. “A lot of that is in the West End area of Winnipeg, Portage Place area, high traffic, high population density area.”
Mitchell said it’s a problem that dates back more than a decade but has continually evolved and has grown to be more violent.
“Some gangs can be naturally more aggressive. Why it’s concerning with these particular groups is some of the members of the gang come from some pretty war torn areas of the world,” Mitchell said.
“So their interaction with police can be more hostile. Their exposure to law enforcement, in their original communities, might be quite different from WPS officers.
Both police and outreach workers have said the best chance they have to help is to get ahead of the gangs when these newcomers first arrive.
Officers cited a need for more recreational programming, sports activities and places in the West End like Central Park. to keep the teenagers not only busy, but occupied in positives ways.
“That may sound simple, but I patrol that area. I’ve seen the difference an open area green space and an area that offers a recreational service can have,” Mitchell said. “Now you have these cultural groups meeting and engaging in organized soccer games.”