Summit on Gun and Gang Violence: Summary Report


Firearm-related homicides in Canada have been steadily increasing, reaching a total of 223 in 2016, 44 more than the previous year. Shootings have now become the most common method of homicide, surpassing homicide by stabbing and beating. Gang-related homicides involving guns are no exception. In 2016 alone, police reported 141 gang-related homicides, 45 more than in 2015. Since 2013, gang-related homicides in Canada's largest cities have almost doubled.

In November 2017, the federal government announced approximately $327.6 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, and $100 million annually thereafter, in new federal funding to tackle the increase in gun related violence and gang activity in Canada. This initiative will bring together federal, provincial and territorial efforts to support community-level prevention and enforcement efforts, build and leverage unique federal expertise and resources to advance intelligence related to the illegal trafficking of firearms, and invest in border security to interdict illicit goods including guns and drugs. Funding would also be provided to Indigenous communities and organizations to help build capacity through education, outreach and research, addressing the unique needs of Indigenous communities and urban populations. The initiative will help reduce criminal gun and gang violence so that Canadians can feel safe in their communities.

Summit on Gun and Gang Violence

As part of this overall initiative, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness convened a Summit on Gun and Gang Violence on March 7, 2018, in Ottawa to engage stakeholders and address the challenges, opportunities and best practices for reducing gun crime and gang violence in Canada. More than 180 individuals participated in the Summit and provided their perspectives and input on these important issues, including representatives of community, youth and Indigenous organizations, law enforcement, criminal justice, all levels of government, former gang members, academics, gun-owner groups and victims of violence.


The overall summit objectives were to:

Participant Engagement

As mentioned, the over 180 participants included representatives of community, youth and Indigenous organizations, law enforcement, criminal justice, all levels of government, former gang members, academics, gun-owner groups and victims of violence. In addition to a rich variety of presentations (see Appendix A), at the end of the day participants engaged in table discussions to consider the way forward and offer advice to the Minister.

The proceedings were also available via webcast, livestreamed on the Public Safety Canada website and by the CBC and CPAC. There was active engagement on social media, with #gunsandgangs trending well throughout the day. Individuals who were not able to physically be present were able to provide input through a number of avenues, including the Public Safety Canada website and by e-mail during the live webcast.

The proceedings are available for viewing on line (recorded webcast).

Summary of Proceedings

The Summit's agenda was organized according to four broad themes:

In addition, the last session of the afternoon allowed for facilitated discussion on a variety of topics: prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation initiatives; legislative and regulatory initiatives; investigation and enforcement activities; knowledge, data and information sharing; partnerships and collaboration; and, funding.


Brief summaries of the presentations included in each of these themes appear in Appendix A. The presenters reminded the audience that there is considerable regional variability in the characteristics of gangs – as well as in the responses found to be most successful in addressing them. The nature of gangs has been evolving, and the new forms and ways of operating pose an increasing challenge for law enforcement. There has also been an emergence of “new age gangs” –  a term used by Dr. Catherine Prowse to describe the loose-knit and fluid groups of “players” who are part of a leader's social network, without necessarily having a gang name and group identity, and are not tied to a geographic turf.

While gang members are primarily male, and new Canadians and Indigenous people are over-represented in gangs, in her studies of Manitoba gangs, Dr. Kathleen Buddle found a significant degree of cross-cultural integration, as individuals tend to face similar struggles that cut across ethnic, racial and cultural lines.

Gang members, and prospective members, are often struggling with the effects of trauma, the child welfare system, colonialism, family and community violence, poverty, homelessness, lack of education, bullying, marginalization, dislocation, societal inequities and other structural and systemic issues. Impoverished communities are also the primary victims of gang crime and violence, according to
Dr. Buddle.

Gangs are increasingly innovative in their approaches. For example, the trade in illegal firearms is aided by the “darknet” on the worldwide web, which allows anonymity and provides a borderless, international on-line trade in illicit materials including illegal drugs and stolen firearms. Tracking is extremely difficult and policing the darknet requires highly skilled investigators.
In responding both to this phenomenon and gang activity more generally, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and other law enforcement entities work collaboratively, domestically and internationally, to curb the illicit movement of firearms, and to trace seized firearms and identify the sources. Complementarily, across the country, the training of prosecutors, law enforcement and others in the criminal justice system is ongoing in an effort to curb organized crime and firearms-related offences.

