The recent deaths of two members of Italian mafia families has caught the attention of the media. But what's really going on in Canadian crime?
Last week, Rocco Zito—a long-retired Toronto crime boss—was found shot to death in his home, allegedly slain by his son-in-law. Zito died at 87, a long life for anyone, but especially long for a former mob boss believed to have been involved in up to six murders. Even more surprising was that he wasn't the only old-school mobster recently killed in Toronto.
Just a week prior, Alfredo Patriarca—an alleged member of the American-based Patriarca crime family—was assassinated in the garage of a house he rented. The police released a video Wednesday that shows an assailant donning a white parka and black jeans fleeing the scene, and questions have been raised whether it has something to do with a previous attempt on his life.
While gang disputes in Toronto have floated in and out of the public consciousness during the last decade, the classic image of European mafias that once dominated pop culture have largely faded into obscurity. Consequently, these new murders have stuck out.
James Dubro has an encyclopedic knowledge of Canadian crime. From the biggest biker gangs to the triads to various mafias to rag-tag teams of criminals, Dubro has documented the most bloody and brutal parts of Canadian criminal history for the last 42 years. If he had a resume, his skills would include having hitmen as friends and access to a rolodex of mob bosses you only see in films like The Godfather.
Starting as a documentary journalist in 1974, Dubro covered a swath of Canadian gang activity from the 1970s to the 90s. Some of the highlights included the ups and downs of Ontario's Calabrian mafia, and the various warring factions of Asian gangs on the west coast. He's covered biker gangs like the Hells Angels and Rock Machine, as well as the Montreal-based Rizzuto crime family.
In Canada, it's hard to find anyone better qualified to speak about organized crime, so I called him up to get a clearer idea of what's happening to the criminal world.
VICE: If you're willing to spill some of your secrets—how did you begin to gain access to sources within organized crime?
James Dubro: It was very different in the 70s. We were lucky to have the CBC behind us with money. We actually spent three years researching one documentary and they had resources that they gave us. I cultivated organized crime sources, which includes everything from mistresses, to ex-members of biker gangs, mafias, and various organized crime groups, Asian crime groups.
In those days, there was no internet. I started by spending a few months at the library. I know that sounds ridiculous now, but there was no Google. There was nothing. I had to use cards on which I wrote everything. I had a file card system. Basically, I spent a lot of time, a lot of money. I had to wine and dine sources—we actually had a budget for that. A Mountie will talk a lot better after he's had a few glasses of booze. In the early 70s, the cops were very suspicious of reporters, but they weren't suspicious anymore after a few drinks.
What was the climate of organized crime like in Canada in the 70s and 80s?
In the 70s it was very different. Vancouver has always been very interesting and the [west coast] has always been Asian gangs. It's something that goes back almost 100 years. You also have a lot of independent gangs in Vancouver. The white boys, the bikers, the street gangs, and all that. There's been a lot of violence in these gangs, a lot of killings in Vancouver. That's stayed the same.
In Montreal, it was always very violent because of its location. Drugs would always come through there, bootleg booze would pass through. It was also always much more structured, when compared to Ontario at least. We've had our ups and downs.
Toronto is really a different kettle of fish. The last real godfather we had in Toronto was Paul Volpe. [Volpe was assassinated in 1983 at the age of 55.] Volpe wasn't really the godfather of Toronto, but he was the closest thing to it. That means he was someone who everybody in the underworld respected and feared.
In terms of who controls the game nowadays—who's moving the drugs and doing the most business—have gangs replaced the mafia in Canada?
Well, the mafia is weakened nowadays. From [police activities] to infighting, it has gone down a bit. Bikers have this issue too—a lot of police activities. You'll see on the streets here in Toronto that most of the shootings and crime happens from [Haitian/Jamaican gangs and Triads]. I read something in the paper yesterday that said the 'Ndrangheta [a prominent Italian crime family] is the biggest and most dangerous mafia in the world. That would be true if you brought all the different sects together. There are many, many, many cells of these mafias and they don't work together most of the time. The public thinks of it in a distorted way.
Is organized crime as organized as we perceive it to be?
Each place is different, but that's part of the story. People work together in different operations, drug rings work together, and people set up rivalries. That's why you see these killings, two in Toronto that are organized-crime connected—Rocco Zito and Alfredo Patriarca. You have problems and divisions and rivalries, and the way to solve them in organized crime is often to just shoot the person, to kill them, to get rid of them.
Let's talk about the Rocco Zito killing. The police are saying it was just a dispute between a son-in-law and his father.
We don't know that—it's just alleged. One of the ways of forming alliances in these circles is to marry your daughter off to a rival family. It's unclear yet if it's a domestic dispute or a rival action or both. We'll find out in time, and people like to jump to conclusions very quickly.
What was the legacy of Rocco Zito?
From talking to some of the people who work for him, it's that a lot of people in the underworld respected and feared him. He brought in drugs quietly and he provided illegal card games. He was very good at illegal gambling operations here in Ontario.
Is there anything brewing right now in organized crime that we have to keep an eye on?
These things change and they're flexible. They're not written in stone. I don't think there's going to be a mob [or biker] war in Ontario. I think whatever war there was in Quebec recently is now sorted out and, presumably, under the new leaders of the Rizzuto family, there will be less bloodshed. British Columbia, there's always battles because no one's supreme. There's always killings and there's always vengeance and there's always drug turf wars because there's so much money to be made.
Do you think most people don't understand how organized crime really works?
I think most people have a very simplified view of organized crime. People often ask me who the boss of Toronto is, as if it's that simple. It isn't, it's extremely complex, and when you're talking about British Columbia crime, there has never been one person in charge. This is also very fluid and changing. It only really takes a gun and a couple of people to shoot the boss—if there is a boss—and it's happened. It's happened in Atlantic City, in New York City. It's happened in Toronto. No matter how respected or feared you are, it only takes one bullet to end your reign.
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