RCMP warns of serious Mafia threat in GTA

September 19, 2012 - All News

A little-known Mafia organization called the ’Ndrangheta has risen to a “Tier 1” national threat, says the RCMP’s top Mafia-hunter in Ontario.
The risk assessment of the increasingly powerful group , whose Canadian power base is in the GTA, is based on criteria that includes, “corruption, scope, violence, infiltration, sophistication, expertise, subversion, strategy, discipline, insulation, multiple enterprises, group cohesiveness, (and) monopoly,” Supt. Kevin Harrison said in an exclusive interview with the Toronto Star and Radio-Canada.
“Part of the reason that they are (so powerful) is because of the influence that they have economically,” Harrison said. “And that’s not something that hits you in the face like a body bleeding on the sidewalk like you have in Montreal. They are very savvy, they run under the radar in terms of public notoriety but yet they are so pervasive in the economy.
Harrison’s comments come as the Charbonneau Inquiry in Montreal probes links between organized crime, politicians and the construction industry.
He noted that in Italy the ’Ndrangheta is considered more powerful than the better-known Sicilian Mafia.
“Certainly in Italy they are the pinnacle,” Harrison said. “That translates to their rise and significance here in Canada.”
Ben Soave, who retired in 2004 as chief superintendent in charge of the RCMP’s organized crime unit in Ontario, told the Star and Radio-Canada that while Mafia groups in the GTA have a “much lower profile . . . they’re probably more active than in Quebec.”
“They can operate as effectively and be as damaging as what they’re doing in Montreal,’ he said.
While he offered no specific example of political corruption, Soave said he is certain Mafia groups have a wide swath of influence — “from political figures, to law enforcement, to people in the criminal justice system and the manufacturing industries.”
“Sometimes the politicians are very naive people,” Soave said. “They don’t look at the danger, the risk of . . . they shake hands, they take money . . . and then ask for forgiveness.
“This is one of the fundamental issues about organized crime. People do not want to admit that they have a problem. The people in Montreal feel it much more so than here, they understand it. It’s daily in the newspapers there. Here (in Ontario) we’re very naive. We’re very naive.”
At the International Plowing Match east of Kitchener, Premier Dalton McGuinty said he never received warnings from police or other authorities about organized crime infiltrating Ontario politics and doubts the accusations are true.
“If there are some serious and warranted allegations they need to be made in a substantive way, not through the media,” he told reporters.
“The first time I hear about this is through the media. And I would expect that people in positions of responsibility among our police services would be drawing this to our attention at the earliest possible opportunity.
“I have no reason to believe that they would want to keep this quiet and confidential if, in fact, this is grounded in reality. I would think they would have approached us in a constructive way some time ago.
“If there’s some truth to this, then let’s get it on the table. Provide us with the background to this.”
The RCMP estimates the ’Ndrangheta have seven “locali,” or cells, most of which are based in the GTA, Harrison said.
Harrison cautioned that he has seen no evidence of political corruption, unlike large-scale scandals that have rocked Italy.
“That doesn’t mean they don’t have influence in the municipalities because of the economic wealth they have in smaller areas,” Harrison said. “They are into lots of legitimate business.”
Harrison said he now has 50 officers, with 40 in the GTA and another 10 in the Golden Horseshoe, working Mafia activity full time.
The concerns expressed by Harrison and Soave were echoed by a top Italian prosecutor interviewed in the joint Toronto Star-Radio-Canada investigation.
“Canada is a virgin land for the ’Ndrangheta,” Roberto DiPalma, a senior prosecutor for Italy’s famed Direzione distrettuale antimafia — the Anti-Mafia Directorate — said in an interview.
“It’s a strategic place because it’s very close to the U.S. and it has been chosen by the ’Ndrangheta as a very important point for the international affairs. It’s a very good place for laundering money and a very good place for re-investing the money in the legal economy.”
DiPalma said Italian authorities have “passed important information to Canadian police” about what he calls “one of the most powerful organized crime groups in the world.”
— Torstar News Service