Criminologist Stephen Schneider argues that organized crime activities and violence have a long history in the city and province.

A new book provides substantial evidence that organized crime has a long history in Toronto, which has helped position the city as a centre of global crime. Iced: The Story of Organized Crime in Canada, written by Saint Mary’s University criminologist Stephen Schneider, contends that Toronto has become an epicentre for a wide array of organized and transnational criminal activities, including the counterfeiting of currency, bank cards, and digital entertainment product, telemarketing fraud, and the production of marijuana and synthetic drugs.

Canada has also become a centre of operations for international crime groups from far flung areas of the world, including the Hells Angels, with the GTA boasting the highest concentration of Hells Angels chapters in the world. Organized crime has contributed much to the ongoing gang-related gun violence in the GTA, a rising trend which Schneider partly attributes to the government moratorium on particular drugs and compares to the rise in criminal violence during the 1920s prohibition.

Schneider’s book traces organized crime in Southern Ontario to the 1840s when the so-called Markham Gang terrorized the countryside through a series of brazen and violent burglaries. Since then, as Stephen Schneider elaborates in his book, there has been a long list of unfortunate milestones in Toronto’s criminal journey:

· In the 1890s, Toronto was awash in counterfeit goods smuggled in from other countries, including cigarettes from the United States, cigars from Puerto Rico, jewellery from Hawaii, silk from Asia and Persian rugs from the Middle East.

· By the late 1890s, gambling – in particular betting on horses - had taken hold. Woodbine was invaded by hordes of bookies, with some dubbing it the “University of Gamblers”, and these were eventually absorbed by organized gambling syndicates based in Buffalo.

· In the early 1900s, Southern Ontario became home to a number of secret Italian societies that preyed on new immigrants, primarily through extortion and saw the introduction of “The “Black Hand”

· By the mid-1920s, when America had outlawed the production of liquor, Ontario’s prodigious liquor industry actually came of age and Southern Ontario played host to some of the largest bootlegging operations in the country despite the illegality of alcohol sales in Ontario.

· As Prohibition ended, criminal groups reverted to gambling and Toronto’s underworld became increasingly controlled by the American mafia, in particular Buffalo’s Stefano Magaddino.

· By the 1970s, Toronto was positioned as a conduit for heroin being smuggled into North America from Europe and also saw the influx of Asian criminal groups in the city’s Chinatown. Local mafia groups were also infiltrating the local construction industry by extorting unions and construction firms.

· By the 1980s Toronto was awash in cocaine as the Colombian cartels began establishing cells in the city.

The book, published by John Wiley & Sons and released last week, contends that Toronto and Canada has long served as a branch plant for transnational criminal organizations and that Canada has been a major supplier of illegal goods and services to the United States for well over a century. Some critics argue that organized crime has been allowed to flourish in Canada due to weak laws and enforcement, culminating in the Office of the United States Trade Representative placing Canada on a watch list for failing to provide adequate protection or enforcement of intellectual property rights.

Schneider’s book is a fascinating tale of Canada’s over 400 years of organized crime history, from pirates off the Atlantic coast and horse thieves in the Wild West to opium traffickers, slave traders, the Italian mafia and outlaw motorcycle gangs. It documents a colourful past often hidden in the annals of a more peaceful nation’s history, and places today’s crime in an interesting context – not as a new problem but rather as the continuation of a long-lasting trend.

More information on the new book can be found at:

Stephen Schneider is available for an interview to discuss his new book and other current topics related to organized crime and its enforcement.


Parmjit Parmjit, Montana Ridge


T: 416-750-0966 | C: 416-402-7156


Post a Comment