Canada is the best country in the world for organized criminals, mafia expert says

When it comes to being lenient on organized crime, one of the country's leading experts on the mafia says Canada is the best country in the world. Antonio Nicaso, author of more than 30 books about organized crime spoke with the CBC about the mafia in Canada.

Canada is 'opaque" when it comes to identifying the owner of private companies, author says

When it comes to being lenient on organized crime, one of the country's leading experts on the mafia says Canada is the best country in the world.

Mafia expert Antonio Nicaso spoke with the CBC last week soon after it was announced that a man wanted in the killing of notorious Hamilton mobster Pat Musitano had been found dead in Mexico and police there were treating the man's death as a homicide.

Nicaso is the author of more than 30 books about organized crime and a lecturer at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. His book Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto's Last War, written with Peter Edwards, was the subject material for the first season of the Netflix crime drama Bad Blood. 

He spoke about how the mafia is making money off COVID-19, why there was violence in Hamilton but peace in Montreal and what he says the government should do to protect Canadians.

Read an edited and abridged transcript below or hit play above and watch the entire interview with the CBC's Conrad Collaco. 

Antonio Nicaso, mafia expert
Antonio Nicaso is an author of more than 30 books on organized crime. He is also a professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. (Queen's University)

Q: What does the Musitano killings mean for the battle for organized crime in Hamilton and throughout Ontario?

With the murder of the Musitano brothers, a local player, decided to regain the historical connection to the Buffalo mafia. Actually, during a project an undercover police agent was formally inducted into the mafia in Montreal while authorities secretly videotaped the initiation ceremony. The Violis, the people that we are against this idea of Canadian mafia led by Rizzuto — of course they were against it because Rizzuto masterminded the murder of Paulo Violi in 1978. In another episode Dominic Violi, during a conversation intercepted in 2017, he claimed that he was promoted to the place of underboss within the Buffalo mafia. So, these two elements in some way help us to understand that the group like the Violis and their allies, they were trying to rebuild the connection to the mob, to the Buffalo mafia, to the New York mafia, because, probably, they were not strong enough to fight with their own resources and the idea to reconnect themselves to the Americans, of course, gave them more power. Now, the Violis are in prison, but the tendency is to rebuild in some way the connection to the Buffalo mafia. 

So, I think it's an ongoing situation, but it's clearly the result of this power struggle. I don't think the Musitano crime group is able to strike back. I see them more on the defensive side but you never know. Unfortunately, they don't issue any press releases.

Now that Pat and Angelo Musitano are dead, there may be an assumption that the Musitano organization is done. Is that actually the case?

It's too early to say that, to write an obituary. I have read so many articles that claim that the Cosa Nostra in the United States is dying. But I think I will wait to reply with the same comment. It's too early to write the obituary of the American Cosa Nostra. Of course, they are not the organization they used to be, but they are still there and still powerful criminal groups with an interest in the money that they can make through alliances with the criminals in this part of the border in Canada. 

If we are seeing shootings in broad daylight in Hamilton, as was the case in the killing of Pat Musitano, why is this happening in Hamilton, but not in Montreal? What changed in Montreal?

In Montreal, the two groups that fought for 15 years finally reached an agreement. To understand the type of agreement that you have to consider that the Rizzuto crime family structure was a kind of criminal melting pot with criminals of different cultural backgrounds — French Canadians, criminal of Calabrian descent and Sicilian descent. At one point a component led by Raynald Desjardins, very close to the Calabrian component of the Rizzuto crime family started to challenge Rizzuto and they fought for power for so long. Recently, the two components decided to reach an agreement to avoid violence or to try to find a way to manage their own illegal activities without raising the attention of media and police any longer. 

Covid-19 is a virus that has affected every part of our life, our culture. And I imagine that's true also for the mafia. How is the mafia surviving and making money under covid-19? 

Let's say that since the pandemic, for example, the drug business has undergone various changes. We saw a different way of delivering narcotics as some use a drone, some use cabs. They had to invent new delivery techniques and strategies. 
But I always believe that the criminal opportunism will emerge further as the crisis unfolds. The risk is that organizations can exploit the crisis for their purposes. They can siphon off money from the stimulus, or they can purchase a failing company.

Canada is a land of opportunity, but more is a land for investment. Every major criminal organization has a branch in our country. And I think politicians should ask why criminals love Canada. And of course, they will realize that we are very lenient in terms of sentencing, in terms of the fight against organized crime. Our country is one of the world's most opaque jurisdiction when it comes to identifying the owner of private companies. Criminals love Canada because we Canada allows them to invest and launder money.

So compared to other jurisdictions — the US, Europe, other places — Canada is worse, in your opinion, when it comes to addressing serious, big business, organized crime? 

Yeah. We heard the answer from a mobster who used to say that Canada is the best the country in the world, complaining only for the weather. And, of course, it is true, absolutely true, because there is a lower risk of detention and conviction in Canada than in any other country in the world, including the United States and in Europe. We have this tendency to bargaining down sentences, bargain down to a lower sentence in order to avoid the cost of long trials. 

For example, in Italy, when the crown attorney decides to accept the collaboration of an individual, it's because that individual accepted the idea of entering into the witness protection program. And, that's the only condition to bargaining down a sentence.

This question comes in from Louie on social media. Louie asks "Do you ever fear for your life or your family's safety, given all the work that you've done to write about the mafia and organized crime?"

I developed the courage of fear, I have experienced many bad situations in my life. I have received threats. At one point I was forced to leave my country. But, I think that I learned how to manage with fear, to cope with fear. I don't underestimated any threat, but I will look forward because I think it's important to analyze organized crime and to share. You talked on the topic of the great concern and to propose a change in reform. We want to live in a world without criminals. 

We would like to live in a world without the organized crime influence. And I think we should do, each one of us, something to do that. It's not just a matter of law and order. It's a question that requires the contribution of each one of us. So each one, we should do something to raise concern and to ask for reform, to fight organized crime in a more effective way.