At the level of prevention and intervention, collaborative community programs are working to support young people and others in terms of helping them decide against pursuing gang life or to exit from a gang. Support is also necessary, and provided in innovative fashions, for family and friends of gang members and former gang members, as well as for individuals and communities who have been impacted or victimized by gang activities and crime. Many such interventions focus on the individual and work to develop holistic approaches to intervention.

A small number of extracted comments from presenters serve to illustrate the complexity of gun and gang violence.

 “When you see a kid that's at risk [of joining a gang] the majority of these kids didn't even eat in the morning; they don't have a father at home…They're told ‘stay away from gangs' but maybe the gang member is helping them get something to eat. Have sympathy for these kids. They're struggling. They're struggling from the inside out…. They're all lost.”

- Mr. Benjamin Royalz Kwofie, The Remix Project

“A hopeful child will never join a gang.”

- Mr. Alex Munoz, STR8 UP

 “Young people may make wrong choices and, also, we have systems that fail them.”  

- Dr. Hieu Ngo, University of Calgary

“Gang and organized crime investigations are extremely complex and take a tremendous amount of resources to investigate and to prosecute.”

- Jim Gresham, Assistant Commissioner, RCMP (British Columbia)

Participant Discussion

In the final session of the Summit, participants were asked to discuss and present their views regarding the way forward in addressing gun and gang violence and how to improve and strengthen strategies and initiatives. A number of key themes arose during these discussions and were paralleled both via the other means participants had to provide feedback and in the presentations. Participant feedback is summarized thematically below, and is presented in greater detail in Appendix B.

Supporting Prevention, Intervention and Rehabilitation Initiatives

Initiatives need to address the most vulnerable people, be culturally sensitive, relevant to community needs and involve the people that they serve. As well, initiatives should look beyond the immediate problem of guns and gangs to holistic, “healthy communities” approaches and those that address the roots of violence. Moreover, it is important that a richness of different interventions exist in order to target different needs and reach different clienteles, such as youth, women, and Indigenous Peoples.

Legislative and Regulatory Changes

Legislative and regulatory initiatives' effectiveness can be strengthened when these are aligned at federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal levels, and when such initiatives are introduced in a timely manner. New initiatives should be nimble and responsive to changing realities.  For example, these could include restricting bulk firearm purchasers, requiring sellers of non-restricted firearms to keep sales records to enable tracking of gun ownership, adopting measures to address the use of rental vehicles for criminal activity, and updating privacy and related legislation to ensure appropriate access to information in a gang activity context.

Improving Effectiveness of Investigation and Enforcement Activities

Effective investigation and enforcement around gangs and gang activity requires specific training for police working in this area, including training and technology resources around investigating illegal gun and gang activity on the internet. More detailed suggestions were also made, such as expanding the ability of enforcement agencies to use canine units to establish probable cause.

Knowledge, Data and Information-Sharing

There is a need for enhancements both in data collection/reporting and information sharing. Participants identified the need for research that is informed by law enforcement and community groups working in the areas of guns and gangs, such as predictive analysis of emerging “hot spots” of gang activity, as well as sources and movement of firearms and gang members. Finally, there is a need for increased information-sharing, both of research and best practices, as well as opportunities like the Summit where those working in the field can share experiences.

Partnerships and Collaboration

There is a need to improve collaboration within sectors and across sectors at the community, regional and national levels. Initiatives to explore include formalizing partnerships through Memoranda of Understanding and promoting the need for organizations to have a defined strategy for collaboration, perhaps as a requirement for program funding.


Addressing the challenge of gangs and their underlying issues is a long-term endeavour that requires long-term, stable funding to be successfully addressed. Funding should not only target supporting proven, evidence-based programs but should also be flexible enough to support innovative, new approaches that may not yet be proven.

