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The Italian Mafia as One of the Largest Organized Crime Groups in Canada

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Over the past years, crime has become a major issue of societal and public concern, often leading to the dysfunctional factors of society. As society continued to develop, certain individuals, also known as sociologists, began to study why members of society engaged in crime. These studies led to the acknowledgment that crime is extremely diverse and can be categorized into different segments. A particular segment that contributes significantly to crime would be organized crime.

The term organized crime tends to be associated with ‘The Mafia’, ‘Cartels’, and ‘Scarface’, due to the influence of media. The appropriate definition of organized crime can be explained as an ongoing criminal enterprise that intelligently working towards obtaining profit through the engagement in illegal activities (O. Finckenauer, 2005). The structure and organization of these crime groups tend to be the reason for their success within the illicit community.

In Canada, organized crime groups have evolved through social and economic means. One of the many groups that had a great impact in Canadian society was the Italian Mafia. The Mafia was adapted into North America by a small group of Italian immigrants, primarily from Sicily and Calabria (Dubro, Champlain and MacAdam , 2006). This became the one of the many organized groups that engaged in crimes such as murder, drug and firearm trafficking, loan sharking, fraud and numerous others. In early history of the Italian Mafia, members of society began to question the intentions of these immigrants. Specifically, questions regarding whether the Italian immigrants had brought in the culture of Mafia into society or did the conditions in Canada restrict certain individuals from evolving. The Mafia began to arise in Sicily during the late middle ages, in which the possibility of a secret organization. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the aspirations of the private group grew to be powerful and have an higher level of engaging in criminal behaviour. Towards late 19th century, there became an increase of Italian immigrants in Canada which resulted in a greater level of concern of criminal behaviour within the country. The first Italian immigrants primarily settled in Toronto, Montreal, which marked the beginning of the extensive challenges that were faced by Italian immigrants. Due to the many barriers such as, language, culture and people, the Italians remained with, socialized with, and committed crimes with other Italians within their own Italian communities. These communities slowly became known as the Italian Mafia.

The Mafia was recognized for the type of bond they formed with members of the group – Omerta. Omerta, is an Italian word that members of the Italian Mafia obeyed as it conveyed a code of silence (Çayli, 2010). The structure of the Mafia was solely based on family, specifically, these groups can share a bound together by oath, blood and secrecy. Within the Italian Mafia, three sub-groups exist that share “similar structures, rituals, and norms … evolving into violent criminal fraternities” (Schneider, 2017). The first of these groups was called the 'Ndrangheta', which originated in the 1860s that consisted with Sicilians who were banished by the Italian government. The Canadian ’Ndrangheta engaged in numerous amounts of criminal behaviour such as, smuggling unlicensed tobacco products, extortion, loan sharking, theft, mortgage and bank fraud. This group was labelled as the Siderno Group which operated particularly in the Greater Toronto Area. The second group was known as the ‘Camorra’, which originated in the 17th century – one of the oldest and largest criminal organizations. The Camorra shared a ‘horizontal’ structure rather than a ‘vertical’ structure, which the other clans maintain (Alesina, Piccolo and Pinotti, 2016). Hence, individuals within this clan acted independently of each other, and were more prone to conflicting within the group. The third group is the ‘Sicilian Mafia’, which was frequently referred to as Cosa Nostra and were common in Canada. This group’s core activity consisted of murder, loan sharking, robbery, narcotics trafficking, illegal gambling and labour racketeering. After the high levels of emigration individuals within the mafia spread to Canada and the United States.

As many organized crime groups, the Italian Mafia was compressed into having a strict structure. In order to maintain a successful group, certain individuals had to declare power positions such as the boss. Specifically, the Sicilian Mafia indicates the importance of having a structural hierarchy within the organization. Unlike the Camorra, the mafia follows a ‘vertical’ structure to guarantee a chain of command. To begin with, the group is structured through the means of a pyramid, where those of higher power are at the top while those whom are not fall under them. The pyramid begins with a leader also known as the boss, which is considered a position that is common in many organized crime groups as they would make all major decisions regarding the group’s ventures. Under the boss would follow the underboss, whose powers greatly varies through different families. These individuals posses the power of arbitrating many of the disputes that arise within the organization. The underboss in a sense enrolls to become the boss’s right hand. After the underboss the individuals begin to branch out, in which they are called ‘lieutenant’. The main role of this position is to maintain and supervise the transactions that are completed by the boss and underboss, particularly the finance matters. The last position of the hierarchy structure within the Sicilian Mafia are the ‘soldiers’, who are members that work for and aid the organization however, may not be considers true members. This stricture enables the mafia to strongly organize and commit crime with a professional manner. It operates similar to a corporate business, those with power instruct individuals below them to complete certain tasks.

