Another summer, another major drug bust targeting the 856, the B.C.-based gang that’s proving hard to shake from the streets of Yellowknife. Seven people with alleged ties to the gang were arrested in three different RCMP operations across the city on Thursday, July 16.
Here’s what we currently know about the gang and its presence in Yellowknife:
‘B.C. Boys’ get a start
The gang, referred to locally as the ‘B.C. Boys,’ was started by a group of high school students at Aldergrove Secondary School, in Aldergrove, B.C., around 2003. By 2007, the group had graduated from petty crime to serious drug trafficking and assassination attempts; in September of 2007, they came to prominence following a high-speed chase through rural Langley that ended in the shooting of alleged Hells Angels associate Leonard Pelletier. (It appears that Pelletier, the father of one of the alleged “core” members, later become involved with the gang (see below).
Six people were arrested in the wake of the incident and identified as ‘core members’ by the RCMP. But according to a 2012 paper on the gang published by Simon Fraser University criminologists Martin Bouchard and Richard Konarski, “findings reveal that a total of 60 offenders were potential members of the 856 gang… [and] analyses of the co-offending data reveals that 13 out of 60 offenders could be defined as ‘core members.’”
The early arrests appear not have made a serious dent in the gang. With the backing of the Hells Angels – who supply drugs to the 856 gang and allow them to work in northern regions away from major Angels turf – the 856 started expanding into Northern B.C., Yukon and the NWT over the next few years, Staff Sgt. Craig Peterson told me while working at NNSL last summer.
By 2013, the gang was flying three people up to Yellowknife every week to pull seven-day shifts, said Peterson. “They were bringing their own people in to sell their own product. That way, there’s a lot less chance of skimming and stealing.”
856 comes north
One source with knowledge about Yellowknife gangs (who asked to remain anonymous) told EDGE he became aware of the 856 about five or six years ago, though he’s not sure how long they’ve actually been in town. Before that the main gang in Yellowknife was called the Crazy Dragons, “a local gang of teenagers and 20/25-year-olds… It is unknown if they are still operational.” Based on media reports at the time, there seemed to be ties between this group and a larger Edmonton-based organization of the same name.
With the 856 in town, there seems to have been an uptick in violence, says the source. “But having not been at the stabbing at Coyote’s [August 2014] or shooting at Fraser Arms this can’t be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt.”
Asked about how the gang operates in Yellowknife, the source told us that “most of the dealers use a loaner phone or a pay-as-you-go. That way it is more difficult for the RCMP to find information on the dealer when they are arrested. When they are arrested they will destroy the phone and consume the drugs they have on them. They operate mostly at night making most of their profits on weekends.”
Based on information that can be gleaned from recent busts and court cases, the gang also appears to recruit local dealers to move their product.
The gang doesn’t just operate in Yellowknife. In March, Yukon RCMP arrested 12 people with alleged ties to the gang in a series of operations across the territory that netted enough cocaine for “between 45 and 90 individual sales” along with three rifles, four handguns, a taser, a bullet-proof vest and several bags filled with ammunition. They’re also in other northern communities, such as Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.
“Really beginning last summer, their presence was seen in town,” Sgt. Steve Perret, plainclothes commander for the Fort St. John RCMP, told EDGE. “We experienced a bit of a turf war between them and other drug-dealing cells in Fort St. John… It turned to gunplay last summer and we had at least three shooting incidents that we attribute to the drug culture, though we can’t say which gang is responsible.”
Around that time, there were about half-a-dozen people in Fort St. John who RCMP believed were associated with the 856. Since then, the gang’s regional activity seems to have shifted more towards Dawson Creek, said Perret.
The 856 Timeline
2007 – The gang first came to prominence following a high-speed chase through rural Langley and an assassination attempt on alleged Hells Angels associate Leonard Pelletier.
2010 – Two men with supposed ties to the Hells Angels, Robert Livingstone and Rory Moore, were arrested 40 kilometers outside Yellowknife in a truck carrying 3,000 grams of marijuana and 268 grams of cocaine, with a street value of up to $90,000. This seems to be before the 856 became major players in the Yellowknife drug trade. It now appears that the 856 are the ones running Hells Angels drugs into town.
March 2013 – Joshua Luke Petten, 22, from Langley, B.C. was arrested for brandishing a loaded Colt .45 semi-automatic handgun outside the Raven Pub in downtown Yellowknife. According to a pre-sentence report, says NNSL, “RCMP and probation services in B.C. refer to him as the “enforcer” of the ‘856’ gang.” In March 2014, he was sentenced to three years and three months in prison.
December 2013 – Eleven people were arrested in the first of the major 856 drug busts, called “Operation Goblin,” which took place at five locations across Yellowknife. The raids netted more than eight ounces of marijuana, nearly three ounces of crack-cocaine, around $32,000 in cash and two crossbows, a rifle and a handgun. A number of the charges have since been dropped.
January 2014 – Yellowknifer Rusty James Landry, 26, was sentenced to 15 months in jail after being arrested the previous summer for cocaine and marijuana trafficking. According to court documents, he was known to sell crack for the 856 gang.
July 2014 – 51-year-old Stan Cochrane, arrested as part of Operation Goblin, was sentenced to nine months in jail for trafficking crack cocaine. Cochrane did not appear to be a member of the 856 gang, according to a crown lawyer prosecuting the case. But he appears to have been selling drugs on their behalf and using a phone number obtained as part of the RCMP’s 856 investigation.
July 2014 – Matthew Jager, 30, was given a 15-month sentence after pleading guilty to possessing around $21,000 in cash obtained from the sale of crack cocaine. Jager, who had an ‘8’ tattooed on the inside of his lip – the first step to getting the full ‘856’ tattoo – did not get hit with trafficking charges, but appears to have been the gang’s money-man in Yellowknife.
August 2014 – Four men and a woman were arrested during heavily armed RCMP raid on a trailer in Northland Trailer Park. At the time, RCMP told NNSL that “the raids were related to the drug-trafficking activities of the lower mainland B.C.-based ‘856’ gang.” In March of this year, Yellowknifer Tanner Short, 23, who was arrested in the raid, was sentenced to 18 months in jail after pleading guilty to cocaine trafficking.
August 2014 – Nathan Hodges, a 24-year-old from Aldergrove with supposed ties to the 856 gang, stabbed 22-year-old Yellowknifer Chase van Metre 22 times during a massive brawl outside of Coyote’s Steakhouse.
March 2015 – RCMP raided multiple locations in the Yukon, amassing eight weapons and enough cocaine for “between 45 and 90 individual sales,” and arresting 12 individuals.
June 2015 – Drug trafficking charges were laid against alleged senior members of the 856 gang – Leonard Pelletier, 48 and Jason Francis Wallace, 26 – following a 2014 raid in Langley, B.C. that snagged $400,000 worth of cocaine, meth, heroin, oxycontin as well as a 20-tonne press used to make the cocaine bricks. They also found 44 kg of a chemical used to deworm pigs, which the gang seems to be using to dilute their cocaine. It appears that Pelletier was the man the 856 gang had tried to assassinate back in 2007.
July 2015 – Seven people were arrested during two raids and and a traffic stop targeting 856 activity in Yellowknife. RCMP seized 126 grams of crack cocaine, 28 MDMA pills and a significant amount of Anabolic Steroids. Charges ranging from weapon possession to drug trafficking have been laid against six of the seven people arrested.