The story of the Mexican cartels and their influence abroad has mostly focused on the United States. But a number of Mexican groups have headed farther north, embedding themselves in the Canadian underworld, where they are displacing traditional mafias.
That process has been facilitated by a range of new actors, drug routes and ways of doing business. Among them has been a generational shift in Canadian organized crime, moving away from older, traditional and ethnic-based entities toward a young, tech-savvy and post-ethnic criminal cohort.
Journalists Peter Edwards and Luis Nájera explore this sea change in their recently published book, "The Wolfpack." Following the story of a motley crew of young bikers, street gang members and Italian and Irish mafia, they relate how a brash group of millennial gangsters invited the Sinaloa Cartel into Canada.
InSight Crime spoke with Luis Nájera to discuss the Wolfpack, touching upon how the group shaped the country's organized crime landscape and what Canada represents to Mexican crime groups.
InSight Crime (IC): What exactly was the Wolfpack?
Luis Nájera (LN): It was a criminal alliance responsible for smuggling cocaine to Canada and allegedly to Europe from the Andean region, in partnership with a Mexican drug organization, allegedly the Sinaloa Cartel.
We call it an alliance because this was a new model of criminal association in Canada. Until 2013, the underworld was pretty defined by kinship/ethnicity ('Ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra), membership (bikers like the Hells Angels), or geography (local gangs such as the Red Scorpions in Vancouver). In 2013 Vito Rizutto, the “Canadian godfather,” who somehow managed to keep some balance among groups in the East, died. Then, younger criminals broke some unwritten rules and began to associate regardless of affiliation, ethnicity, or location. Among the Wolfpack members, we identified at least one person who was active and in good standing with membership in six different criminal groups.
Also, the flamboyant personality of most of its members broke the old model of flying under the radar. The Wolfpack members liked to dress in expensive clothes, were very aware of their physical appearance and held a very public life that easily exposed them to both rivals and the police.
Among French-language media, the group was initially identified as the "Consortium” but the members of the group themselves self-identified as the Wolfpack.
IC: How did the Wolfpack transform relations between Mexican and Canadian organized crime?
LN: Before the emergence of this new generation of criminals, Mexican groups kept a customer-client relationship with buyers across Canada. Groups like the Wolfpack originally bought the drugs and distributed in Canada to profit, but once Mexican cells came and settled in the country, they handled smuggling and distribution within the country directly, with support on the ground of local criminals. The Wolfpack somehow served as a point of entry for the Mexicans by giving them contacts, access, customers and leverage among other groups, thus paving the way for them to settle here.
IC: More broadly, how has that relationship changed in the last decade?
LN: Again, Mexican groups took control of cocaine, pushing other groups like the Italians to focus on illicit gambling and illicit marijuana. With the Mexican groups controlling the market, they established a model of “warehouse sale," in which they sell to whoever comes to buy, thus creating a “regulated market” that remains under their control. There is some information about the relevance of Canada as a hub for distribution to Europe and Asia that includes both fentanyl and cocaine.
IC: Today, which Mexican groups are present in Canada, where and in what way?
LN: During our research for the book, we identified the Sinaloa Cartel as having a presence across eastern Canada and with a solid control of cocaine, we also got some reports of the Zetas somehow being involved with temporary migrant workers. The Arellano Felix group had a steady relationship with groups in western Canada, particularly in Vancouver, and in the prairies - particularly in Alberta. There is a well-known story of members of the Mennonite community smuggling guns to the South and drugs to the North, taking advantage of the corridor Alberta-Chihuahua-Sonora-Durango.
There are reports of partnerships between Mexican and Asian groups dealing with fentanyl.
IC: Besides cocaine, what other criminal markets are they involved in?
LN: Fentanyl, money laundering and somehow with migrant workers. As I mentioned before, it is not clear if they charge money to the families in Mexico or bring criminals posing as migrant workers either to hide or to keep some kind of control and distribute drugs here.
IC: In recent years, has Canada’s importance to Mexican organized crime increased, stayed roughly the same or decreased? Why?
LN: I would say it has increased since criminal cells moved up north to settle and expand operations here. It is also strategic to have groups operating north of the US border, close to key places such as Chicago and New York, and without the scrutiny of the DEA and rival groups.
IC: What is your prediction for the future involvement of Mexican organized crime in Canada?
LN: I think Mexican groups will continue to expand and consolidate their presence in Canada because of its strategic location, particularly as a trampoline for Europe via the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries, as well as the Asian route. Also, Canada offers - ironically - more safety than the United States in terms of rival groups fighting for territory and even for the families of the leadership, while moving across the border is easier than between the US and Mexico. Some years in the future, when the Northwest Passage in the Arctic sea becomes viable, due to global warming, Canada will provide a new route towards Russia. In terms of violence, I think it will remain at similar levels as it is now because it is essential for organized crime groups to maintain a low profile here.