Appendix A: Presentation Summaries and Agenda

Opening Remarks

The Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Canada

“We cannot arrest, charge and imprison our way out of this problem.” Better prevention strategies and a collaborative, multi-sectoral approach to gun and gang violence are needed, to improve the safety and security of communities. A coherent national approach is necessary because gun violence and criminal gang activity cross borders and change shape quickly. Minister Goodale reminded participants of the government's November 2017 commitment of $327.6 million in new federal funding over five years, and $100 million every year thereafter, to combat gun and gang violence.

The National and Regional Picture

Dr. Catherine Prowse, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Calgary, Alberta

Studying the social networks of “New-Age Gangs” reveals gang formations that have arisen over the past 15 years alongside more traditional street gangs. Instead of having a clear internal structure, group identity and turf, they are drawn from a leader's personal network, with fluid membership and commodity-based turf rather than geographically anchored turf. The fluid, mobile and cross-jurisdictional nature of “new-age gangs” poses an increasing challenge for law enforcement.  (The research is detailed in Dr. Prowse's book, Defining Street Gangs in the 21st Century: Fluid, Mobile and Transnational Networks.)

Dr. Hieu Ngo, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, Alberta

The work of addressing gang violence needs to be anchored in the Canadian reality and begins with an understanding of young people's lives, taking particular note of racialized minorities and those born outside of Canada. We need to see youth not only as gang-involved but as whole human beings, and consider their cultures, their roles and interactions in their families and communities, and their identity formation. We need to look both at the choices they have made and the ways that our societal systems may have failed them.

Dr. Kathleen Buddle, Faculty of Anthropology, University of Manitoba, Manitoba

Indigenous and poor newcomer youth are over-represented in Manitoba gangs and these same communities experience a high victimization rate. We need to examine the life cycle of individuals within gangs from one generation to the next and consider the context of immigration and child welfare policies, Indigenous rights struggles, the Indigenous healing movement, multiple areas of legislation and colonialism. We need to address the structural constraints that situate socio-economically and culturally-marginalized youth “at the lowest rungs of Canadian society.”

Mr. Alex Munoz, Executive Director, STR8 UP Inc., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

STR8UP is one of the only organizations that works strictly with ex-gang members in Saskatchewan, helping people remove themselves from gangs and recover from the effects of gang life. Since its founding in the 1990s, STR8UP has served more than 400 people and presented over 2000 times to organizations across Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba on the realities of gang-life. Holding true to its grassroots beginnings, STR8 UP former gang members represent one-third of its Board of Directors and one-half of its staff.  As individuals struggle with the effects of trauma, the child welfare system, colonization and more, STR8UP supports them to “determine their own destiny” in numerous ways, including peer mentoring and job placement. STR8UP works both inside and outside the correctional institutions to make individuals and communities safer and healthier. It is currently, both “underfunded and understaffed”.

Ms. Jorgina Sunn, Peer Mentor and Board Member, STR8 UP Inc., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

People who come to STR8UP are at a point of hopelessness and are met with unconditional love from the founders of the organization and others. They are supported to transition away from gangs, overcome addictions, find employment, and more. As an ex-gang member, Ms. Sunn can attest that “making these changes was extremely terrifying.” It is essential to understand the personal situation of people who have left gangs and help them heal, because “we need healthy people to make healthy communities.”

Data on Guns

Ms. Lynn Barr-Telford, Director General, Health, Justice and Special Surveys, Statistics Canada

The only information Statistics Canada has, related to gang criminal activity, is on gang-related homicides. The statistics, with the exception of homicide, do not include data from Quebec. While there is a downward trend in the overall rate of violent crime, there has been an increase in gun-related crime since 2013. About half of gun-related homicides are gang-related. There are still significant gaps in the data. For example, we do not know if firearm-related violent crimes are linked to organized crime.

Gangs and Social Networks

Dr. Martin Bouchard, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia

Social networks are an essential feature of gangs. Networks provide information on their relationships both inside and outside of the gang, as well as gang members' decision-making around collaboration for specific crimes. Social network analysis can help predict who will become a gang member, who is likely to be a current member, and who may become a victim of gang-related violence. Some gangs have a "core," some don't; in approaching the issue of gang boundaries, we need to assume little, and follow the social ties.  Mapping gang networks can help shape proactive action in prevention, intervention and enforcement approaches.

