An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment)
Parm Gill Conservative
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
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- May 1, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
- April 24, 2013 Passed That Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
- June 20, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Private Members' Business
May 1st, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
The House resumed from April 22 consideration of the motion that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment), be read the third time and passed.
May 1st, 2013 / 4:20 p.m.
Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank our witnesses for being here. I believe this has been a tremendous session, and I know this committee has learned a lot.
Our committee recently studied Bill C-394, criminal organization recruitment. It was introduced by Parm Gill, one of our colleagues. The bill proposes to create a new indictable offence that would prohibit the recruitment, solicitation, encouragement, or initiation of another person to join a criminal organization. We're talking about street gangs, for the most part.
The offence would be punishable by a maximum of five years' imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum penalty of imprisonment for six months if the individual who is recruited is under the age of 18.
In my opinion, from my experience as an educator, a link can be made between harmful actions of street gangs and the trafficking of women. Unfortunately, street gangs are more and more using the trafficking of women to help their repulsive trade prosper.
Would you agree with that statement? Are you seeing a lot of action by street gangs that are recruiting women into the sex trade?
May 1st, 2013 / 3 p.m.
Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON
Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to keeping our streets and communities safe. This is why I have introduced Bill C-394. My legislation targets those who attempt to recruit youth into gangs. Parents want gangs off our streets and out of their neighbourhoods. This legislation would help to achieve precisely that.
With the final vote in the House of Commons scheduled for tonight, could the Minister of Justice please inform the House about the government's position on this important piece of legislation?
Private Members' Business
April 30th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all of my hon. colleagues for taking the time to participate in the debate on this important piece of legislation. Bill C-394 is legislation that Canada needs in order to make our streets and communities safer for everyone to enjoy.
This is not about politics or partisanship. It is my belief and hope that when it comes to protecting our youth and our most vulnerable citizens, we are all on the same side. Our youth are our future and it is our responsibility to provide an environment in which they can reach their greatest potential.
The realities of a gang lifestyle are heartbreaking. Such things as death, guns, drugs, violence, substance abuse, criminal activity and prostitution are all too common in this environment. This is a place that no person should ever find themselves, yet far too many still do. It is our responsibility not only as elected representatives but as citizens of this country to work together in an effort to make our future safe for all.
This proposed legislation is an important tool that our criminal justice system needs in order to address this growing concern. The act of gang recruitment affects those directly involved. It is a danger to families, communities and the safety that every Canadian holds dear. Young Canadians, regardless of where they grow up, should be able to grow and explore their potential in a safe environment.
It is an unfortunate and disheartening reality that youth today are targeted by active and violent gangs. The means by which these gangs recruit our youth are both inhumane and life-altering. This reality necessitates the quick passage of Bill C-394 because one person recruited into a gang is one person too many. It is time to take action so that families do not have to live in fear and communities across this country can enjoy the safety and security that we all deserve.
As this bill is at third reading and will soon be voted on, I would like to take a moment to thank everyone who has been involved in the development and progression of this bill.
I would like to sincerely thank my very hard-working staff, both in Brampton and in Ottawa, for their support; my colleagues for supporting this bill from the beginning; and community stakeholders across this great nation who met with me, including front-line police officers and justice officials who supported this bill from the beginning and even took the time to testify before the justice committee.
I would like to thank my constituents, the wonderful citizens of Brampton—Springdale, for the honour of allowing me to represent them here in this House and for providing me with incredible feedback and support toward this bill.
Finally, I would like to thank the countless number of youth I had the opportunity to meet and who inspired me to create this piece of legislation so that their future and the future of coming generations could be protected.
Private Members' Business
April 30th, 2013 / 6:05 p.m.
Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-394, criminal organization recruitment, which aims to address the important issue of gang recruitment. Combatting organized crime has been a long-standing commitment of this government, and I would like to thank the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale for introducing Bill C-394, a bill that would very much continue to build on these efforts.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has reported this bill back to the House with a minor amendment, specifically relating to consistency between the English and French versions of the Criminal Code, and one additional amendment. Before I go on to address these amendments in more detail, allow me to say that this bill makes a strong statement against the serious problem of organized crime groups in this country.
Bill C-394 aims to ensure that the Criminal Code explicitly prohibits recruiting another person into a criminal organization. It does so by proposing a new indictable offence: actively recruiting, soliciting, encouraging or inviting another person to join a criminal organization for the purpose of enhancing the ability of that criminal organization to facilitate or commit indictable offences. The person doing the recruiting would not need to be a member of the criminal organization to which the individual is being recruited. This offence would be punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum penalty of imprisonment for six months if the individual recruited is under the age of 18.
The committee heard from many witnesses on this issue, and many of them emphasized just how important Bill C-394 would be in the effort to prevent youth from joining criminal organizations in the first place. Organized crime groups often target young people to conduct many of their activities, in part because they know that if a young person is caught, he or she will be treated more leniently by the justice system. For example, we heard testimony about criminal organizations that use 11-year-old children to run drugs. Criminal organizations also target young people who are vulnerable and do not have positive influences in their lives. These young people are often seduced by the promise of a lifestyle of power and money. However, we know that this most often does not turn out to be true and that, in fact, gang life is a dangerous life to choose.
When the Attorney General of Manitoba, Andrew Swan, testified before the committee, he emphasized this:
Gang life closes out family, friends, school, and community. Many young people who get brought into gangs, who are coerced to join gangs, find that there is no financial benefit. There's a cutting off of all the things that the youth have been involved with, and there is no easy way out.
