Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of the House of Commons

Statement on Organized Crime
by Mani Amar

Presented April 30th, 2009

To the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
of the House of Commons (Vancouver)

Dear Committee and guests,

My name is Mani Amar, I am an independent filmmaker, writer, and activist based out of Vancouver, BC.

I have been invited here today to share my views on the state of Organized Crime and offer suggestions in order that the Committee may make recommendations in a report to the House of Commons.

I believe that my invitation was based on the film I have recently released, ‘A Warrior’s Religion.’ It is a documentary film which was my attempt to discover the root precursors on why so many South Asians were heavily involved in organized crime in Metro Vancouver during the last 19 years.

I hope that my experiences garnered in the production of this film, along with my ongoing research on this issue can help provide insight, in turn shedding some light on this dark situation.

Youth & Our Educational System

In today’s society, more so than ever before, there exists a very heavy influence of materialism. Our youth are literally programmed by advertisements and popular media that their progression of success is measured by the ruler of wealth. This phenomenon is not unique to only Canada; it is slowly but surely becoming a global phenomenon.

When youth are taught directly and indirectly, by their own families and friends, in every direction they look, that they are notcool‘ because they lack the newest electronic gadget or the brand name pair of shoes; you are hindering the selfconfidence growth of that child.

Where there is the lack of selfconfidence, there is a very dangerous void, a void that is preyed upon by older youth. This void is exceptional in its fertility for growing misguided morals and ethics.

One of the most common recruitment measures put into practice by youth on youth is bullying.

Bullying is a tried, tested, and proven to work technique. Imagine a youth, an impressionable youth, and remember that all youth are impressionable, is being ridiculed for not having those ‘cool’ items I mentioned before. Every day he comes to school to be ‘picked’ on, made fun of, teased to the point of tears and beyond, and secluded from the group that decides what the norm is. Ladies and gentlemen, we now have an atrisk youth.

This boy will one day be told by some other boys that he does not need to fear bullying or being ridiculed if he joins their group. Ladies and gentlemen, we now have an alliance. This atrisk youth now has learned that he is protected when he has the strength of his friends with him.

Though these childhood alliances may or may not last to the point of becoming criminal, the atrisk youth’s subconscious has now been engrained with the feeling of protection, the feeling of power, when they possess these types of alliances.

This is one example of how a youth can become atrisk. There are many paths that can lead a child to this point. Let it be society’s stress on materialism, the lack of proper parenting, the lack of attention at school, or what have you. The fact is we are creating more atrisk youth than ever before.

Moving forward with this example; what if there was awareness of this bait strategy? What if we could teach our youth from an early age in our schools that these are bait strategies that other children could use on them? Perhaps the young boy will make a positive choice by saying ‘no’ to joining a group.

Perhaps he saying no will create a benchmark for the boy to rebuild the selfconfidence that he lacks.

Everyone is well aware of the four pillars of action: awareness, prevention, intervention, enforcement.

In my humble opinion I believe there to be much focus on the latter two pillars; intervention and enforcement. Than on the two pillars we should be focusing on; awareness and prevention. Focus and resources on these two pillars can drastically reduce the recruitment pool of atrisk youth.

Awareness; having knowledge, conscious, cognizant, informed, alert, mindful.
Prevention; effectual hindrance.
Intervention; interruption, obstruction.
Enforcement; to compel observance of or obedience to.

Ladies and Gentlemen, which of these two pillars sounds like the easier tasks?

As much as the youth being bullied is atrisk, so is the bully. That void that exists in the bullied youth is the same void the bully himself encompasses. However his void is most likely engulfed with fear and insecurities; fear and insecurities which are alleviated with the showcase of power.

Bullying is an issue that is taking place in our schools just as it did when we all were growing up. However the means to complete the bullying is no longer just physical, another phenomenon; cyber bullying has come into prominence. Now the bullied youth have less chance of escape and the bullies have another tool to accomplish their goals.

