So we’ve just heard how the 2006 census proves that the ‘white’ race is the real endangered minority (I think?). Now it’s time for our everyman character Col Ian Dobson to warn us about violent gangs! Not content to go by the easy route of calling in someone from, say, the RCMP to lay out the details of what’s happening in Canada’s seamy underworld, Gen Bishop’s NDHQ pulls in the staff officer who, just two days earlier was preparing routine daily briefings and pondering his vacation.
‘Ian Dobson adjusted his reading glasses and took his classified notes from a folder. “Minister, there is another series of details you need to know. They’re related, as General Bishop suggested, to the sometimes conflicted relationship between NPA and native gangs, or what officials term Aboriginal-Based Organized Crime, ABOC.”
Dobson’s talking about ‘another series of details’ when none of the officers in this briefing have provided any coherent details about the NPA itself or the raids on CFBs. Unlike Col Conway’s non-briefing about the NPA, Dobson’s ABOC discussion won’t even have something broad-based like the 2006 census to draw upon.
So, here’s the thing. Canadian Indigenous people…sometimes commit crimes! Sometimes they organize themselves locally to control a particular class of crimes (such as drug dealing, or cigarette smuggling). Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they are frighteningly violent in the process.
This is not news.
This is important to say here, because Bland is making a very different claim in the novel. He is positing here that there is some kind of cross-Canada unified ABOC organization, and that it is apparently in bed with the Movement and the NPA. This is a very different from what the reality is, or even what Dobson finally describes in the novel. No one is saying that there isn’t a very real Indigenous criminal element in many parts of the country, nor is anyone saying that in some cases this organized criminal element can’t be in bed with organized radicals. Our most recent Supplemental Reading post explicitly talked about how cigarette smuggling and casinos had an uneasy partnership with the Mohawk Warriors Society.
The key point, though, is that the partnership in Akwesasne was an uneasy one, and ultimately proved harmful for the Mohawk Warriors. Akwesasne residents fearful of the gangs provided a regular source of information for police and government, and when the crisis began people like DM Harry Swain could honestly say that there were crooks in the Warriors’ ranks. As unpopular as the opinion may have been, nobody could actually call him a liar.
But Bland is saying that the gangs stretch across the country, and they’re fully on board with the NPA.
We’ll come back to this in a bit.
[Dobson speaking] “The Canadian Criminal Intelligence Service reported recently that native gangs are a serious, growing threat to Canadian society. They are young, armed, and ruthless. They differ in structure from region to region: more like conventional organized crime in the East, especially along the Ontario/Quebec/U.S. Borders, where the main business is smuggling.
“In the West,” Dobson continued as a new PowerPoint presentation appeared on the screen, “they’re typical violent street gangs of young men attracted by excitement and a sense of belonging, likely to work for organized crime groups in a kind of adjunct and subordinate relationship. In Alberta the main gangs – the Red Alert, the Indian Posse, and the Alberta Warriors – are based mainly in Edmonton and Calgary. In Saskatchewan, the Native Syndicate has control of the action in Regina while the Indian Posse works out of Saskatoon. And in Manitoba, the main gangs are the Manitoba Warriors, the Indian Posse, and the Native Syndicate. They are -“
Riley interrupted. Are these gangs with the same names part of a bigger organization, like say the Hells Angels? When I was in the Manitoba government, the gangs were a bother, but not the national security threat you seem to be suggesting here.”
“The gangs, minister, are loosely related, but very much locally controlled. They work together to transport drugs and weapons for instance, but they are territorial.”
Okay, some quick real world information about organized crime in Canada. Indigenous gangs are very real and very dangerous in the regions where they exist, but for the most part they are highly localized. Gang members on the streets of Regina may have affiliates in Calgary, but they aren’t going to have a say if they were to travel to Akwesasne where a different element holds sway. Going to Montreal might actually get them killed.
In real life, the world of pan-Canadian criminal organizations has two major players: the Rizzuto mafia family, and the Hells’ Angels motorcycle club.
I’m not going to go too far into the Rizzuto family for two main reasons. One is that the organization is only now finally being uncovered by a massive police investigation and public inquiry in the province of Quebec (which was their power centre). As of the time of this writing, the full extent of the family’s reach is only partly understood, although it’s clear that it was/is huge. The other reason is that Vito Rizzuto (the family’s head until his death in 2013) managed to stay power by staying well under the radar. He kept at least one step removed from the nastier business of his empire, and was careful never to stick his neck out or otherwise draw attention to himself.
