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A style of rap music known for its violent lyrics posted online by rival gangs is fuelling gang-related homicides in Canada, says an expert with an organization devoted to raising awareness about gang issues and youth violence.
Last year, Canada had the highest number of gang-related homicides on record, according to Statistics Canada data released Nov. 21.
Canada’s homicide rate overall rose by 3 percent in 2021 compared with 2020, to 2.06 homicides per 100,000 people, with the greatest increases in Ontario (to 277 homicides) and British Columbia (to 125 homicides). Nationwide, police services reported 788 homicides, with 184, nearly a quarter of them, gang-related.
“I can tell you right now social media is fuelling a lot of the violence,” said Andrew Hammond, vice president of the non-profit Ontario Gang Investigators Association (ONGIA), in an interview with The Epoch Times.
Hammond said people from rival gangs post freestyle rap videos about each other on YouTube, which inflames tensions.
“It’s called ‘drill music,’” he said. “It started in Chicago, and our kids in Toronto are following suit quite a bit.”
The evidence that drill music—”drill” being street slang denoting the use of automatic weapons—is causing much of the violence is anecdotal as of yet, Hammond said. But he has seen so many cases where violence followed right on the heels of a social media post that he’s fairly convinced it’s the cause.
“I wouldn’t say the majority of shootings in Southern Ontario is related to drugs—it’s related to beef. It’s related to online disrespect.”
Gary Mauser, an academic and senior fellow at the Fraser Institute who has served as an expert witness on criminal justice issues in the Senate, says what Hammond is observing “is not surprising.”
“Most gang members—and wannabes—are young males who react childishly to perceived slights or imagined insults to their egos,” he told The Epoch Times.
Drugs as Root Cause
Drill music has caught the attention of authorities around the world. UK and Australia police have sought to remove drill rap videos posted online. New York Mayor Eric Adams suggested banning drill music from social media to prevent further violence. In New York City, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark and local police cracked down on violent offenders prominent in the drill rap scene this year.
Canada had 33 more gang-related homicides last year than in 2020—184 compared to 151, a 20 percent increase—representing the highest rate (0.48 per 100,000 people) recorded in Canada since 2005 when Statistics Canada began collecting comparable data. Saskatchewan had the highest rate of gang-related homicides in the nation, at 2.12 per 100,000 people, an increase of 9 percent over 2020.
“The high homicide rate in Saskatchewan comes from indigenous—both gang-related and domestic murders,” Mauser said. “Drugs and alcohol are driving a lot of violence in First Nations communities, and there are rival gangs fighting over the increasingly lucrative drug trade in Northern Saskatchewan.”
Earlier this year, a Parliament-commissioned report looked at the rise in gang violence and made recommendations. It brought together law-enforcement officials from across Canada, many of whom blamed the demand for drugs as a root cause for gang proliferation.
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Stephen White is quoted in the report: “[W]hatever the drug is—whether it’s cocaine, fentanyl, or meth—if the demand is there, you are going to get groups that are moving into it, both gangs and organized crime. With that comes competition between gangs and organized crime, and that does foster a potential increase in violence.”
The report also contained recommendations for better interagency cooperation. The RCMP is developing a new national criminal intelligence service system to be used by local police services in fighting organized crime.
ONGIA’s Hammond suggested a couple of other factors that may be causing a rise in gang violence.
One is that young gang members feel more confident carrying guns. Police aren’t stopping them on the street as much as they used to, Hammond said. In the past, he said, a gang member who had a conflict would have to go back to his home or his car to get his gun and return to find the person he wanted to shoot. Now, he just pulls out his gun and shoots on the spot.
Guns are also more accessible, Hammond said. Most of the guns used for crimes in Toronto are smuggled from the United States, say law enforcement officials, including Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief Myron Demkiw and former Police Chief Bill Blair.
“[Canada’s] ‘crime guns’ are smuggled, primarily within the drug trade, in which drugs flow south in exchange for firearms coming north,” Mauser explained in his Mackenzie Institute report, “Do Triggers Pull Fingers? A Look at the Criminal Misuse of Guns in Canada.”
Another factor fuelling increasing gang violence, Hammond said, is a change in the gang subculture. In the past, gang members adhered to more “unwritten rules” to maintain peace between them. Young gang members today are more likely to shoot immediately when provoked.
Keeping Youth From Joining Gangs
The most effective solution to gang violence, Hammond said, is keeping youth from joining gangs by providing mentorship, sports programs, and other activities.
“To keep kids out of the gang subculture, it’s grassroots—it really starts in the home and starts in the community,” he said.
In addition to the rise in gang violence, the Statistics Canada report highlighted the high proportion of indigenous homicide victims in 2021, accounting for 25 percent of the 752 victims for whom indigenous identify was available. Homicides perpetrated by the spouse or intimate partner of the victim accounted for 17 percent of homicide victims in the country.
Saskatchewan had the highest homicide rate of 5.93 per 100,000 people among the provinces in 2021. Manitoba had the second-highest rate (4.41).
Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Alberta had the largest percentage decrease in homicide rate from 2020, while Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia, and Ontario had the largest percentage increase.
Trois-Rivières, Quebec, and Guelph, Ontario, were the only census metropolitan areas with no homicides reported by police in 2021.
Statistics Canada stated in its report, “Despite these recent increases, homicides remained relatively rare events, as reported historically. They accounted for less than 0.2% of all police-reported violent crimes in 2021.”