Why Some Calgary Newcomers May Turn to Gangs

Calgary has faced, and continues to face, the gang-related crime found in most cities with a large and diverse population. While social programs and law enforcement efforts have been somewhat successful in curbing gang activity in the city and of mitigating its worst effects, the best way for Calgary and the criminal justice system to handle gang-related crimes is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Though this may seem obvious, it is easier said than done.

Preventing the spread of gang violence and other crimes requires an understanding of how gangs form and why individuals choose to join gangs in the first place. One professor has taken to the streets of Calgary to study that very question, and though his results have perhaps not been surprising they provide greater clarity and certainty for a city that prides itself on being a welcoming home for all.

The Immigrant Experience and Calgary Gangs

University of Calgary Associate Professor Hieu Ngo came to Calgary at the age of 18, a Vietnamese refugee sponsored by a Calgary-area church. He credits learning to skate and having a job cleaning office buildings as giving him a new sense of Canadian identity as well as a sense of purpose, and his achievements in the academic world demonstrate the potential of newcomers to Canada and Calgary. Many immigrants and first-generation Calgarians don't have the same opportunities, though, according to Ngo's research.

In a report entitled The Unravelling of Identities and Belonging: Criminal Gang Involvement of Youth from Immigrant Families, Professor Ngo details his findings after interviewing more than 30 current and former Calgary gang members, all of whom came to Canada and Calgary either as immigrants themselves or as the children of immigrants, often refugees. The stories he has collected suggest violence in some Calgary neighborhoods combined with a lack of acceptance by other Calgarians is a common feature behind the decision to join a gang—gangs provide both physical protection and a sense of community that many youths of immigrant families have difficulty finding elsewhere.

Alienation and protection from rivals have long been seen as factors influencing gang membership, and Professor Ngo's research confirms this quite clearly in when it comes to Calgary's gangs. The immigrant experience can make these problems much sharper due to the cultural differences that must be contended with. While Calgary continues to be seen from afar as a city full of opportunity, those opportunities are not always made readily apparent or available to all newcomers.

Legal Troubles Follow Gang Affiliation

Professor Ngo did not examine the legal and criminal justice implications of gang affiliation, but it is all too obvious that simply being associated with a gang can lead to criminal accusations and even legal charges for criminal offences. This can be the case whether or not someone is actually a member of a gang, and whether or not they have taken part in any alleged criminal acts. No matter what the circumstances, everyone living in Calgary has the right to consult with a criminal defence lawyer if they have been accused of a crime.

If you or a family member has been arrested or charged for a gang-related crime and would like a free initial consultation, please contact Susan Karpa today.

< Return to Blog