Internet Smuggling and Trafficking

Mr. Rob O'Reilly, Director, Firearms Regulatory Services, RCMP

Most of the internet (about 95%) is accessible only with special software and tools and is known as the Deep Web. A smaller component of this Deep Web is the Darknet, where certain tools can allow anonymous interaction and content, setting the stage for an international on-line market in illicit goods, including illegal firearms. Cryptocurrencies and “stealth shipping” methods help sellers and buyers evade detection, and their methods evolve rapidly. Thus, conducting on-line investigations requires highly skilled personnel.

Regional Leaders' Perspectives

His Worship John Tory, Mayor of Toronto, Ontario

Canadian cities are generally safe by world standards, but we cannot be satisfied with current trend lines.  In Toronto, at least 65% of gun homicides have some connection to gangs. Toronto has developed a number of successful approaches, including a Gun and Gang Task Force; integrating different levels of policing; and Focus Toronto, addressing issues like housing and mental health. There are numerous gaps and shortcomings in terms of legislation, collaboration and availability of federal resources for effective community action.

Mr. Jim Gresham, Assistant Commissioner, RCMP (British Columbia)

The issue of gangs and organized crime is one of the top policing priorities across the country. British Columbia is a major trans-shipment point for illegal goods, including drugs and firearms. B.C. uses an integrated enforcement model, bringing together local, provincial and federal forces, and police forces to collaborate with community partners. Initiatives include Surrey Wraparound, the End Gang Life Program, the Gang Intervention and Community Engagement Officer Program, and the Prolific Violent Gang Offender Management Program.

Mr. Mario Harel, President, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

The issue of gun violence and gangs extends from our largest cities to our most remote communities. We must all work together, with collaboration among policing agencies and among the various levels of government for funding. We need to look at the social dimensions, the trans-border and international dimensions, and remove impediments that prevent law enforcement agencies from obtaining the evidence they need. Regarding privacy and security issues, “privacy should not mean anonymity”.

Honourable Mike Farnworth, British Columbia Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General

British Columbia has a multi-pronged anti-gang strategy to address gangs and alleviate their effects. There are numerous initiatives in prevention, intervention and enforcement. The BC Illegal Firearms Task Force made 37 recommendations in the Fall of 2017, issuing a call for the federal government to enhance certain federal laws and programs, including changes to the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act. It is important to address the links between organized crime, guns and drugs, particularly opioids, and to make sure these initiatives are adequately resourced.

Alternative Approaches to Gun and Gang Violence

International Firearms Smuggling and Interdiction

Ms. Lisa Janes, Director General, Border Operations, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)

The CBSA provides integrated border services, processing over 90 million travelers arriving in Canada annually. Approximately 96% of 2017 firearm seizures arrived by highway. CBSA uses technology and dog teams to detect concealed firearms and other prohibited goods. CBSA collaborates with other domestic and international law enforcement agencies, working to curb the illegal smuggling of firearms and to trace seized firearms in order to identify trafficking networks. They also collaborate to identify persons who are part of organized crime groups.

After the Seizure of a Firearm

Inspector Denis Savard, Officer in Charge, National Weapons Enforcement Support Team (NWEST), RCMP

Focusing in on at what happens after a firearm seizure, there are two specialized units which offer support to all law enforcement agencies. These are NWEST and the Canadian National Firearms Tracing Centre (CNFTC). NWEST offers expertise in areas such as classifying firearms, providing expert testimony, firearms testing, support in writing search warrants, etc. CNFTC works to identify the source of illegal and illicit firearms, providing additional investigative elements in criminal cases.

Training of Prosecutors across Canada

Mr. Vincent Paris, Crown Counsel, Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General

The Ministry works to educate criminal prosecutors, enforcement personnel and others across the country in the extremely complex process of prosecuting organized crime offences, beginning with education on the application of the Criminal Code. The second area of education and training is in prosecuting firearms offences. They provide timely updates and education on legislative challenges and support collaboration and integration among agencies, including Corrections, Probation and Parole, CBSA, and others.

