CBC Digital Archives

Triads trouble

Rum runners. Heroin connections. Ecstasy labs. All part of a long line of criminal dealings in the service of international drug trafficking that smear Canada's squeaky-clean image. As the international community began to regulate intoxicating drugs in the 20th century, drug traffickers forged global routes through Canada in a vicious and wildly lucrative case of supply and demand. CBC Digital Archives looks back at Canada's unique place in this perilous trade as a customer, conduit and producer of illegal drugs.

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Big crime and big money go hand in hand, and in Hong Kong - and increasingly Vancouver - that means the Asian triads. According to triad member Steven Wong, interviewed in this groundbreaking 1990 CBC Evening News clip, half the heroin that comes into North America goes through Vancouver. From there, it finds its way to every corner of the continent at a highly profitable rate of return. Making matters worse, the triads use spectacular street-level gang violence as a highly effective smoke screen: while the public and police focus on Chinatown shootouts, triad elders quietly move about 3,000 metric tonnes of smack each year.
• The term "triads" refers to Chinese secret societies that came to dominate Asian organized crime in Canada and around the world. These clandestine organizations thrived for centuries as a central part of Chinese society and culture, and were not historically criminal organizations. However, in the postwar era (particularly after the Cultural Revolution in China) triads fled mainland China into Hong Kong and Taiwan, where some elements found enormous profit in supplying black market demands. By 1990, when this CBC-TV report was broadcast, consolidation of their power over heroin trafficking out of the Golden Triangle made the triads a fearsome, global criminal network.
  • The Golden Triangle generally refers to Burma, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The proximity of these drug producer areas to the extremely busy Hong Kong port made Vancouver a natural smuggling hub en route to the North American market. Although the Golden Triangle still supplies enormous markets in Asia, particularly along trade routes in Southeast Asia and China, by 2008 the vast majority of the world's heroin supply originated in Afghanistan. According to the 2009 UN World Drug Report, in 1994 farmers in the Golden Triangle cultivated almost 170,000 hectares of poppies destined for opium production. By 2008, only 30,000 hectares of poppy plants grew there. Over the same period, cultivation shifted predominately to Southwest Asia (particularly Afghanistan). While only 75,000 hectares of opium grew there in 1994, by 2008 that number had jumped sharply to almost 160,000.

• In 2009, two main trade arteries carry opium from Afghanistan to the rest of the world. One route snakes its way via Iran, Turkey and the Balkans to Western Europe and the U.K. Canadian officials report that 98 per cent of the heroin seized in Canada was trafficked by air through Pakistan and India. Most of the heroin seized in Canada is destined for the U.S. market.

• Despite waning production in the Golden Triangle and reduction in overall demand for heroin since the mid-1990s, Asian triads consolidated and expanded their reach in the years after this clip first aired. By the mid 2000s, triads trafficked not only drugs and the chemical precursors used to manufacture synthetic drugs, but weapons, people and human organs among the many facets of their international crime syndicate.

• After the interview captured in this clip was broadcast, the RCMP put reporter Terry Gould under police protection. Steven Wong faked his own death in an effort to elude police, and Gould spent more than a decade trying to find him. Gould's book, Paper Fan - The Hunt for Triad Gangster Steven Wong, (2004) chronicles that remarkable story.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Evening News
Broadcast Date: March 13, 1990
Guest(s): Steven Wong
Reporter: Terry Gould
Duration: 8:09

Last updated: February 13, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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