Street gangs recruiting, intimidating, on social media

Street gangs in Saskatchewan and other provinces are becoming more active in social media and stepping up their online recruiting, experts say.

This week, CBC Saskatchewan reported on what is believed to be a gang initiation video showing a young man beaten bloody inside a home by a group of other young men.

Activity on the increase

Whether it's YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or texting, online gang activity has become more prevalent in the last three years, according to David Fraser, who's with the Canadian Safe Schools Network.

CBC News did a brief search on Facebook and other social media websites and found numerous posts and photos showing people in Regina, Saskatoon and other communities bragging about their gang connections, flashing hand signals and posing with tattoos.

"We bank online, we shop online, and most of us work exclusively online at this point," said Fraser, who's the school organizations director of special projects and social media. "Everything involves cellphone communication, or email … and it's sort of a natural progression for [gang activity] to move online as well."

The immediate consequence of this is that gangs can now recruit more easily outside of their own neighbourhoods, he said.

"We're seeing it in a number of major Canadian cities: Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon," Fraser said. "It's something that's becoming more pervasive across the country."

Another form of cyberbullying

Gang intimidation is becoming an extreme form of cyberbullying, he said. Gangs aren't restricted to finding victims on the street, they reach them through phone calls or texts or Facebook.

Fraser said people can fight back. If people suspect someone is being recruited or intimidated online they should talk to the Canadian Safe Schools Network or call the police, he said.

Rob Deglau, exectutive director of Regina's North Central Community Association, says more must be done to keep youths from being recruited in the first place.

The North Central Community Association had an anti-gang outreach program, but federal money ran out and the program ended.

"It's like watching an accident and a disaster happening and not having the tools to do any sort of triage or fixing or first aid work," he said. "It's horrible to be in this position."

Need identified for more anti-gang programs

Provincial officials say the gap in Regina is being filled through another program called Street Culture, but Deglau says with the gangs' new recruiting strategies ramping up, that may not be enough.

Meanwhile, Regina police say they have laid charges against six people seen in the recently posted YouTube video that shows a young man submitting to a brutal beating.