Working with At-risk Youth

Ms. Lindsay Daniller, Director, Community Initiatives and Strategic Development, and Ms. Holly Hallborg, WrapED Project Manager, REACH Edmonton, Alberta

WrapED focuses on 12-17-year-old Indigenous, immigrant and refugee youth, at risk of, or engaged in gang activity. They include some of Edmonton's most vulnerable youth. WrapED uses a High Fidelity WrapAround Process. It relies upon collaboration among youth facilitators from four front-line agencies and the local police service. The emphasis is on developing meaningful relationships with the youth, helping them access resources, encouraging cultural connections, and supporting “client voice and choice”.

Ms. Alison Gutrath, Community Coordinator, In It Together, Abbotsford, British Columbia

Abbotsford had the second-highest homicide rate in Canada in 2017 and has a high rate of gang activity. In It Together, a five-year project of Abbotsford Community Services funded by Public Safety Canada, works to reduce gang involvement through collaboration with community partners, including John Howard Society of the Lower Mainland of BC, Abbotsford Police Department and the Abbotsford School District. They serve youth ages 12-30 and their families using the Comprehensive Gang Reduction Model, applying strategies in prevention, intervention, suppression and re-integration. Services are offered in both English and Punjabi. Clients have individual service plans which may include attending a youth recreation or parent group; counselling; music therapy and one-to-one work with staff.  One client now uses music to support others. “I used to see myself as a criminal,” he said. “Now I see myself as a musician.”

Summit on Gun and Gang Violence

Summit on Gun and Gang Violence
Time Agenda

111 Sussex Drive, Ottawa 
March 7, 2018  |  7:30 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.

7:30 / 07 h 30

Breakfast and Registration

8:15 / 08 h 15

Welcome, Elder's Blessing, Opening Remarks

9:00 / 09 h 00

Presentation #1
Setting the Stage –
The National and Regional Picture

  • Dr. Catherine Prowse, University of Calgary
  • Dr. Hieu Ngo, University of Calgary
  • Dr. Kathleen Buddle, University of Manitoba
  • Alex Munoz and Jorgina Sunn, STR8 UP, Saskatoon

Data on Guns

  • Lynn Barr-Telford, Director General, Health, Justice, and Special Surveys, Statistics Canada

10:15 / 10 h 15


10:30 / 10 h 30

Presentation #2 
Gangs - How They Operate and Use Technology
Social Networking
Gangs and social networking

  • Dr. Martin Bouchard, Simon Fraser University

Internet Smuggling and Trafficking
The rise and challenge of darknet markets and firearms internet trends.

    • Rob O'Reilly, Director of Firearms Regulatory Services, RCMP

11:00 / 11 h 00

Presentation #3
Regional Leaders' Perspectives
Leaders will present on their jurisdictions' challenges, initiatives and best practices.

  •  Mayor John Tory, Toronto
  • Mario Harel, President, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Jim Gresham, Assistant Commissioner, RCMP (BC)
  • Honourable Mike Farnworth, Minister, BC

12:00 / 12 h 00


1:00 / 13 h 00

Presentation #4
Alternative Approaches to Gun and Gang Violence

Law Enforcement
International firearms smuggling and interdiction

  • Lisa Janes, Director General, Border Operations, Canada Border Services Agency

After the seizure of a firearm – National Weapons Enforcement Support Team (NWEST) support to law enforcement

  • Inspector Denis Savard, Officer in Charge, NWEST, RCMP

Criminal Justice System
Training of Prosecutors across Canada on firearms cases

  • Vincent Paris, Crown Counsel, Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General

Working With At-risk Youth
What motivates individuals to join gangs, and to leave them?

  • Holly Hallborg and Lindsay Daniller, Wraparound Edmonton
  • Alison Gutrath, In It Together, Abbotsford

2:15 / 14 h 15


2:30 / 14 h 30

Seeking Outcomes

4:20 / 16 h 20

Wrap-up and Closing Remarks (25 mins)

Appendix B: Details of Participant Discussion

Feedback was gathered not only from participants at the Summit, but also via email from those who made submissions during the event.

Supporting Prevention, Intervention and Rehabilitation Initiatives

Legislative and Regulatory Changes

Improving Effectiveness of Investigation and Enforcement Activities

Knowledge, Data and Information-Sharing

Partnerships and Collaboration


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