The Hells Angels, on the other hand, are much more in the public eye and are much more visibly present across the country. Throughout the 1990s and 00s, they systematically absorbed a lot of smaller outlaw motorcycle clubs into their organization, while pushing out rivals to become the single most powerful 1% organization in Canada. They are also extremely disciplined and organized, and the Quebec Chapters were/are among the most violent bikers in the world.
The Rizzuto family may have a present in Winnipeg, but you’d never know just by looking. The Hells Angels definitely do.
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said the Quebec Hells Angels were among the most violent bikers in the world. Back in the early 1990s the Quebec Hell’s Angels (‘Les Hells’) began taking more direct control over the local drug trade, absorbing or crushing their local criminal rivals. They reached a truce of sorts with the Rizzuto family, but a rival motorcycle club called the Rock Machine1 (formed from the various gangs, criminals, and motorcycle clubs in the province) resisted. The end result was an eight year war that resulted in over, 80 bombings, 160 murders, and eventually over a hundred arrests and convictions.
It’s odd that Bland would portray and MP from Winnipeg as being aware of the Hell’s Angels but dismissing them as ‘a bother.’ Especially given that the most brutal biker massacre (the 2006 Shedden massacre, where eight members of the Toronto Bandidos were murdered) was carried out by the Winnipeg chapter of that same club.2 This violence was right in Riley’s back yard. Then again, Gen Bishop probably wouldn’t want to mention this fact either, given that the president of the Winnipeg chapter, Michael ‘Taz’ Sandham, was himself a former CF member.
So yeah, the bikers are a big deal. They wreck shit and kill their rivals, and at least in the case of the Hells Angels, they are a Canada-wide organization.
So where are the bikers in the world of Uprising? The Quebec Hells Angels got knocked down hard as their war drew to an end and several of their leaders (including the infamous Maurice ‘Mom’ Boucher) were finally imprisoned. But they’re still out there today and any pan-Canadian Native gang is going to have to deal with them somehow. Were the bikers wiped out by a massive police crackdown, leaving a power vacuum? Did they reach some kind of truce? Did the native gangs fight and wipe out the bikers?
Did Bland put any thought into this?
All things considered, it was probably for the best that he skipped around the fact that the largest genuine non-state threat to Canada’s security in the last thirty years came from a bunch of white motorcycle enthusiasts who often embraced nazi imagery.
“In every province except Newfoundland, gangs are expanding into smaller towns and recruiting more aggressively, creating successor generations of members. Expansion, competition for ‘trade’ and new members, and a general sense that they are untouchable due to the, uh, political optics of aboriginal issues, is increasing the number of incidents and the level of violent behaviour, and it is spilling over into peaceful, settled communities. Police, courts and jails are struggling to address the problem. In most provinces, but especially in the West, many prisons are dominated by native gangs and cults3. They are very dangerous places.
“The gangs have typically been motivated by the usual factors: money, status, and inter-gang power struggles. They are fed by drug- and gun-running profits, prostitution of white and native boys and girls, petty crimes, ‘debt collections,’ and intimidation – ‘tax collection’ it’s called on the street. Until recently there has been little sign of any political motives or orientation in the West, but some officials suggest that this fact may be changing.
Drugs, prostitution (of white kids too!), and localized violence, often including guns. Crimes which make victims of their neighbours and their communities. Yet somehow the Indigenous communities affected by these gangs are not feeding information to the authorities on the down low.4 Apparently Oka was an outlier.
Riley nervously asks if this means the gangs will start bribing politicians (which is an odd concern, considering one of the earlier activities listed was child prostitution). Dobson assures him that ‘of course’ they will, but it gets worse!
“Yes, they do that, of course, but what is happening is that gang leaders are using their so-called street smarts to build alliances with other gangs, and in the case of the native gangs, to organize gang territories under a type of congress of leaders from various gangs. These, what some investigators call ‘third-generation gangs,’ work together to divide market shares and to dominate larger and larger territories. In cities such as Winnipeg, these third generation gangs may already be in existence.”
