Understanding Calgary Gangs from a Criminal Defence Lawyer's Perspective

In an article shared here last week, we saw how new and ongoing research is continuing to shed light on the problems of gang-related crime and violence in the Calgary area. This article noted that many new immigrants and first-generation Canadians in Calgary and surrounding cities such as Airdrie and Cochrane feel shut out of Calgarian society at large, and might even face physical violence at the hands of other residents, making gangs seem an attractive alternative to a life of near-constant threat and oppression.

Gang-related crimes present a complex issue in terms of Calgary's culture and society, and the criminal justice system is not always quick to catch up with emerging understandings of these complexities. Defence lawyers in the region tend to have a more nuanced and inquisitive view than many others, though Crown prosecutors and even law enforcement agencies are also beginning to shift attitudes in their approaches towards gangs, emphasizing prevention and rehabilitation rather than punishment. These changes are coming at a slower pace than many would like to see, but the fact that they are occurring is a step in the right direction.

Still, the public at large has an understanding of gang members that might not be accurate, and that does not tend to be helpful in the prevention of gang-related crimes and other criminal justice issues associated with gang involvement. A perspective from an experienced Calgary criminal defence lawyer might help bridge the gap between the perception and the realities of gang-related crime.

Calgary Communities Are the First Defence Against Gang-Related Crimes

Human beings crave a sense of connection and community, and the citizens of Calgary—all of the citizens of Calgary—are no exception. People want to feel like they belong, a lack of this feeling can be the cause for a range of criminal behaviors. A sense of being ostracized or cut off from the community or other interpersonal relationships can lead to aggression, drug use, and other social problems that can become criminal justice issues. While this does not excuse criminal acts, it is an important fact for anyone with an interest in the criminal justice system to understand.

In the case of gangs and gang-related crime, many alleged gang members and criminal offenders felt removed from the greater Calgary community and so aligned themselves with a smaller community of their own—a gang. These gang communities are almost never seen as the ideal life even by those who join them; they are simply the best alternative available in a city or region that does not appear to be offering a larger sense of connectedness and a more secure and positive sense of purpose. When members of Calgary area gangs are charged with criminal offences, failing to recognize the fundamental human motivations behind the offence leaves the real social and criminal justice problem untouched.

An effective defence for anyone charged with a gang-related criminal offence must begin by setting aside the stigma associated with gang affiliation, and coming to an understanding of the human being behind the "gangster." My goal as a criminal defence lawyer is to defend all of Calgary's citizens, including gang members themselves, from the problems gang membership can cause. This begins by addressing the problems that bring gangs into existence in the first place.

If you or a family has been charged with a gang-related crime, or if you are concerned about potentially illegal gang activities you or a family member is involved in, please reach out for help. Dedicated criminal defence lawyer Susan Karpa is available for a free consultation over the phone or in her Calgary office, so please call today.

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