The majority of the theoretical knowledge and empirical work on youth gangs has come from the United States.
Although there are advantages in learning from the American experience, there is a danger in assuming that the cause(s) and structure of gangs are the same in the United States and in Canada.
Correspondence concerning this report should be addressed to: Research Division Public Safety Canada 340 Laurier Avenue West Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0P8 Email: PS. In the 1990s, gangs and their activities were given renewed attention when media organizations and many police departments began to increasingly attribute street shootings in many cities to youth gangs (Ezeonu, 2010).
Over the past 25 years, this has led to increased efforts by researchers, evaluators and policymakers to better understand the issue and to develop solutions to address youth gang involvement and gang-related activities in Canada.
No single definition can account for the diversity of the gang phenomenon in contemporary Canadian society.
Gangs must be defined in the local context if policy and programming are to proceed effectively.In general, youth gang members account for a large amount of criminal behaviour and a variety of criminal offences have been consistently linked to gang membership including property offences, drug trafficking and importation, fraud, robberies, assaults with weapons, homicides, and the trafficking of women and girls (Boyce & Cotter, 2013; Gilman, Hill, Hawkins, Howell, & Kosterman, 2014).An indication of the nature of the crime and violence perpetrated by youth in Canada, and youth gang members by extension, is reflected in recent national statistics.Instead of providing a precise definition here, some general criteria that can be taken into consideration are offered (Mohammed, 2007; Sánchez-Jankowski, 2003; Wortley 2010): In the above respects, youth gangs are similar to other social groups.One widely used benchmark for assessing whether a given social group is a 'youth gang' is the engagement by group members in delinquent or criminal behaviour, some of which may involve violence (as well as fear and intimidation), on a regular basis (Wortley, 2010).So, while researchers, evaluators and practitioners in the area may need to define 'youth gang', it is also important to be aware of the possible consequences that a definition or label can have on the youth with whom they study or work.Much of the research literature suggests that gang affiliation often provides psychological, social and/or economic benefits, and that those who become involved with gangs do so to meet unfulfilled needs (Chettleburgh, 2007; Wortley & Tanner, 2006).No matter what criteria are employed, caution should be taken when defining a youth gang and gang involvement.There are risks associated with classification, namely stereotyping and maltreatment that may occur once a youth is identified as a 'gang member' (Henry, 2009).Public Safety Canada is committed to developing and disseminating knowledge to address the issue of youth gangs in Canada.To implement effective prevention and intervention strategies, we must start by understanding the nature and scope of the problem.