The gangs are not only pushing out into the good neighbourhoods but they’re starting to combine! Apparently, after fighting and killing each other for years they now may be starting to work together to form a super gang!
And now suddenly, all I can hear is Cyrus from the movie ‘The Warriors’ hollering out to the assembled gangs of New York: “Can you dig it?” Oddly enough, though it may be a patently campy movie, the Warriors at least presents a more likely scenario than what Bland is offering up: A city teaming with crime, but with its gangs divided and warring amongst themselves. One far sighted leader does the math and realizes what can be accomplished (and how high he can rise) if only they can all unite. But before he can enact his master plan, this leader is shot dead by some random mullet-wearing putz for nothing but cheap thrills.5
One of the biggest obstacles to violent street gangs organizing tends to be the membership of those gangs themselves.
I’m a little bit confused at how Bland mentions all of this as a possibility, rather than structuring his fictional Uprising world into one where this has already happened. “May already be in existence?” What kind of alarmist talk is this? And what a lack of vision! How hard would it have been for Bland, as the creator of this world, to invent some fictional third generation gang already in existence, complete with a charismatic leader to act as the undisciplined counterpoint to Molly Grace, then quote some current day ‘expert’ as a prophet who’d been ignored in his own time?6
Not that I want to see more plausible racist propaganda. But this absence of real curiosity, this failure to try and put himself into the shoes of others is probably the reason for this whole ugly business in the first place. A failure of basic empathy leads to a failure to create realistic characters. This in turn leads to a failure to appreciate why your characters are unrealistic, and why the scenario you’ve created for them is unrealistic.
Well, enough about that. Now that we’ve put the fear of dark skinned gang bangers into the white audience’s mind, it’s time to wrap this thing up! Like the shill in a late night infomercial, Riley begins to protest and babble away about the Canadian security apparatus, whining about how it should have been able to stop this but clearly cannot. Somehow this security apparatus is a completely separate entity from the CF in the world of Uprising.
He even goes so far as to deprecate himself further by suggesting he’s nothing but a business man whom the soldiers in the room should rightfully look down upon. He then inexplicably reverses himself and tries to claim that maybe this whole thing is no big deal. That maybe the Real Soldiers® are overreacting?
‘[Riley speaking] “General, I know something about business and organization – might seem boring to you guys, but if I have a competitor who is bast and agile like this NPM and these gangs, I sure as hell wouldn’t built a big blundering organization to beat him. That’s what we have in Ottawa, battalions of committees – bureaucracy, public bureaucracy. People chasing budgets when they should be chasing bandits. How on earth is a big whole-of-government organization going to outpace an adroit, decentralized bunch like we are up against?
“As I said, that’s an impressive load of data; all that about the native demographics and such. But how can you be sure of the outcome? What makes you sure we are facing a threat of any scale? I mean, the raids were certainly serious, ominous even, but…a threat to the nation?”
Considering the fact that NDHQ contains upwards of ten thousand staff personnel and civilians, Bland might want to be careful who he accuses of being top heavy. Glass houses and all that.
I’m going to say (yet again) here that there has still been no real discussion of the raids during this briefing, or of the weapons that were taken and what this might suggest about the plans the NPA may have. Remember, the raiders stole Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles. Are they planning on shooting down an airline?7 Nobody asks.
Although it’s an utterly unrealistic rant (nothing in the character, before or since indicates Riley’s the sort of man who uses words like ‘adroit’ in day to day speech), it does actually raise some good points. Large bureaucracies are often slow and non-responsive, and once established can become highly predictable. It’s not a stretch to imagine a smaller force studying it closely enough to learn its moves before launching it’s strike. Although it looks cut-and-pasted from one of Bland’s essays, it almost seems as though the straw man is taking his own position that is not entirely a caricature. Who knows, maybe our good Minister may eventually achieve something like character development and become more three-dimensional later on in the story?