I believe that the ratio of teacher to student, though stagnant over the last 20 years, needs to vastly decrease. It is not a feasible task for a teacher, essentially a 3rd parent, to provide the attention required for each youth when they are to be mindful of an average of 30 students per classroom. That bully, who is in desperate need of attention, who is crying out for help subconsciously in his actions, will most likely not receive the attention required to help get them on the correct path once again.

Another important topic I wanted to bring to your attention is the steady decrease in funding for expression based subjects in the scholastic system. I cannot stress the immense importance of expression based subjects such as art, music, & creative writing. I am living proof of this importance. I was at one point an atrisk youth. I was atrisk because of precursors such as the witnessing of domestic violence, alcohol abuse, prescription drug abuse, and suicide. I was atrisk due to the punishment technique employed by my parents of spanking that was in hindsight borderline child abuse if not child abuse. I felt the effects of being ridiculed and not ‘fitting in’. It was a very trying time and I was walking a path that would have led me to an early and needless death. Though I was not walking towards youth gang activity, I was learning that I can defeat my oppressors with my fists. Though I did not ‘pick’ fights, I never walked away when one was ‘picked’ with me. I was a ‘closed book’, suffocating to the point of contemplating suicide when one day I picked up a pen and a piece of paper and wrote. That is the day I saved my life and I never shy away from telling youth from the dark depths that I climbed out from. If I was given more exposure to the arts in my teens I believe I could have lived my epiphany earlier. There is so much on the minds of these youth that they are looking for outlets. Not all of us are built to solve mathematical formulas or do science experiments. I was a youth desperately seeking an outlet that I luckily found before it was too late. I am not the only one desperately seeking an outlet. Many youth exist in the same situation I once did.

Prevention is the stage of action we employ when we have to take counter active measures in order to stop youth from going down the wrong path.

It seems as though we have become comfortable to the point where we only take action after the youth takes their first footsteps on a oneway path.

For us to intervene there has to be a situation taking place that needs intervening. Situations such as youth violence, gang violence, drug trade, and drug abuse amongst many others.

Decisions are made, life choices are accepted; these youth will find it very difficult to come back. We will find it very difficult to bring them back. They will be moving faster on a downward slide in life.

From a financial stance, this is the 2nd most expensive pillar of action. Dollars and cents seem to make the biggest impact in politics and government progression, so here it is, in blood and bodies, in dollars and in cents.

The crime is done. The damage is done. The drugs have been sold. The lives have been lost. The souls have been lost.

Bringing a person back through means of intervention was difficult but not impossible. The increase in penalties and stricter penalties; these modes will not work. You cannot deter someone who has learned of the financial prowess of the criminal underworld. You cannot deter someone who has become addicted to power. Your only choice is to enforce. But does it work? What is the percentage of criminals that can lead ordinary lives after release? How many reoffend? The victims will never be alive again. The damage is done! We should not let it even get to this point. Enforcement is the most expensive pillar of action. Overcrowded jails and civil servants with too much on their proverbial plates, we are creating a society of acceptance and comfort of these growing issues.

If youth were aware, they would not need prevention.

If youth were prevented from going down a wrong path, they would not need intervention.

If intervened early enough, they would not need enforcement.

We need to start from the ground up. Start early with our youth. Decrease the recruitment pool of youth readily available to older youth for the drug trade and other street level criminal activities.

Stark Contrast of BC Gang Members to the ‘Typical Gangster’

During the 1980s we had an influx of murders in the Asian Community in Metro Vancouver. In the 1990s we had an influx of murders in the South Asian Community in Metro Vancouver. Both of these minorities are in stark contrast of what we believe the typical North American gangster to be. These communities were not oppressed. They did not experience urban blight or poverty. There were not extraordinary amounts of racial tension. They did not come from broken homes or homes that experienced drug abuse.

The typical North American gang member (for this comparison, let us look at the AfricanAmerican gangsters from south Los Angeles), the majority came from homes that had one parent, usually a single mother. Most had a father who has served time in a correctional facility or is currently serving time in a correctional facility. Most live in areas of extreme urban blight and poverty. And everyone here today is well aware of the racial tension that has existed in the United States for many years.

