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2012-02-11 at 9:00 AM

Deeper underground: Street gangs still active, but less visible

By Jeff Labine,
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Rob Hurley wants to help clean up the mess he made when he introduced the Native Syndicate into Thunder Bay.

The 27-year-old is a former gang member, and says he’s changed a lot since his days with the notorious street gang.

For one, he’s a father and says he feels proud of his current efforts of trying to prevent other teenagers from making the same mistakes he did.

Hurley, who has since moved from Ontario to Saskatchewan, joined the Native Syndicate when he was about 18-years-old.

He had informally been with the gang since he was 16 years old.

He and the gang members felt invincible, cocky and always believed they were a step ahead of the police. He says he was with the gang because it gave him a sense of belonging, and eventually the gang became what he believed to be his family.

“I didn’t have anybody to look up to,” he says, reflecting on his days with the gang.

“I felt like I had real friends and a real family. That’s how they treated me. I felt like I had filled that void. My father wasn’t around when I was a kid so I felt like that void was filled. I felt somewhat complete.”

The profits weren’t bad either.

The Regina-based gang could bring in anywhere from one quarter to half a million dollars a year. He says they sold everything including marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs.

Hurley says they wanted to expand and set up a chapter in his home province of Ontario.

Thunder Bay was a perfect spot because it was far enough away from any main police branch, and there were no other gangs to contend with.

Hurley is no longer in Thunder Bay, but the gang he was a part of still is; and the Native Syndicate is one of three gangs with significant representation in the city.

“I had helped to start something by taking the Native Syndicate from (Regina) and start it out (in Thunder Bay),” Hurley says.

“I had a helping hand in that. I wanted to try and redeem what I had done. I told the Thunder Bay Police Service straight up that I helped to create the problem so now I want to give you a solution to prevent it from spreading.”

Thunder Bay Police Service Sgt. Neil Herman first joined the gang unit in the ‘90s.

He says the culture of gangs has changed. Members used to wear their colours with pride and wouldn’t think twice about boasting to an officer.

But over time, it appears that street gangs have gained some street smarts. The street gangs running in Thunder Bay have taken a page from the organized crime playbook. Today, these street gangs focus more on profits, and less on a proud display of gang colours and symbols.

Advertising that you’re in a gang isn’t good business anymore, he says, and today’s street gangs understand that.

“It used to be random violence, so there wasn’t much business point to be in a gang,” Herman says.

“It was an eye-opener for me to come back and see. It’s a little bit more organized. Like anything, gangs have advanced with the times.

“It used to be that generally the people we use to deal with were proud that they were in a gang and openly displaying paraphernalia. Now you get a lot of denying the gang even exists, let alone that they are involved in the gang.

They may keep their colours on their person but they don’t always wear it.”

Herman says gangs are typically made up of young 17 year olds but now Thunder Bay’s main three gangs, one of them being the Native Syndicate, have members that are in their 40s.

Traditionally, Thunder Bay has had a number of gangs come from Winnipeg.

Herman says that too has changed.

Toronto and Montreal-based gangs have started to show up more in Thunder Bay. Herman says they can sell drugs at a higher price the farther north they go.

While it’s not a major change, Herman says it’s big enough that police have noticed.

But for the most part, the gangs in Thunder Bay have been established for years.

“They haven’t really gone away but we’re having success in particularly with the Native Syndicate,” he says.

“I don’t know how you want to judge success. We always want to err on the side of caution. We never want to take for granted or think we’ve won. You’re not going to eradicate these gangs from your communities I think. That’s a dangerous assumption to make because you become complacent.”

He says it’s better to compare to cities of similar size and location to get a good indication if a city’s crime is running rampant.

If that’s the measuring bar, Herman says Thunder Bay is doing OK because –for example – there’s no drive by shootings.

Herman admits that he would like to think that it’s entirely because of the police presence, but he admits there are probably other circumstances on why bullets don’t fly in the city.

He says it helps that Thunder Bay established a gang unit early to help prevent these types of crimes from happening.

He says some police departments weren’t even prepared to say there was a gang problem, never mind establishing a specific unit to handle it.

The strategy police use to try to keep people away from gangs is teach others who then go on to spread that message.

“It’s not like TV where we’re just putting bad guys in jail and that’s our only concern, and we’re high fiving people,” he says.

“The problems are more deep rooted.

“They joined the gang because they needed a sense of belonging. The core issue is they didn’t get that belonging at home that they needed as a teenager. Until that’s fixed, there’s still going to be people in gangs.”

