'Ndrangheta crime group operating in Toronto, inquiry hears
An arm of the Calabria crime syndicate is the dominant force in Toronto’s criminal world, a Toronto-area police detective told an organized crime inquiry in Montreal on Thursday.
Mike Amato, a York Regional Police detective, testified as part of Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission, which is investigating links between the mob and that province’s construction industry.
CTV Montreal’s Stephane Giroux reported from the hearing that Amato detailed the ongoing power struggle for control of Toronto’s criminal underbelly, outlining how a local arm of the 'Ndrangheta held the upper hand on rival groups headquartered in Sicily.
Amato said the local branch of the 'Ndrangheta organization used its international connections in Europe and beyond to intimidate rivals in the Toronto area.
The 'Ndrangheta is an affiliate of the Calabrese branch of the Mafia, and is believed to run money laundering facilities, illegal gambling operations and is even accused of stock market manipulation in Quebec and Toronto.
Amato told the hearing that Toronto is a great place to launder criminal wealth and that the modern-day Mafia has managed to deeply root itself in everyday society.
"They hold meetings in restaurants, they do not operate in the dark and they operate in the light amongst us."
The veteran police officer said Mafia-controlled legitimate businesses in his region include everything from garden centres to financial institutions to banquet halls.
"They need these businesses to launder criminal proceeds," Amato said. "It also allows them to explain their wealth ... you can mask it in a business where you can hide your illegitimate wealth."
During the hearing on Thursday, Amato described how the Italian mafia has “franchised” itself across the globe. He called Toronto an open city for criminals – a reputation Montreal held in the 1950s.
Former RCMP chief superintendent Ben Soave told the Toronto Star earlier this week that organized crime has infiltrated Ontario, and now has as tight a grasp in that province as it does in Quebec.
Soave, who retired from the RCMP in 2004, told the Star he was concerned about how large the 'Ndrangheta operation had grown in Ontario.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said this week that if the Mafia was operating in Ontario, he would expect to hear about it through the proper channels.
"If there are serious and warranted allegations they need to be made in a substantive way, not through the media," he told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
"I would expect that people in positions among our police services would be drawing this to our attention at the earliest possible opportunity."
While testifying, Amato said the Mafia has a long history of dealing with law enforcement and manages to stay under the radar by understanding how police operate.
"As we evolve as a society, so too does organized crime," Amato said. “They are just sometimes a little bit quicker, better and faster at it than we are."
Amato noted that while Ontario boasts many of the illegal operations associated with the Mafia, including smuggling and drug trafficking, the degree of Mob violence witnessed in the province is much lower than in Quebec.
"If there is numerous murders, a lot of violence, if there are a lot of bombings, it attracts attention from politicians, from the community, from police," Amato said.
"You cannot build a successful criminal enterprise if you're continually being investigated by the police."
The inquiry resumes next Monday with more witnesses.
With files from CTV Montreal's Stephane Giroux and The Canadian Press