One major difference between the criminals involved in Calgary's all-out gang war and gangs of the past in the city is the degree to which the top members are related through family ties, police say.

A list of about 60 people believed to be "high level" participants in the gangs has been compiled by the guns and gangs unit of the Calgary Police Service to help front-line officers identify them.

That list includes several groups of between two and 12 people who share a surname — many are cousins or brothers. 

Those suspected gangsters are mainly of Middle Eastern descent, young men who were born in Calgary and grew up together in the northeast.

"We're seeing a lot of that chaotic randomness with this new war," said Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin. "These are very, very fluid groups; they come together for particular purposes, to commit a certain crime or retaliation for an earlier crime, disassemble and reassemble again down the road to do something else.

Many of those young men grew up with older siblings and cousins who are involved in the drug trade — which has escalated to retaliatory violence — and know no other lifestyle.

But this isn't mafia-style family versus family violence. In one recent case, a suspected gangster faces a number of weapons-related charges, accused of shooting at his first cousin from a moving vehicle.

Barber shop shooting

Police investigators were on scene at a barbershop in the city's southeast investigating a fatal shooting in November. One of the characteristics of the gang war is reckless use of firearms. Police warn Calgary is on track to double the number of shootings this year compared to last. (CBC)

The gangsters have formed drug trafficking organizations and aligned themselves around drugs, turf and loyalty.

"As soon as the violence starts to percolate and get intense, other people start attaching themselves to the group" - Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin

But while the police chief confirms those involved in organized crime are linked through both family and ethnicity, he says membership is by no means limited to those categories.

"As soon as the violence starts to percolate and get intense, other people start attaching themselves to the group, either through fear or through need for support," said Chaffin. "We see the same thing here, as these gangs get violent, what initially looked like it was ethnic-based will just become a mix of people."

The 'fentanyl phenomenon'

Staff Sgt. Quinn Jacques of the guns and gangs unit believes the economic climate and what he calls the "fentanyl phenomenon" have allowed these groups to thrive.

The previous gang war in Calgary between the FOB and FK gangs between 2002 to 2009 saw those groups dealing in large quantities of cocaine.

Now, many of the major players are dealing fentanyl but in smaller quantities — "nickle and dime deals," said Jacques.

Calgary police seize thousands of fentanyl pills

Calgary police recently seized thousands of fentanyl pills in eight raids at properties throughout the city. It's believed much of the organized crime violence happening in Calgary right now is tied to fentanyl drug dealing. (Tim Devlin/CBC)

Police hope a major bust announced on Tuesday that saw thousands of fentanyl pills seized and 11 people arrested, will put a dent in the industry.

One of the raids was on a stash house but sources say there are several locations used as stash houses all over the city.

'Wickedly reckless' with firearms

Another defining characteristic of this latest gang war is gangsters' use of firearms.

"It just became this arms race where potentially people forgot what the original conflict was over," - Staff Sgt. Quinn Jacques, Guns and Gangs Unit

It takes little to no provocation for violence to erupt, police say. A verbal insult is sometimes enough to elicit an attack.

"These guys are wickedly reckless," said one source who has connections to organized crime in Calgary, who spoke to CBC News on the condition of anonymity due to safety concerns. "Their capacity for violence is limitless."

Calgary is on track to double the number of shootings this year compared to last.

Police call the weapons used by the gangsters "crime guns" and say about 60 per cent of the firearms used in the nearly 100 shootings this year were stolen in break and enters.

Calgary police guns

Police believe these guns that were seized from a southwest Calgary home in May are connected to the ongoing gang violence. Police say about 60 per cent of the firearms used in shootings this year were stolen in break and enters. (Calgary Police)

The rest, are mostly coming in through the United States — Montana, Washington, Alaska and Arizona.

"It just became this arms race where potentially people forgot what the original conflict was over," said Jacques. "They just know that they're completely opposed to another group of guys that happen to be dealing dope in their neighbourhood."

Gangs avoid names to avoid attention

Aside from the extreme gun violence, the gangsters have been known on several occasions to kidnap rivals and torture them.

Investigators also believe the gangsters are smart enough to avoid forming named groups as Calgary has seen in the past.

"They're clever enough to know that would create unwanted attention," said Jacques.

And he says they know it could even broaden the scope of criminal charges they could face if caught.

Culture of fearlessness

And there's a culture of fearlessness among those involved.

When police learn that a gangster is likely to be targeted by a rival, they perform what's called a "duty to warn," where they go to the home or workplace of the target and warn them about the threat.

This time around, police say their warnings are met with "smirks."

"These guys know the risks, they accept it," says Jacques.


Family Feuds: Calgary's New Gang War is a series that examines the gun violence happening in the city. Stories will focus on who the gangsters are and how they're policed and prosecuted. Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.