Chinese youths in Canada commit crimes and join gangs to achieve a sense of belonging in a prejudiced society, according to a study that sheds light on the experiences of young Chinese Canadians in conflict with the law. The study, by researchers Kwok Siu-ming and Dora Tam of King's University College at the University of Western Ontario, found ethnic Chinese youths were subject to 'a pattern of systemic discrimination', starting from their schools and on through the courts. 'Because of discrimination, they have a strong sense of unfairness or injustice against society,' Dr Kwok said. 'If the society gives up on them, [they feel] 'Why do I have to contribute back to society?'' Major Canadian cities, such as Vancouver and Toronto, are hubs of Asian organised crime, including human trafficking, drug smuggling, counterfeiting and loan-sharking, according to the country's Criminal Intelligence Service. Yet despite increasing public concern over gang fights and crime among Asian youths, Dr Kwok and Dr Tam found there was little research done to identify their pathways to delinquency. To help fill the gap, the two assistant professors of social work have spent the past two years interviewing 56 ethnic-Chinese young offenders and their parents in Toronto and Vancouver. The youths, ranging in age from 14 to 17, had been charged with various offences including robbery, assault, drug trafficking, and kidnapping. Half of them identified themselves as affiliates of a gang. Dr Kwok said some were also connected with major Chinese organised-crime syndicates. The researchers discovered that peer influence was a leading motivator of crime and gang involvement. All youths said they first committed crimes in the presence of friends, and those who joined gangs did so because their friends were members or because they wanted to be part of a group. Although the participants didn't blame their delinquency on discrimination, Dr Kwok said their encounters with discrimination led to feelings of helplessness and a distrust of authorities. For instance, some youths said schoolteachers assumed they were gang members simply because their friends picked them up in expensive cars. Others said they frequently witnessed Asian youths being stopped and searched by police for no apparent reason. 'Once [they're] identified as a gang member, it's so difficult for them to get away from that label,' Dr Kwok said. And once they have committed offences, 'It's extremely difficult for them to rehabilitate.' The researchers quoted one participant: 'I got pushed [around by society]. I tried [to stop offending], but it was no use. I am powerful in the gang, but felt no power once outside the gang.' Contrary to popular belief, study participants revealed there was no initiation ceremony for entering the gangs, and the researchers discovered there were no consequences to exiting less organised gangs either. Instead, youths tended to drift in and out of gangs as they would other social circles. Some youths also created their own gang groups, which were not affiliated with any criminal organisations, to appear 'cool' to fellow teenagers. The tactic backfired later, however, when they were unable to shed their gangster image. At a certain stage of their delinquency, the study participants said, they began to convince themselves they were destined for a life of crime. 'It is my fate. I have to face it. I am not proud of what I have done,' one said. 'Anyway, [dealing drugs] is how I make a living. I have to accept and face it.' Despite the severity of many of the participants' offences, the researchers said most of the youths expressed a desire to rehabilitate. Finding help, however, was often a challenge. Parents, unfamiliar with the Canadian system, were unaware of the various social services, such as youth counselling, that were available to their children or were reluctant to seek outside help, Dr Kwok said. Characteristic of Chinese families, he noted, parents and youths tried to keep their troubles within the immediate family in an attempt to protect family dignity. Parents also felt responsible for their children's problems with the law, blaming themselves for poor parenting, the study showed. But by internalising problems, parents often failed to address external factors such as discrimination. The study, which the researchers intend to share with social-service agencies in Toronto and Vancouver, recommended that schools play a greater role in preventing crime and gang membership, especially since Chinese-Canadian youths start to get in trouble with the law at a young age, around 14. It noted that Chinese parents tended to hold schools in high regard, and were more receptive to intervention if it came from schools, rather than social-service agencies. The study also recommended that systemic discrimination be addressed at schools and by the police. Vancouver School Board trustee Shirley Wong said she could not comment directly on the study since she had not had a chance to review it. But, she said, the incidence of gang and criminal activity reported among Chinese students of the city's schools was low. Police do not keep records of the ethnicities of individuals involved in crimes. The Vancouver School Board had a limited budget to spend on a large and varied list of programmes, Ms Wong said. And although none of the programmes were directly geared towards preventing youth gangs and crime, the board had responded quickly to recent incidents in which students were harmed in gang violence, she said. Ms Wong added that the school board tried to assimilate Chinese immigrants as best it could. However, if findings of the study are any indication, the board's efforts are inadequate. The study, released this month, came at a time when Canada's criminal system was grappling with a change in demographics of Chinese offenders, Dr Kwok said. Over the past 15 years, the influx of immigrants from Hong Kong has been replaced by a wave of migration from mainland China. As such, he said, more Putonghua-speaking youths were becoming entangled in the criminal justice system, while their parents presented different challenges from those of Hong Kong descent. 'They're less willing to co-operate with you ... because they have a lack of knowledge of the criminal system in Canada and because of the language barrier,' Dr Kwok said, noting that parents from Hong Kong usually had some understanding of English and were more familiar with Canada's British-based legal system. At the Vancouver immigrant service agency Success, chief executive Tung Chan said the study's findings of discrimination were alarming. 'It demonstrates to people who work in the [social services] field and who fight racism that stereotypes die hard,' he said.