The Hidden War: Canada, Cartels and Transnational Crime

YoTuT via Flickr
YoTuT via Flickr

The global drug trade, which generates economic activity reaching $321 billion according to the United Nations (UN), has been a major source of violent conflict. This is especially true in Latin America, where Mexico in particular is responsible for violence that continues to spillover into adjacent countries and regional neighbours, including criminal activity in 230 American cities.

Now, cartel spillover is occurring even in Canada, where just four months ago, a major raid was conducted in sixteen different locations, resulting in the arrest of 28 individuals who “trafficked cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana”. The relationship between Mexican cartels and organized crime continues in a more recently exposed trafficking ring between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Hells Angels and various mafias in Canada, which, prior to its busting, smuggled an estimated 450 kilos of narcotics a week into New York. The mutually profitable relationship between Canadian organized crime and the Mexican cartels is only deepening, as Canadian gangs are increasingly partaking in joint ventures with the cartels in order to optimize efficiencies and boost revenues. Such is the case in British Colombia, which has experienced a dramatic rise in narco-trafficking and drug related violence.

The danger of these cartels lies in their infiltration and co-optation of other, non-illicit industries. In Quebec, the Hells Angels and the Italian Mafia are responsible for construction in Montreal as noted in the Quebec Anti-Corruption Unit Report on Criminal Collusion in the Road Construction Industry, which corroborates the fact that there is a: “deeply-rooted and clandestine universe, of an unsuspected scope, that is harmful to our society- in terms of security, the economy, justice and democracy.” To further worsen the situation, the Quebec provincial justice system is so overburdened to the extent that, even after Operation Shark‘s synchronized arrest of 150 Hells Angels in 2009, thirty-one were released due to the impossibility of granting a speedy trial.

Amid public outcry of endemic corruption scandals, the Quebec provincial government specifically enacted the Charbonneau Commission on corruption in 2011, with the ultimate mandate of surveying the extent of corruption caused by the infiltration of organized crime in the construction industry. These inquiries have revealed major municipal corruption at the metropolitan level resulting in the resignation of involved successive mayors (Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay, and Montreal interim-mayor Michael Applebaum) due to their association with this corruption. These events have placed the municipality of Laval under the provincial government’s trusteeship, a future also considered for Montreal. In addition, the commission also shed light on the role of these groups in infiltrating the Fédération des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), the province’s most powerful labour union.


Another concern to consider is the militarization of drug cartels, as well as their alleged collaboration with Islamist militant groups and terrorist organizations. Historically, a symbiotic relationship between revolutionary guerrillas and the drug lords of the now-dismantled Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel developed as a form of mutual beneficence in pursuing their unlawful aims. Similar alliances are emerging between Mexican drug traffickers, like Los Zetas, and Islamist terrorist organizations as evident in Hezbollah’s development of its presence in Mexico. In other words, Mexican cartels have in effect funded Hezbollah and by extension its activities.

When considering the Hells Angels’ drug trafficking activities paralleled with the growing relationship between cartels and terrorist groups, the threat to Canadian national security magnifies in importance. Organized crime has been increasingly fostering entrenched corruption in the socio-economic and political workings of Quebec. Against these evolved organizations, conventional force is ineffective, demonstrating the gradual transformation of a non-state actor role into a growing security concern.

-Alfonso Marin-Aponte