The recent arrest of three alleged gangsters in the 2011 murder of gang leader Jonathan Bacon has refocused attention on the Bacon brothers, the notorious trio who rocketed to prominence in Metro Vancouver’s drug trade. In a city inured to spasms of violence, with dozens killed in last few years, the three Bacons, Jonathan, Jamie and Jarrod, seemed to stand alone for their willingness to stop at nothing to dominate the illegal cross-border traffic in marijuana and cocaine.
Crime writer Jerry Langton’s latest book, The Notorious Bacon Brothers: Inside Gang Warfare on Vancouver Streets (Wiley; March 2013; Paper; $24.95) looks at the how the Bacons were part of the reshaping of a gang culture that was cutting across traditional lines of ethnicity, economic class and geographic turf. We asked the Hamilton-born former deputy editor of New York Daily News about the infamous Bacons and the implication of these most recent arrests.
Yahoo! News Canada: What was your reaction when you heard there’s been arrests made in Jonathan Bacon's murder?
Jerry Langton: I wasn’t actually too surprised. Organized crime in Canada is not as mature as it is in some other countries and a lot of these guys, they think that they’re doing it in a very professional, sort of undetectable manner because they have some electronics and high-powered guns and tactics, black-out kits. But in the end they’re usually not very sophisticated.
As you know, Vancouver has a pretty widespread gang culture and we’re pretty used to all the warfare, but the Bacons kind of stood out. Why do you think that is?
The reason I’m drawn to this story is, as you know, I’m originally from Hamilton, a hotbed of organized crime in Canada, and I spent most of my adult career in New York City. You get to a point where you think you know what a gangster looks like and the Bacons sort of broke that mould. They were sort of demonstrative of what was going on in the Lower Mainland, the idea that anybody could be a gangster. It cut across ethnic lines, across economic strata. Just about anyone in that area could be involved at any level in organized crime. The fact that the Bacons appeared to be the boys next door made it all the more interesting.
They came from a middle-class family, not deprived in any way and just kind of charged into this after their early days as drug dealers in school.
What I’ve seen over the years writing about these sorts of people, it becomes sort of a conscious decision. Selling drugs and other forms or organized crime can become profitable very quickly — and there are profits that aren’t always financial, like status in the community — and come very quickly to people who are maybe of an impressionable age. And despite the dangers involved, not just from law enforcement but also from rival gangs, it can look like a pretty wise career option. There’s an attraction to it to many young men and women because they may be going through the drudgery of math class and then they see a guy with a Cadillac Escalade or some other rewards of his efforts. It can look pretty good.
[ Related: RCMP arrest suspects in death of Jonathan Bacon ]
It was mentioned in the promo to the book that there are lessons to be learned by the rest of the country from how the gang environment operates in Vancouver. What are those lessons?
The big thing to understand is that gangs are changing. They don’t look like what they used to look like. They have expanded, they are now multi-ethnic, they span different age groups. What law enforcement can learn is something that we’ve seen here in the rest of Canada and even more sharply in the Vancouver region, is that when they launch one of their projects or operations, which are often quite successful, they tend to be pointed at one side. For example, they may launch a project that may put a number of members of a gang like the United Nations behind bars, including their leadership, there’s a resulting vacuum that’s filled by the other side, the Red Scorpions, the Independent Soldiers or whoever, and you have the same amount of drug sales, the same amount of violence. So in the end, it hasn’t really helped.
Is there a solution to all this or do we just have to learn to live with the fact that these gangs are entrenched in society?
There are long-term solutions and then there’s much debate about legalization of certain drugs. But there will always be something that someone wants to trade that’s illegal, and legalization brings about its own debatable problems. More importantly, though, is you have to understand there will always be a market for some form of vice and someone will want to sell it. But there are ways to reduce the violence by policing evenly. Violence happens in organized crime when there’s internal discipline, which very little can be done about, (and) there is revenge, which is a big problem in Vancouver. I mean, you see the Bacons, you see the Duhres, the Dhaks, doing tit-for-tat killings. And then there’s fighting for turf. If you let one side feel empowered by arresting their opponents, they tend to get more violent.
From the violence standpoint, American organized crime kind of learned to try and control that violence from within. It’s an old cliche in the movies that gangs saw the violence as being bad for business. It appears that the Canadian gangs, or at least the Vancouver gangs, haven’t learned that.
Indeed, but the fact that organized crime violence in the United States dropped so precipitously, and I literally saw it happen, is the result of a huge number of factors. What I’ve seen is that what happens in the U.S. generally happens in Canada after a little while. They learn the lesson from what they’ve seen. But one of the big problems in the Lower Mainland is that they don’t really have that many contacts in the U.S. to impart this knowledge or to show some form of leadership. Most of the contacts are coming from Mexico, where there is a drug civil war going on with 80,000 deaths over the last six years.
[ Related: Bacon brother testifies of cocaine theft plot ]
I see your point. So their role models, if you will, are the guys in the (Mexican) cartels?
A lot of the guys (affiliated with) the cartels were old Canadians. I remember when Clayton Roueche, who was in charge of the United Nations, when he met Johnny K-9 (aka Ion William Croitoru), who was a gangster from Hamilton and Toronto. He was really impressed with him because he was a big guy, covered in tattoos, who had been in jail a number of times. He looked at this guy who had basically failed out of several motorcycle gangs as something of a role model.
In your research on the book, were you able to get close to any of the principals in your story to get their information firsthand?
I’ve had lots of people who are very well known in organized crime in Canada approach me and talk to me and talk at length but they have a habit of denying they’ve done anything wrong, despite the evidence, despite what I know from other sources.
(Photo courtesy CBC)