Luen Kung Lok

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The Hong Kong-based triads of 14K and Luen Kung Lok have a historical presence in Canada, while members of the San Yee On, Wo Hop To, Wo On Lok are also active across the country. Though undetected in some areas, triads are believed to exist and operate in nearly every Chinatown in Canada. Most triads members target their own people, and victims are reluctant to come forward because of the perceived power of the triads.

HONG KONG -- When Hong Kong sovereignty reverted to the People's Republic of China on July 1, 1997, global law enforcement officers were on the look-out for an increase in Asian-based crime. In Canada, police and immigration authorities were wary, uncertain what impact the shift would have on the Canadian community. Now, six months after the transition, their worst fears have yet to materialize -- but Canadian law enforcers are still on the alert.

Triads date back to 1674, when secret societies were formed to overthrow the Chinese Manchurians and restore the Ming Dynasty to power. Over the course of several centuries, the triads evolved from a patriotic movement to a criminal organization. "Triads prey on the weak, the innocent and the foolish," explains Detective Chief Inspector Peter Ip, an expert in triad affairs with the Hong Kong Police. "By drawing on triad legends and using violent force, they instill fear in their victims, terrifying them into silence."

Today, there are an estimated 57 triad societies operating in Hong Kong, with between 15 and 20 triads actively involved in criminal activity. While some triads have only 50 known members, larger triads boast memberships of more than 30,000. Given the loose structure of triad societies, however, it is impossible to determine the exact number of members. Even the triad leaders themselves are uncertain of the total number of their followers.

The Hong Kong-based triads of 14K and Luen Kung Lok have a historical presence in Canada, while members of the San Yee On, Wo Hop To, Wo On Lok are also active across the country. Though undetected in some areas, triads are believed to exist and operate in nearly every Chinatown in Canada. Most triads members target their own people, and victims are reluctant to come forward because of the perceived power of the triads.

Street punks may also extort money from Chinese victims by implying they are triad members. "Victim may pay because they perceive the triads to be all-powerful and the police corrupt," clarifies Insp Paul Brown, the RCMP Liaison Officer to Hong Kong. "This may have been true several decades ago, however syndicated corruption is no longer a problem in Hong Kong. The triads do not control the streets of Hong Kong, nor do they control them in Canada."

Triad involvement in criminal activities includes extortion, murder, kidnapping, illegal gambling, prostitution and pornography, criminal damage, blackmail, arson, assault, loan sharking, criminal intimidation and street-level drug trafficking. The bottom line is control. "There is a constant quest for more money, more power, more control," says RCMP Cst Pepin Wong of the Combined Forces Asian Investigation Unit (CFAIU) in Toronto.

Triads differ from traditional organized crime, due to their elaborate system rituals and traditions. At one time, triad initiation ceremonies lasted up to three days. Decorated altars and colourful ceremonies -- such as the drawing of blood from the fingers of new members and the beheading of chickens -- were all symbolic of a member's journey into the triad world.

Today's versions of the triad rite of passage have been simplified. In order to become a triad member, candidates must pay a fee to the dai lo (protector) who has introduced them to the triad. New recruits might also recite an initiation poem or the triad society's 36 Oaths of Allegiance. The 36 oaths are the commandments of a triad society; to break one is to invite retribution.

Like other organized criminal societies, triads are driven by profit. In some cases, rival triads will work together for mutual gain. "When the triads have a common goal -- whether smuggling illegal migrants or drug trafficking -- they will work together," notes Senior Supt Xavier Tang of the Hong Kong Police. "They will even break down the tasks between triads so they can be more efficient. Once a member, everyone is under the same umbrella of the triad family. Though they often fight amongst themselves [for territory], everyone is considered a brother. "

While triads enjoy a virtually seamless flow of communication, the same cannot be said for the policing community monitoring their illegal activities. "Information sharing is a big concern," acknowledges Cpl Phil Young of the Immigration and Federal Branch at RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa. "What we need is open communication between police officers across the country."

Keeping tabs on triad activity in Canada poses great challenges, but increased inter-agency cooperation and a greater understanding of the triad sub-culture indicates progress. "The police can't rely on victims of extortion to come forward and report their crimes," points out Senior Supt Tang. "Victims feel like they are a herd of sheep and the triads are the wolves. They can be deterred from reporting crime, cooperating and testifying in court. What we need is proactive policing that will allow us to go out and dig up the crime ourselves."


Chinese festivals are well-attended by the Chinese community both in Canada and in Hong Kong. While the vast majority of festival participants are law-abiding, many triads in Hong Kong use Chinese festivals to demonstrate their power and face. Triad members may be genuinely religious, however, they may also take advantage of the public gatherings to show their prestige and make money. Chinese festivals are frequent sites of illegal gambling and extortion. Money may be solicited from local businessmen and residents, while payments may also be obtained for dragon and lion dancers. Chinese festivals may also be used for triad election days.

Investigators who are aware of the major Chinese celebrations, can look for triad activities in their area during festival days. During Chinese festivals in Canada, triads may identify themselves by using flags adorned with jagged edges (12 along one edge, nine along the other). These flags -- which are illegal in Hong Kong -- may be displayed during Chinese lion dances and other celebrations.


Tin Hau Festival - 23rd day of third lunar month (many triad initiation ceremonies held) Hung Shing Festival - 13th day of second lunar month (also a lucky triad day) Tam Kung Festival - eighth day of the fourth lunar month Tuen Ng (Dragon Boat) Festival - fifth day of fifth lunar month Lantern Festival - 15th day of first lunar month Mid-Autumn (Moon Cake) Festival - 15th day of eight lunar month Triad Anniversary - 25th day of seventh lunar month Consult a Chinese calendar -- available from local Chinese merchants and service establishments -- for dates corresponding to the conventional western calendar.


Understanding Chinese names is an asset when investigating Asian-based crime. Years ago, the Chinese Telegraph Code (CTC) was developed to facilitate the transfer of Chinese information across telegraph lines. Known today as the Chinese Commercial Code (CCC), the code helps investigators identify Chinese suspects.

The CCC numbers all Chinese ideograms and contains an estimated total of 10,500 characters, each comprised of four Arabic numerals. Each Hong Kong resident holds an identification card bearing their personal CCC number. When questioning a suspected triad member, investigators should ask the individual to write out his name in Chinese characters. Using the suspect's CCC number when communicating with Asian police forces will facilitate the investigation.

Investigators should also remember that the first character of a Chinese name is the person's surname. Therefore, in the name Li (CCC#2621) Yin (CCC#3185) Sum (CCC#2450), Li is the surname, Yin is the middle name and Sum is the first name.


Not all modern triads use a formal ranking system, however many still adhere to the traditional triad hierarchy. Until they are initiated, triad recruits are known as "blue lanterns"; once initiated, they enter a detailed rank structure. At the entry-level, members are the lowest rank of all -- 49. A triad member bearing the rank 415 is known as a White Paper Fan, or triad administrator. The Red Pole, or enforcer in the triad, is known by his rank of 426, while the Straw Sandal (liaison and recruitment officer) is known as a 432. At the 438 level, members may be either deputy leaders, vanguards (operations masters) or incense masters. Finally, the highest rank in the triad structure is a 489, signifying the Dragon Head or triad leader.