Follow Jeff Labine on Twitter @Labine_reporter

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david H says:
thanks for the good work that has been done already by many groups in Thunder Bay. i hope that these groups will continue to work together and that the City will create a comprehensive strategy to address poverty, drug addiction, social issues, and crime.
2/11/2012 9:48:40 AM
Delbert Grady says:
The city cant address poverty, drug addiction or anything else.

Expecting government to solve your concerns only ensures that those problems remain.

Creating an insulating layer of bureaucracy is only going to make things worse. Society needs stronger penalties and longer sentences to keep law breaking social deviants away from the society they seek to exploit.

Gangs need to be hit hard and locked away. No more coddling these losers while they destroy our society and everything the taxpayers work and pay for.

Smack these losers into reality because its the only thing they might have a chance of understanding.

2/11/2012 10:15:11 AM
tsb says:
How is putting someone in a government-controlled social construct (prison) a "hard smack into reality"?

Have you seen how stiffer penalties have worked in the US? There are rural, white-dominated counties in Minnesota with half the people of Thunder Bay but three times the homicide rate! How can you say that kind of system will improve our society when it has so blatantly failed our neighbour?
2/11/2012 10:34:41 AM
animiki says:
This hasn't worked in the United States (e.g. southern California), in the UK or anywhere else it's been attempted; all it has done is create a new industry and bureaucracy and cost taxpayers huge amounts of money with few tangible results. Why would you think it would work any better here?

And for that matter, incarceration is actually part of the problem. Gangs like the Native Syndicate werre created in a prison environment in response to other types of violence against Aboriginals (see ). Some types of advancement in these gangs can only be achieved by spending time in a Federal pen. Your "solution" will only make the problem worse.

Like it or not, the only way to permanently eradicate these problems is through a complex and nuanced approach to a bunch of social, cultural and economic problems. I agree that the government is ill-suited to lead the effort; it needs to be community-based. People like Mr. Hurley are an excellent start.
2/11/2012 10:44:52 AM
panzerIV says:
Going to jail for gang members is a badge of honor. Super prisons are also a breeding ground for violence and gang recruitment. If you have ever watched the show "super prison" (believe on history or discovery) the camera man walks with a yard officer. They have every area mapped out by which gang controls it. They also have the cells blocks cut into gang sections so they don't have uncontrollable violence.

Throwing people in jail is like fighting weeds. Sure you get them now but they pop back up.

You have to get to the root of the problem. Poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunities, exposure to drugs and alcohol abuse, somehow you have to deal with the fact they feel along. Which is a major reason this gentlemen stayed in the gang.
2/11/2012 12:34:08 PM
Delbert Grady says:
But it does work.


You probably cant see it because you and your kind are more focused on the prisoners than you are on the citizens who created this society we live in.

Bottom line, it keeps people locked away so they are no longer free to do us harm. No more robberies, rapes, murders, assaults etc.. They cant committ them if they are locked up and properly separated so they cant form little gang syndicates.

Meanwhile the good people of the world are free to live a higher standard of living. One where my loved ones arent likely to be subjected to the poor results of your catch and release and make excuses system.

In the real world we're concerned about the rights of society, not the rights of the criminals.

Those same criminals cost us more in money because they go out and collect welfare and continue selling drugs and their criminal acts.

Its not cheaper to let them go, the costs are higher monetarily AND societal.

Thankfully we have stronger laws coming.
2/11/2012 1:17:14 PM
animiki says:
Let's try this again. It DOESN'T work. California enacted tough anti-gang laws that saw more people doing more time. The result? A clogged court system, a bloated prison system, a dramatically increased cost to taxpayers...and no reduction in gang violence. The "tougher laws" you refer to a) aren't as tough as the ones tried in California and b) are, yes, going to cost all of us considerable amounts of money as taxpayers, without any clear masure of effectiveness proposed. Since the statistics maintained by police departments, and provided to Statscan, show that most types of crime are actually decreasing, what will be a satisfactory performance measure for our new prisons (which, incidentally, are not fully funded by any level of government, currently).

As foor thking about the, I think about the community. The people who do end up in jail won't be there forever (no matter how much you may wish it was so), so they'll be released and...then what?
2/11/2012 6:25:16 PM
animiki says:
The people who do end up in jail won't be there forever (no matter how much you may wish it was so), so they'll be eventually released. If we're to have safer communities, then we need to find ways, AS A COMMUNITY, to try to make it undesirable for youth to join gangs in the first place. See, the trouble with your model is, it requires crimes to be committed before anyone takes action. So property is damaged, people are hurt, lives are impacted and sometimes destroyed...and THEN the clunky wheels of justice grind to life and, MAYBE, finds the perpetrator and puts them away. How about an approach that would extinguish crime before it happens?

