The kingpins of Canadian fentanyl have been linked by police to the Big Circle Boys, an organized crime group that traces its roots to China’s Cultural Revolution.
During the 1960s, paramilitary groups known as Red Guards formed to purge those accused of being not sufficiently committed to China’s communist revolution.
The Red Guards were eventually themselves purged by the People’s Liberation Army and sent to the city of Guangzhou for “re-education.”
Upon their escape or release, some formed criminal organizations known for their violence, notably in Hong Kong. The name Big Circle Boys, or Dai Huen Jai, came from Chinese maps that de-marked Guangzhou with a large circle.
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In the 1980s, Big Circle members began migrating, some to Vancouver. By the 1990s they were across Canada. “The BCB do business in small independent groups or cells, unlike the highly-organized structure of Triads,” according to a report prepared for the B.C. government.
Long before fentanyl, the Big Circle Boys were involved drug trafficking and credit card fraud. A dozen people tied to the group were arrested after the RCMP uncovered a “credit card factory” operating out of Vancouver homes. Police estimated it had the potential to bring in $200-million.
Big Circle also made what a Canadian judge called “enormous profits” trafficking heroin — even as overdose deaths mounted in British Columbia and Ontario.
An imprisoned head of the Big Circle Boys, Chun Wai Ng, “had no thought or concern about the devastating impact that importing such large quantities of drugs would have on society,” a Federal Court judge wrote in 2003.
That same year, a U.S. Library of Congress report called Big Circle “the most active Chinese crime group operating in Canada,” with hundreds of members in Toronto and Vancouver. In addition to drug trafficking, they have been active in alien smuggling, prostitution and gaming.
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The Big Circle Boys have cooperated with other underworld organizations, including Hong Kong triads, the Hells Angels and the Italian mafia. But they differ in that they are “a loosely affiliated group of gangs rather than a single, centrally-led organization,” according to a 2011 Jane’s Intelligence Review report.
Members from different cells in Asian and North American cities will “combine their expertise and assets for the perpetration of transnational crimes,” Jane’s wrote. “The sophistication and complexity of the Big Circle Boys structure, such as it exists, makes it extremely difficult to combat.”