MONTREAL (CP) -- A report released Friday by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada says crime networks have developed underground markets for electronic waste and scarce natural resources.
The annual survey of organized crime, compiled from local police reports across the country, indicates criminals are using such markets to complement traditional revenue sources, such as narcotics.
"Criminal networks can profit by collecting e-waste in developed countries such as Canada and selling it to 'recyclers' in developing nations," the CISC report reads.
"This practice is a violation of both Canadian and international law."
The report fails to place a dollar figure on the illegal trafficking and disposal of computers, televisions and cellphones. But it warns such activity will peak starting next year as new digital broadcast norms come into effect in Canada and the United States, rendering millions of TVs obsolete.
"One of the reasons organized crime has been as successful as it is, is that they're very adaptable and its not like they've given up any of their traditional markets," said RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, who chairs CISC.
Asked to provide an idea of the scope of illegal e-waste, Elliott said: "If it wasn't lucrative, organized crime groups wouldn't be involved in it."
The United Nations Environment Programme estimates between 20 million and 50 million tons of e-waste is generated worldwide every year. On top of financing criminal networks, authorities are concerned about how black-market recyclers handle defunct electronics.
"We're realizing that in terms of sales of laptops and electronic devices to organized crime there is often damage to the environment and it's a national concern," said Robert Chartrand, a Montreal police investigator who heads Criminal Intelligence Service Quebec, one of CISC's provincial bureaus.
Often extremely toxic, much of Canada's e-waste ends up up in Asia and Africa, where it is mined for parts.
But the environmental threat represented by organized crime also extends to the country's natural resources. CISC notes that criminal networks have taken up illegal poaching and resource exploitation.
"Canadian forests are vulnerable to illegal harvesting due to their relative abundance, isolation, and the large number of logging access roads," the report says.
Canada's vast and little policed wilderness is an easy target for groups looking to take advantage of skyrocketing prices on the black market for rare animals.
"The illegal trade in wildlife can be as profitable as dealing in narcotics," the United Nations Environment Programme stated earlier this year.
Environment crime is an emerging priority for the international law-enforcement community. Faced with the growing threat, the World Customs Organization decided this spring to push its members, including Canada, to create specialized units to deal with the problem.
"It's new for us," Chartrand said. "But it's something we're working on."
He acknowledged that police interest was spurred in part by widespread debate about the environment. Both he and Elliott stressed that no one should underestimate the damage criminal groups can cause.
"We have in Canada an abundant supply on the one hand of natural resources, including fisheries and forestry," Elliott said.
"But we have all seen that overexploitation of natural resources can have dramatic effects."
As it did last year, CISC identified close to 900 criminal groups in Canada, operating mainly in the British Columbia lower mainland, southern Ontario and Montreal.
(c) The Canadian Press 2008