What are Youth Street Gangs?

  • Involvement of young people who come together for the primary purpose of for-profit criminal or violent activity
  • Criminal activity is for the purpose of advancing the cause of the group (i.e. a street gang)
  • A shared common allegiance to a set of values

Are gangs really a problem?

A gang isn’t just a group of people hanging out together. Most gangs engage in criminal activity.

The gang phenomenon is more widespread that we imagine-there are more than 430 active gangs in Canada.

Gangs and the Law

Any contribution to gang activity is ILLEGAL.

According to the Criminal Code S. 467.1, being involved in a gang or its activities or even being aware of the gang’s criminal activities-past, present, or future-can lead to as many as 14 years in prison… and that doesn’t even account for any other crime committed while being part of the gang!

Evolution of a Gang Member

Youth thinking about gangs, researching the Internet, change in attitude, change in dress, experimenting with drugs.

Youth starting to live the gang culture-staying out without permission, new friends that parents do not know, being secretive with parents.

Commission of criminal offences, youth has been initiated into the gang, carrying weapons for protection. They now feel that they are in a “family” now and may be loyal to the gang at all costs.

Why do youth join street gangs?

  • For a sense of belonging or to be part of a group/accepted by your peers
  • For the excitement and risks of the gang lifestyle
  • To seek protection from potential violence
  • To earn money
  • To be with friends
  • Have low self-esteem or motivation
  • For the perceived power and status associated to gangs
  • Friends or family members belong to a gang
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Poverty
  • Abuse or neglect at home


The media often portrays the lives of gangs and gang members as exciting and glamorous. The reality is much different. Despite what you might think, gang members often have more enemies than friends. They are not likely to protect any new members from getting hurt.

Bonds between gang members can often be mistaken for strong, healthy relationships but they are nothing like a family. Many leaders decide who you can or cannot talk to, they tell you what to wear, what to do, etc. they might also force you to sell drugs or commit crimes by threatening you.

Actually, it is the complete opposite. Society looks down on criminality and violence. Rather than respect gangs, communities fear them.

Although the media portrays gangs as being made up of members of the same ethnicity or race, in Canada more than 36% of gangs are multicultural. Most of the multicultural gangs are found in the province of Ontario, British Columbia, and Manitoba, whereas single race gangs are found more in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

The Truth About Gang Life

  1. There’s a high risk of getting injured or killed
  2. Changes of getting a criminal record are increased
  3. Involvement in selling illegal drugs and stolen property to obtain money
  4. Solve problems with violence and intimidation
  5. Required to complete an initiation to join a gang
  6. May have to commit criminal acts just to prove themselves
  7. High frequency of drug and alcohol abuse
  8. Gang life is a self-destructive lifestyle

Recruitment is done mostly through friends, acquaintances, and siblings. The average age of gang members is 17; however, youth as young as 11 are targeted. They will pay for meals, snacks, etc. They want to make the recruit fell at ease so he or she feels welcomed and befriended.

They take the recruit along as they commit a small crime, observe his or her reaction and maybe ask him or her to participate. After a short period of time, they will ask the recruit to join the gang. By that time, they know the recruit’s weaknesses and motivations to join the gang, and they can use those against him or her.

Girls are often lured by males who promise them an exciting future. They are often lured by clothes, jewellery, money, etc.

For boys, the initiation will most likely consist of forced drug or alcohol consumption or organized fights with gang members, called a “jump-in”. As for girls, they are often required to take part in sexual acts with multiple gang members.

How do you get out of a gang?

Getting out a gang is not easy. The other members of the gang are often long-time friends; they hang out in the same places, or even attend the same school.  Leaving the gang requires avoiding all those places and leaving friends behind. In addition, once trying to start a new life, the people in the community may still see that person as a gang member and never forget their gang involvement.

Any reason is a good reason if you want to leave a gang…

  • You are scared
  • Severe incidents have happened (a member got hurt or killed)
  • You want to follow a different path (school, work)
  • You want to spend time with someone that’s not in the gang
  • You were arrested by the police
  • Your gang’s activity is monitored by the police

How to help someone who wants to leave a gang?

  • Talk to him or her about how they feel
  • Listen to him or her without judging or preaching
  • Together, weigh out the advantages and disadvantages
  • Respect his or her feelings towards the gang and its activities
  • Suggest alternatives that would bring him or her equal satisfaction
  • Suggest that he or she talks with a professional or a youth counselor
  • Know your limits. You can’t help someone that doesn’t want to be helped and you can’t take on this responsibility on you own

Reporting Gang Activity

  • You can report gang releated activity to the Hamilton Police Service 905-546-4925 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477)

Gangs (PDF 293 KB)