“You can get it done for very, very little,” Peter Edwards casually observes about taking out a hit on someone. “It’s not the biggest skill in the world, and guns aren’t that expensive. So, I mean, if you just want the guy dead and that’s your goal, it’s not that tough.”
Edwards, an author and veteran crime reporter for the Toronto Star, offers this as almost a parenthetical, in explaining the particular extra-ness of a Gen Y hitman who was getting paid tons of money to kill people — and then unwisely boasting about it on the internet.
Partly, he concludes, it’s a generational divide. “The smart old-timers, they don’t do a crime and then brag about it,” he says. “At least they don’t brag about it publicly.”
Published by Random House, The Wolfpack: The Millennial Mobsters Who Brought Chaos and the Cartels to the Canadian Underworld is the new book by Edwards and Mexican crime journalist Luis Nájera, who in 2010 obtained refugee status in Canada after learning he’d been marked for death by the subjects of his coverage.
On this week’s CANADALAND, host Jesse Brown talks to the pair about the changing face of organized crime in Canada and what it is that makes Millennial mobsters different:
At one point in the show, they engage in a kind of lightning round, to draw for listeners what Jesse describes as “a map of organized crime in Canada.”
“I’ll name a place, and one of you just shoot out what the significance of that place is,” he says.
Here’s what Edwards and Nájera have to say about a variety of locations, arranged from east to west. Their remarks have been slightly edited.
Peter Edwards: “Three hundred and eighty-five miles from New York City and traditionally a great place to smuggle, with very, very established groups. Once I talked to a Hells Angel in Ontario, and he said, ‘If it’s me and you, we can talk. If it’s me and you and Ontario, watch your mouth. If it’s me and you and Quebec, shut up and don’t look at me.’ So they’re taken seriously.”
Luis Nájera: “Yeah, Montreal is one of the most important places in Canada, and not only for trade. We know that the connection between New York and Montreal is massive in terms of organized crime. Even criminals in Mexico, they know where Montreal is. And one thing that particularly facilitates operations for Latin American cartels is there’s a large Spanish-speaking population in Montreal, because of the connection with French.”
Edwards: “That’s kind of grad school, for the people who go to Millhaven or Collins Bay [correctional institutions]. There’s a lot of connections made. Millhaven’s a tough place, nicknamed ‘Thrillhaven.’ Collins Bay’s nicknamed ‘Gladiator School.’ It’s a pretty tough place, but that’s kind of the older guys. Like a lot of the the older ones, once they’ve been through there, they decide that maybe it isn’t that much fun and maybe there are better things to do, and ‘I’ve got a little house and I’ve got a nice motorcycle and my wife loves me. Let’s just leave it at that. I don’t want to go back here.'”
Nájera: “And also now with this new wave of criminals coming to these kinds of prisons, it will be very, very interesting to see and to understand how these new dynamics and interactions between younger criminals happen while they’re in jail. It’s completely different than with the older guys, where one group has one area, the other has another area, and they don’t mix together. This new generation, they have a new way of integration and communication, and it’s going to be very, very interesting.”
Edwards: “It’s got a bit of everything. There’s a lot of real estate, a good place to invest, but it’s got everything. I mean, like every kind of group is there and there’s something anonymous and you can live in a really expensive condo, do bad things, and nobody knows you’re there and have a nice, reasonably quiet life.”
Nájera: “Toronto is somehow similar to Panama City. When I went to Panama City a few years ago, I had some good conversations with people there, and they told me, ‘Well, this is pretty much kind of a hub for organized crime. They respect each other here. They talk. They do business. Sometimes they don’t get along well, but they know that bringing a lot of attention from the police to the city is not good for all of them. So they try to do business and kind of stay with a low profile.’ Sometimes here in Toronto, like we presented in the book, there’s people dying — and well, that’s part of the job description if you want to be a mobster.”
Edwards: “Very, very big in the ‘Ndrangheta, the one strain of Mafia, and very politically interested and very interested in real estate and business. Very well-dressed and kind of older.”
Edwards: “Pretty rough-and-ready old Mafia, leaning towards New York State. Some very tough guys out of the East End, and right now, really key people are gone and it’s a bit up for grabs. It’s had a flavour of corruption for a while now. The Hamilton stories just go really deep and really far back. Even the criminals don’t quite get all that’s going on. But there’ve been some big ones, you know: Musitano, Violi, Luppino, Papalia — you know, big, big names. And it’s the closest big city to New York State: when you’re heading down there, that’s where you go. And there have been some unsolved murders that are organized crime, that are kind of statement murders. I mean, a lawyer got murdered for putting someone into a witness-protection program. It hasn’t been solved, and you’d think it’d be pretty simple.”
Nájera: “Very interesting point of connections, and unfortunately, a place where several members of organized crime groups in the area have been murdered.”
Edwards: “And not a big Mafia presence. Like, it’s open territory for other groups that aren’t Mafia.”
Nájera: “Another extremely important port of entry for drugs and whatever you want to bring into Canada or take out to other places. Sometimes it’s complex how relationships between criminals work there, but I guess it’s part of the size of the business. In the past, you had one group controlling the whole thing. Now, they have to learn how to work together somehow. For instance, in Vancouver, you have Hells Angels, you have Independent Soldiers, you have the Red Scorpions, you have several groups working together and sometimes fighting together. But Vancouver is very, very interesting.”
Edwards: “And the Mafia doesn’t have a real presence there that counts for much.”
Nájera: “Also, Vancouver, at least in the past, was kind of a safe haven for the families of drug lords from Mexico. They enjoy sending their families there because of the safety and they don’t drag a lot of attention from the police. And of course, because of the nature and so on. They like to send their family there for the four seasons.”