Your trouble is, Mr. Grady, that you are afraid. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it's a crude one. It doesn't allow for the best decisions and certainly doesn't treat complex issues with the thought and finesse their solutions are going to demand.
2/11/2012 6:31:00 PM
Delbert Grady says:
Youre using California as an example?

That always makes me laugh.

anyway. The reason we have to keep these losers locked up can be seen right here on this site.

See the "Suspect arrestedIn stabbing" story. Theres a perfect example of a catch and release system failure. In the meantime, someone got stabbed.

If someone was caught and released on probation, and then they stabbed your loved ones, perhaps even killing them..

..would you still be crying over how mean the prison system is? or would you just be crying?

Because you can cry all you want, but as Canada's cemetaries fill up with people who realized at the last moment of their lives we actually need to isolate these criminals before they kill others.

Like I said, I dont care about the criminals. They deserve nothing. Canada needs the death penalty back and fast.

Canada needs to get to harsh penalties to save our society. and thats not fear talking, thats love talking.

Fear is YOUR conscience failing.
2/12/2012 1:35:07 PM
animiki says:
I am using California as example, yes. If you prefer, I could use other states (e.g. Nevada and Arizona) or other countries (e.g. the UK, Australia), all of which are looking at ways to reform their judicial and penal systems to make them more effective, because longer and harsher terms have had no major effect on crime rates (see various scholarly articles under keywords "crime punishment prevention" on Google).

Clearly, though, you won't be convinced by evidence, so I'll leave you with this--if you truly believe that punishment, rather than prevention, is the way to go; and if you believe that number of crimes committed is high (both of which points I have to infer from your posts); then, Mr. Grady, you are consigning many people to becoming victims of crime...which is ONLY when the system you champion can begin to do its job.

Mind you, I hope that system includes some significant support for victims of crime, because it's a service that will be, sadly, sorely needed.
2/12/2012 6:03:48 PM
illuminati_nation says:
You're kidding right. Tougher mean like the one's they have in the US - with super-max prisons and the death penalty, etc. Because there are no murderers or drug dealers roaming free in the US, right?

They must either by on death row or locked up somewhere, is that it? Next you're going to blame the legal system...When are people like you going to wake up and understand that you can't "lock away" the underlying social problems that ultimately compel people to commit crime, or resort to drug use? The very idea that government can't and shouldn't "address poverty, drug addiction or anything else," is asinine. That these social issues are not solvable doesn't mean governments should ignore them. It also doesn't mean that the only means by which to address these issues is with bigger prisons and harsher penalties, because neither has proven to be effective.
2/11/2012 12:50:59 PM
ComradeLeninHiawathaZwig says:
Translation from hypocrite to English: I hate big government, except when it does things that -I- like! Government spending is bad, except on things -I- want! Taxes shouldn't be spent on ANYTHING, unless I'm feeling angry and want someone locked up! Then the taxpayer has to foot the bill for -MY- party's transplanted, failed policies!
2/11/2012 2:05:02 PM
advocate says:
Sounds like a Stalinist response and a waste of my tax dollars.
2/11/2012 2:34:22 PM
Chaos says:
Don't police do background checks for their own?
2/11/2012 10:08:55 AM
TBDR says:
try re-reading the story...
2/13/2012 1:55:36 AM
spooner19 says:
Well what happened to the statements about there are no Native Gangs in Thunder Bay as some seem to believe. Nothing will change till our justice system changes, the laws are a joke to these punks! Time to defend yourself then deal with the laws after.
2/11/2012 10:38:13 AM
dad3192 says:
Chaos....your point being? Or just something to say to fire up the police bashers?
2/11/2012 10:40:03 AM
RelaxinginMurillo says:
@ Chaos: It does read a little confusing, but Sgt Herman is with the gang unit, Mr Hurley was in a gang.
So, what we're dealing with here is "closet gangsters" ?
2/11/2012 11:11:11 AM
gremlin says:
The last paragraph in the above story says it all.

The point is, if we have "strong, healthy families" the majority of crime wouldn't even be here.