“Minister,” [Bishop] began, “I have a great deal of sympathy for your point of view. My worry is that very few national leaders, or opinion makers, or members of the courts, seem willing to accept the central notion that as a first principle a liberal democracy has the right to defend itself against anti-democratic elements in its midst. So, minister, we do what we can within the limits of our culture and democratic ways spell out for us. But I believe the evidence and this week’s events more than suggest that we are indeed facing a national security threat that for whatever reasons is being encouraged and directed by elements in our aboriginal community. I know also that if the native community actively joined such a movement, we do not have the military or police forces to address a nation-wide insurrection.8”
Nope. He’s just a shill running the set up for Gen Bishop’s big speech decrying liberal democracy. He won’t even raise an eyebrow over the fact that the head of the military (whom you will remember has already toppled one government) seems to hold a very dim view of Canadian society. Rather than portraying a civilian full of genuine doubt or maybe hopeful delusion, poor Jim Riley is only there to set up Bishop’s heroic speeches. As the briefing draws to a close he will even sit meekly as Gen Bishop actually goes so far as to deliver an ultimatum to his civilian master:
‘Riley chose not to pursue the argument. “Well, I hope you’re wrong, General Bishop.”
Andy Bishop paused and looked Jim Riley in the eye. “Let me be absolutely clear, minister. You and the government will know exactly what we know, starting with this briefing. I expect directions from the government that are clear and appropriate. I want you to carry that message to the prime minister or I will take it to him myself. I apologize for my bluntness, James, but this is a damn mess and it’s going to get a lot worse.”
Jim Riley swallowed hard, twice, then stepped up and extended his hand to Bishop, “Thanks, Andy. I appreciate your bluntness. I promise you that I’ll speak directly and frankly to the prime minister and impress on him the seriousness of the situation. I am sure he’ll want to hear from you directly in short order; I’ll make sure he does.”
The minister of national defence looked around the room. “One thing I want you and your officers to understand, general. I’m a Canadian too, and more to the point, one of the places you’re talking about – Manitoba’s Inter-Lakes region – that’s my home and has been my family’s home for generations. No one’s going to drive us off our land anytime soon. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can speak with the PMO.
Like I said earlier, Minister Jim Riley is Gen Bishop’s boss, to whom Bishop should have been reporting to on a regular basis. Instead we get a scene like this, where Bishop lectures his boss sternly, talking to him as though this is the first time they’ve met, and threatening to bypass him completely if he doesn’t get what he wants.
I’m not sure what to make of the last paragraph in this chapter (it literally ends right there). It almost seems like Jim Riley is being set up for some kind of payoff later in the story. This would make sense, given that he is the MP from the region, but in fact this is the last major scene where we will hear from the Minister of National Defence. Despite being portrayed as weak-willed and whiny, he will go directly to the Prime Minister, who will immediately bring the General in for a face-to-face meeting. Rather than this making him a good ally and supportive leader, this will actually make Jim Riley superfluous to Bishop’s purposes.
Once he has access to the PM, the General will have no use for the Minister.
1 Not that I’m going to get too far into the weeds here, but there’s arguments that the Rock Machine wasn’t a true biker gang, in that they didn’t embrace the classic one percenter life style. Among other things, their leader Fred Faucher actually _gasp_ rode a Honda!
2 The story of ‘The Bandidos Massacre’ is a strange and disturbing (and kind of sad) one. For a detailed history of this ill-fated club, see Peter Edwards excellent book of the same name.
3 There’s not much on this in the novel, but Bland seems to be talking about the ‘Red Path’ or ‘Red Road,’ a movement whereby traditional Indigenous beliefs are promoted and accommodated in Canadian Federal Prisons as a method of rehabilitation. They…aren’t a cult.
4 It’s further worth noting that in Katherina Vermette’s novel ‘The Break’ the villains are native gang members, while the vulgar racist cop ends up (sort of) on the side of the protagonists.
5 Hey! I just realized! The Warriors also has a bunch of non-Native people dressed up as cartoon Indians! So there’s another similarity to Bland’s novel!
6 That is a lot of what Uprising is about, creating a fictional justification for alarmist racist talk. Meanwhile, the gangs will be forgotten for much of the novel, only to return in the third act for a bloody finale. Their appearance proves to be both bewildering and underwhelming.
7 You’d think if the plan was to scare people this might be at the top of the list. On the other hand, if the plan was to scare the reader, not the Minister, and to frighten said reader about the First Nations today rather than in the world of Uprising, then talking about ‘Blowpipes’ is not going to do it.
8 I want you to remember this last line: ‘we do not have the military or police forces to address a nation-wide insurrection.’ We’re going to come back to this later, but the short version is that the state of the Canadian Military is only half of the equation. How Gen Bishop will squander what he has is the other half.