So the question is why so many gangsters in BC?

In British Columbia, specifically Metro Vancouver, we have a rapidly growing industry with such great criminal potential. We have the globally renowned ‘BC Bud’; British Columbia’s marijuana trade. This trade rivals that of Columbia’s cocaine trade and Afghanistan’s heroin trade, a trade that is worth more than 7 billion dollars annually.

Now you have an atrisk youth who falls through the system and you have a rapidly growing industry that is quite easy to get into. It is very easy to see how British Columbia has become a super power in the drug trade and so immersed with organized crime.

BC Bud

The number one reason why there are so many gangs existing in Metro Vancouver is due to the British Columbia marijuana trade.

British Columbia and specifically Metro Vancouver have a geographic predisposition to succeed in this avenue. We hold very strong trade routes west to east as we are a coastal province and port city. We also have strong north to south trade routes through shipping via container ships and transport via our thriving trucking industry.

So if the criminal underworld thrives through the prohibition of marijuana, it seems logical to legalize, regulate, and tax their major incentive. If the government is in control of the product we are no longer perpetuating these gangs to continue existing.

Prohibition of alcohol in the early part of the 20th century did not work for the United States. It instead gave more power to the criminal underworld creating gangs that had created so much wealth and power that they nearly became main stream. That same prohibition is what helped establish a criminal underworld in Vancouver and we have been limping forward ever since.

It is in the last 30 years or so where BC Bud has become renowned. As soon as the organized crime groups realized its potential they gladly took a hold of this industry and made it their number one priority.

We are no longer dealing with gangs that rely on import and export of goods. BC Bud is controlled from the ground up as it is domestically produced.

Though numbers vary, it is estimated that there are over 20000 growops in BC.

There is 300500 million dollars allocated annually for the enforcement of marijuana laws in Canada.

This only leaves 100 million or less for the enforcement of hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth.

That is a lot of tax dollars allocated towards a drug that has no addictive properties and has no overdose deaths associated to it.

The prohibition has not limited the amount of users and has definitely not slowed down supply and demand.

Alcohol is regulated and taxed by the government. That is why no gangs exist off of alcohol trade anymore.

It is much easier for a youth to buy drugs than it is to buy alcohol.

The regulation and taxation will help vastly reduce the incentive for young men to get involved in street level drug trade. The taxation of this industry can also help us strengthen our economy and we must look at it as a natural resource as is Alberta’s crude oil.

Just because something is legal does not mean everyone will do it. I have never consumed alcohol and I do not plan to, regardless if it was legal or not. The same goes for marijuana, I have never tried it and never plan to.

We have the ability to significantly decrease the amount of crime in the province of BC. We must take the model approach that helped save Amsterdam.

In Conclusion

Our most important resource is our future. And our future will not exist if we do not protect our youth. This is the most fundamental point in this statement. We must protect our youth. We cannot enter the ‘ring’ after the fight has been going on for 2 or 3 rounds. The referee needs to be in the ‘ring’ from the start. We need to make our youth aware of the issues they will face and be readily available to prevent them from making poor decisions. Intervention and enforcement are only needed if a punch is thrown. I pray that we can create a society that no longer needs these two pillars.

I stressed upon the youth in this statement because it is important to remember that as a youngster we learn the tendencies that ultimately help make our decisions, decisions that can dictate our future. Youth are all born colour blind, unable to see skin colour, only able to see friends, but they can easily be taught hate, they can easily be taught racism.

Finally, I am no advocate of drug use. But I do see the logic in the legalization of marijuana, if not nationally, we should at the very least consider provincially.

I sincerely thank you for allowing me the opportunity to provide insight on organized crime and suggestions on how to reduce it. It is through collaborative approaches and the willingness to listen that can help solve many of the world’s issues.

© Copyright Mani Amar

About Me
In self-reflection; I can honestly say all that is good in my life has been a direct result of my artistic expression. Be it through writing poetry, prose, or philosophy, through painting or photography, or through filmmaking, art saved my life and it can save yours.
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