The Laval Police Department (SPL) was concerned last week about the growing number of minors arrested for illegal possession of firearms in its territory. Have some young people already vulnerable joined criminal networks after being weakened by the pandemic? Likely, experts say, but increasingly easy access to guns on the dark web and the recruitment practices of street gangs could also explain the phenomenon.

“We are arresting increasingly young individuals who carry firearms, it is worrying”, underlined the head of the SPL, Pierre Brochet, last Wednesday, while he reported at a press conference ofa “worrying” increase in violence linked to street gangs in Laval in 2021.

Criminal lawyer Tiago Múrias, who has been practicing in the Youth Chamber for ten years, makes the same observation. Since the beginning of the year, he has noticed that a significant number of his clients in Montreal and Laval, all minors, are accused of possession of firearms. “Usually I represented one or two a year. This year, I represented fifteen of them. This is the first time that I have had so many, ”he observes.

The phenomenon is also observable in the metropolis. The director of the SPVM, Sylvain Caron, notes a “trivialization” of the carrying of weapons on the territory of the metropolis. Recent events prove him right. On August 18, the SPVM proceeded to the arrest of six people between the ages of 17 and 20 in connection with the gunfire drawn on July 30 in the Villeray – Saint-Michel – Parc-Extension borough. Five firearms were seized that day. “These are not toys! It’s quite worrying to see what is happening, ”said the chief of the police force this weekend during a press briefing with the mayoress of Montreal, Valerie Plante. “And it’s not just a Montreal phenomenon. Toronto has been going through this for a few years. Ottawa went through it for a while. “

Street gangs, a “youth phenomenon”

Although the cause-and-effect link remains to be demonstrated, experts believe the pandemic may have weakened some already vulnerable youth who would later have joined criminal networks.

They stress, however, that the presence of minors in street gangs is not new.

René-André Brisebois, worker and researcher at the University Institute for Young People in Difficulty, tries to explain it. “The confinement could have contributed to exacerbating some difficulties in the personal lives of some young people. It may have further weakened those who were already vulnerable, since all spheres of their lives were affected. “

“During the confinement, everything was in slow motion. It is possible that this meant that these young people did not receive the police or judicial intervention that they would have had in normal times ”, believes for his part the criminal lawyer Tiago Múrias.

As for criminologist Maria Mourani, she points out that it is not new that street gangs are recruiting minors. “Gangs are a ‘youth phenomenon’. They always recruited miners, it’s fresh flesh [pour eux] », She maintains. She also believes that, if more young people have handguns, it is now easy to get them on the Internet. dark web.

Some of these minors are then instrumentalised by the gangs, underlines Mme Murani. “They have to prove themselves. And we tell them that if they get “pounded”, they will not have the heaviest penalty. “

Affected communities

A street worker at a youth center in eastern Montreal, who requested anonymity before addressing the To have to, maintains that some young people in his neighborhood were recruited by a criminal gang during the pandemic.

These young people, who are 14 to 17 years old, are nevertheless known to local stakeholders: they live in the neighborhood HLMs. “We no longer saw them in the neighborhood. […] By word of mouth, it became known that they had been recruited by a gang following the death of a member of that gang. […] They started making a mess. This is the first time that she has intervened with young people of this age who are involved in street gangs, she said. “Before, it was still calm, we did not have young people of that age,” continues the one who has worked at the youth center for two and a half years.

Due to the pandemic, the activities of the youth center for which she works have been interrupted, she laments. “It was difficult to reach the young people. We lost our links for a few months. When we reopened, we tried to reconnect, but activities were limited. “

The speaker René-André Brisebois agrees that the pandemic has hurt youth centers and youth centers, despite the pursuit of certain videoconferencing activities. “Contact was limited with stakeholders. For some young people, close ties are extremely important, and the pandemic has weakened that. “

With Jean-Louis Bordeleau

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