In short, GOVERNMENT (particularly government with a SOCIALIST IDEOLOGY) is a "hindrance" to having "healthy functioning families".
2/11/2012 11:12:30 AM
chbaker says:
Haha, Native Syndicate.

I'll put that on the list with Jesus, Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus.

If there's even such a thing in town, it's barely organized, has no presence, and doesn't really do much but stand around on the street and try to look cool by robbing the 85 dollars contained in a Mac's counter.

More hysteria.
2/11/2012 11:39:52 AM
Random says:
Yes, you are so right. All those acts of violence, beatings, stabbings, people too afraid to talk, nothing to do with gangs, because as you say, they don't exist. You obviously live in an insulated world.
2/11/2012 1:18:42 PM
animiki says:
This is an interesting perspective. I know some young Aboriginals that claim membership in both the Native Syndicate and the Indian Posse. Given their backgrounds and their (anecdotal) comments about what it's like to be involved in a gang and the place it occupies in their lives, I have no reason to disbelieve them.

Other than unfounded denial and/or wishful thinking, what's your specific reason(s) for believing that these gangs are NOT active in Thunder Bay?
2/11/2012 1:21:03 PM
Brenda1963 says:
to chbaker the Native Syndicate are indeed here in Thunder Bay and a few other native gangs as well.
2/11/2012 2:07:29 PM
sweetazmaple says:
yes the Native Syndicate gang has been in thunder bay for a long time chbaker maybe you should go and drive or walk along paterson park and look at all the spray painting in large letters NS guess what it stands for ,,, seen it for yrs where have u been
2/11/2012 3:29:35 PM
imchino says:
Pffft...They spray "NS" cause they can't spell "Native Syndicate", lol!
I don't think these moroms should be considered a gang...not here anyhow. Chbaker is pretty much bang-on. Just a bunch of punks...tryin to act tough and make some easy cash.
Thunder Bay is a hot spot for this type of small-time get used to it.
For now...until I move out of T-Bay...I just carry protection. :)
2/11/2012 4:51:30 PM
yer joking says:
We're beat. If you lock them up a Lawyer files a complaint "They aren't comfortable, the cell is too small." I say there is room for 2 or 3 more. The Jury isn't comprised of the right people. Let's just have victims on the jury and see what happens. If you want time to be a badge of Honor you should have to earn it and it shouldn't be easy!
2/11/2012 3:36:54 PM
spooner19 says:
As far as I am concerned i think these type of gangs are more dangerous than the bikers, or other type of organized gangs. These are the young punks who stab people for a few dollars, rob a store at knife point, rob elderly people for a few dollars and don't care if they hurt them. The sad thing is most are under age and fall under the young offenders act and are back out of jail the next day. The biker gangs and other organized gangs keep to themselves and don't want to draw attention to them where these young punks could care less they like the attention. We will see if you will put these gangs in the same category as the tooth fairy or santa clause when you or one of your family members get robbed and assaulted by one of them and they laugh in your face when our laws don't do anything about it. These young punks are the worst kind of criminals out there don't pretend they don't exist and are just a joke to you.
2/12/2012 12:12:59 AM
shake'n'myhead says:
Gangs are here, face reality folks.
The only deterrent to stop some gang wannabe's is for the gang to have an internal cleansing.
When those looking to belong to a specific group see that said group eliminates it's own membership like the Bandito's did down south a couple years ago, it makes them think twice before joining.
The members at the top of the gang like it when young wannabe's join the gang. More insulation from prosecution.
2/12/2012 8:50:07 AM
Chaos says:
Dad: I thought there was complete background check before being accepted on the force...the TB police website even says so: "the applicant must be of good moral character and habits, meaning that you are an individual OTHER PEOPLE would look upon as being trustworthy and having integrity." This is an objective test. So my point again is: how does an officer with self admitted past criminal behaviour to which he also admitted he profited from in last 10 years now be viewed objectively to be trustworthy and have integrity. That's my question.

I'm sure if you get to know him he is a good person and I don't know him, but the test from the police force itself is objective. How does a regular joe feel when they find out there is a police officer who in this millinium sold hard drugs and did other real bad things and is now upholding the law....that's my point. Nothing personal to this guy. God bless him.
2/12/2012 10:03:23 AM
homelessteen says:
Mr.Hurley has not become a police officer. He is taking part in a project in Regina called RAGS. Mr.Hurley and other former gang bangers are in a studio (or just finnished) recording a rap album to spread the message of staying away from gangs. TBnewswatch did not include this info in the story and makes the story very confusing.
2/12/2012 12:13:09 PM
ThunderBayite says:
There are two different people in the news story. One is a former gang member (Mr. Hurley) and the other is Sgt. Neil Herman, part of the Thunder Bay Police Gang Unit who is pictured.
2/12/2012 3:54:47 PM
george2000 says:
The current Mayor 2 years ago said crime was a problem in T.Bay. Many scoffed at him.