One the major attributes of the mafia, can be considered as being highly organized and safe with their ventures. Over the years, the Sicilian Mafia has proven their success within Canada through their various criminal acts. Cosa Nostra was highly based on familism – the idea that the purpose of family carries an higher importance compared to the purpose of the community (Gambetta & Shapiro, 1994) . Members of the mafia honour the relationships they share with their relatives to the degree in which it can be a danger for them and those who surround them.

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The Italian Mafia can be seen as a successful organized crime group compared to the other various crime groups. They formulated secret societies in which members of the mafia provided “much needed services to Italian immigrants, but also prayed upon them, primarily through extortion” (Schneider, 2017). Some of the services provided to immigrants included helping to bring over family members, finding jobs, providing money, and fostering social relationships. However, the individuals that founded these societies regularly abused their “positions of power and trust … and forced Italian immigrants to join their society and pay dues” (Schneider, 2017). These secret societies are the outcome of the barriers and challenges Italian immigrants and mafia members encountered after the Prohibition. In addition to these secret societies, another manifestation that began to grow in relation to the Italian Mafia was ‘The Black Hand'. The Black Hand mainly revolved around criminal activities such as the extortion of Italian immigrants. The extortion incorporates a Black Hander whom threatens victims through various forms of violence to extort money from one. Furthermore, these threats involved the kidnapping of a family member, harming a business, or to attack, injure, or kill a family member, or the sue of the Black Hand note. The Black Hand notes consisted with harsh written English in which members demand a certain amount of money.

The Italian Mafia used intelligent methods to execute their ventures and criminal acts. There have been various studies regarding the correlation of the structure and success of organized crime groups. These studies are evident through the discipline of Sociology; sociologists study the connections within organized crime groups and their intentions within society. Over the years, sociologists have developed numerous theories that underline the correlation of certain concepts and behavioural aspects of organized crime groups. These theories can be used to support the understanding in regards to the formation and success of the Mafia. Specifically, Merton’s strain theory highlights the theory in regards to the formation of the Italian Mafia and the enterprise theory which explains the level of success the Mafia encounters. To begin with, Merton’s strain theory sets fourth the idea that of the ‘American Dream’ and the theoretical framework for exampling crime rates. Italian immigrants began to form communities in which they hard the same experiences, values, and beliefs. One the main challenges they encountered can be seen as obtaining economic success. Due to societal goals, immigrants struggled to integrate themselves into society through legitimate means. Through Merton’s strain theory it becomes evident that individuals resort to illegitimate means in regards to obtaining economic status. These means are the result of the various barriers and the disjunction between culturally ascribed goals and the availability of legitimate means. After the prohibition, Italian immigrants joined together to overcome their barriers and attain the goals of economic success which resulted in the formation of the Sicilian Mafia in Canada.

The Italian Mafia’s success can be illustrated through the enterprise theory, “which explains that organized crime exists because the legitimate marketplace leaves unserved or unsatisfied … customers” (Lyman and Potter, 2007). Over the years, products such as alcohol and illicit drugs had high level of demand within the country. Organized crime groups – the Sicilian Mafia – took advantage of this demand towards their own economic benefit by formulating the black market. This theory also highlights the idea that the dynamics of the black market create the increase in illicit ventures. The result of the black market commenced the creation of enormous criminal enterprises to satisfy customers unreached by legitimate enterprises. This further proves the Italian Mafia used proper methods to maintain a success business within the country.

These theories provide some degree of information that explains the engagement of criminal behaviour and organization surrounding these organized crime group. By providing insight into the structure and functions of criminal enterprises, it allows members of society to have knowledge of illegitimate business.

There have been many encounters in which policy makers and law enforcement have had to act upon the Italian Mafia. After the prohibition, the level of criminal behaviour that the Mafia engaged in increased. Law enforcements identified the different families that were considered to be members of the Italian Mafia. However, individuals within the Mafia were highly professional in maintaining secrecy, which resulted in policy makers and law enforcements to seek arrests. It becomes evident that as laws began to change, certain drugs and alcohol became legalized the Mafia’s business decreased. The supply and demand for the black market slowly began to decrease which resulted in members departing from the Mafia. Individuals began to engage in legitimate means as they obtained economic success and met societal expectations.

Overall, the Italian Mafia has been a huge impact within the criminal acts that have occurred in Canada. Their history, structure, and illicit activities make them unique compared the other organized crime groups that entered Canada. Italian immigrant experiences several barriers in which they resorted to engage in illegitimate means in obtained financial success. They engaged in activities that allowed them to have successful businesses that lead them further in society. This group shared a heavy importance on family bonds and honoured Omerta. They slowly evolved into becoming one of the largest organized crime groups within the country which eventually degraded over the years.

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The Italian Mafia as One of the Largest Organized Crime Groups in Canada. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“The Italian Mafia as One of the Largest Organized Crime Groups in Canada.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
The Italian Mafia as One of the Largest Organized Crime Groups in Canada. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
The Italian Mafia as One of the Largest Organized Crime Groups in Canada [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from:
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