The former Chief and his partner the former Mayor said crime is not a problem in T.Bay.

Even some of the media sidestepped our crime rates.

The current chief downplays crime rates that should have this city screaming while spending money like it is limitless and the only conclusion one could draw is that no one cares.

This song has been going on for 20 years and our media plays along, posts these stories and moves on to the next bake sale or tea party and no one will ask a question of any relevance. It is whatever the talking heads say and it gets reported like it is all the truth.

If we really want to deal with crime in this city, get the OPP in here and get rid of this police force because they are a joke. I know a couple of cops and the stories they tell are incredible. They need to go because many of the cops don't care either.
2/12/2012 9:52:54 PM
someone86 says:
okay so from what I am getting from this, is we will just let people people do what they want, and "HOPE" it goes away. I'm sorry but we are not CALIFORNIA we are Thunder Bay, who we should care about our society, but I am not getting that, you don't want criminals in jail because our tax dollars will go up, but what the heck is the point of working so damn hard if you don't want to spend your money you make because people are going to steel what you have anyways? I am sick of this city, we complain about everything, the government can't do anything right. Enough is enough already. We do need criminal in jail and in jail long enough to learn their lesson, and if they don't then they go in longer. I can't even express how all these comments made me feel...
2/12/2012 11:49:25 PM
animiki says:
I think you've been reading the comments from a different story. The general consensus among those balking at longer and harsher sentences for criminals on here seems to be that they aren't effective, and only deal with the problem AFTER people have been victims of crime. So, INSTEAD of relying solely on more jail time (which, honestly, is perfectly reasonable for those who commit extremely serious crimes), let's try something else...something that will try to prevent--in this case--young Aboriginals from joining gangs and committing criminal acts in the first place. Let's try a community-based solution, in which people work together to provide a supportive, productive and accepting environment for, say, a kid from a remote northern reserve who's never spent time in a large city, but suddenly finds himself transported here for high school. Let's give him something meaningful to be part of, so he doesn't fall into the rough and dangerous "brotherhood" of gang membership.
2/13/2012 10:31:14 AM
peas08 says:
Ok this makes no sense. Who cares what he did in the past. Isn't the point that he realized his wrongs and made a better life for himself? So we complain if they run the streets acting like thugs but if they change we judge them for that too. How about congratulating him and thanking him for helping out where he can. I would much rather have someone admit they have a shady past and move forward than to have someone representing us who pretends they are doing great by us but is truly isn't. ( at least one such trial going on now if you recall)
2/13/2012 7:16:38 AM
Random says:
Petty crime= correctional centre/learn a trade.
Violent crime= maximumm security/hard labour/calorie diet suitable to sustain life.
Gang member= public caning.
Think all those would have the desired effect. The correctional centre can teach a trade and help those become productive members of society.
The maximum security/hard labour for violent offenders would relegate them to what they are good for, and the low calorie diet would ensure they can't riot/escape. The hard labour would include products manufactured at zero labour cost to compete with countries like China.
Public caning, well, that would just make me feel darn good to watch that...the gangbanger getting a little back. Could have them at city hall, every Thursday afternoon. Would also give people on the bus something to watch while waiting for their transfer.
In Hongkong, you get caned for graffiti. Guess what, Hongkong is a clean city.
2/13/2012 2:06:15 PM
wayne says:
throughout the 90's, Winnipeg earned the distinction of being the 'gang' capital of Canada. They still have gangs, but they are mainly native canadian. what is it that they done to successfully reduce gang activity?
2/13/2012 7:50:04 PM
wayne says:
there is still gang activity in wpg, but it is on a different level than here in tbay. There has been violence between rival gangs in wpg (our nearest major urban centre), fire bombings, shooting deaths, etc. Is that same level of gang criminality taking place here?
2/13/2012 7:54:50 PM
wayne says:
I wonder if the string of Mac's robberies is gang-related? Could it be an initiation rite to become part of the gang family? If not, why would someone risk being caught for a small amount of money and a few packs of smokes? It doesn't appear to be the work of a couple of serial robbers. Just sayin'
2/13/2012 8:05:44 PM
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