Being involved in a gang increases the risk of violence to an individual and even the risk of death.
The vulnerability of youth in these situations was the primary motivation behind the proposed imposition of a mandatory minimum penalty if the individual recruited is under the age of 18. Attorney General Swan elegantly described this element of the proposed offence as a guaranteed consequence. This element would send a strong message to gangs that Canada's young people are a priority and that we will protect them.
I will be the first to admit that Bill C-394 represents only one of many available responses to a problem that has been recognized by many to require a multi-faceted approach. It is a Criminal Code approach. I do not wish to suggest for one second that this bill alone would prevent all recruitment into a criminal gang. Do I think it is an important response? Yes, I do. Do I think it is a meaningful response? Of course it is. I also recognize that combatting organized crime requires a broad response.
Prevention efforts must also be put in place to provide meaningful alternatives and positive role models so that people who may be thinking about joining a gang have an opportunity to choose otherwise. The government has made significant investments over the past number of years to support programs and youth gang prevention activities. The proposed offence of recruitment by criminal organizations would provide yet another tool for police as they continue to address the growing problem of criminal gangs.
The effort to recruit people into a criminal organization is more than just a problem for the people being recruited. It also represents a significant problem from the perspective of public safety. When people are successfully recruited into a criminal organization to facilitate the organization's ability to commit crime, it enhances the threat posed by these groups in general.
As I mentioned earlier, Bill C-394 has been reported to the House with a few minor technical amendments, which I support. I am also very pleased to report that there was unanimous support for this bill by all our colleagues at committee.
I would like to now briefly comment on an amendment made by the committee.
Bill C-394 was amended to include coercion in the list of prohibitive behaviour. That particular amendment would have the effect of prohibiting the recruitment, solicitation, encouragement, invitation and coercion of someone to join a criminal organization.
Coercion is a term that is generally used in criminal law to refer to conduct that is for the purpose of compelling someone to do or to refrain from doing something. Its inclusion in the bill's proposed new offences therefore makes sense. It is another way in which people can be, and are being, brought into criminal organizations, which in turn increases the capacity of criminal organizations to commit crime.
Bill C-394 is an important piece of legislation, and I want to thank the committee for its work on this bill.
In closing, I would like to again thank the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale for introducing this extremely important bill. The protection of youth is a priority for this government and it should be a priority for all members of this House.
Furthermore, the threat of organized crime continues to be a major concern for Canadians. The thought that youth are being brought in and recruited by such organizations is a very real and troubling issue. It is for this reason that I hope all members will stand in this House and support Bill C-394.
Private Members' Business
April 30th, 2013 / 5:50 p.m.
Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the debate on Bill C-394 and the issue of gang recruitment. I had the privilege of sitting in on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights while it considered this legislation, and I will expand on some of the issues discussed in those meetings.
I speak, I believe, for all members of the Liberal Party when I say that I want to deter youths from joining gangs. Indeed, if this legislation served any preventive end, we would gladly endorse it. However, not only does Bill C-394 fail to address the fundamental reasons that youths join gangs—the root causes, if I dare say that—but it also would employ a mandatory minimum penalty, which the Liberal Party opposes in principle.
I raise the root causes of youth gang involvement as an issue, because the government acknowledges the problems but it fails to provide solutions either in Bill C-394 or elsewhere. For example, the website of the Department of Public Safety lists risk factors relative to youth gang involvement and includes the following as major risks: limited attachment to the community, over-reliance on anti-social peers, poor parental supervision, alcohol and drug abuse, poor educational or employment potential and a need for recognition and belonging. Yet Bill C-394 does not address any of these. In fact, the government is missing in action on things like youth unemployment and access to education, things it could take proactive measures to correct.
With regard to violence among aboriginals, public safety's website explains:
The increase in gang violence and crime in some Aboriginal communities has been attributed in part to an increasing youth population, inadequate housing, drug and alcohol abuse, a high unemployment rate, lack of education, poverty, poor parenting skills, the loss of culture, language and identity and a sense of exclusion.
As Idle No More and similar movements demonstrate, the government is out of touch with the needs of aboriginal communities. If it took those needs seriously, we could begin the process of reconciliation. We could address the social problems plaguing first nations. We could give aboriginal youth access to education and opportunity. Instead, by ignoring these problems, we further the cycle of despair that makes gang life attractive to youth.
It is interesting to have this discussion in light of the Conservatives' attack ad on the member for Papineau. They criticize him for being a camp counsellor, a rafting instructor and a drama teacher. If we want kids to feel included in their communities, to have a sense of belonging and purpose, we ought to have more camp counsellors, more rafting instructors, more teachers seeking to make a difference in the life of a child, not attacking these sorts of things as useless pursuits unbecoming of a leader. However, the government buries its head in the sand and refuses to acknowledge that preventing crime involves addressing tough issues beyond the Criminal Code.
I can assure the House that youths are not joining gangs because they believe their activities are lawful, nor do gangs recruit because they believe it is legal to do so. This is the problem with the Conservative approach to crime. Everything is a matter for the criminal law, and every incident provides a pretext to legislate.
As was said by the member for Toronto Centre, “when the only tool we have in our toolbox is a sledgehammer, everything starts to look like a rock”. For Conservatives, criminal law is all about punishment. By adding new offences and penalties and, in some cases, duplicating existing offences and penalties, the Conservatives attempt to regulate on the back end, after the crimes have been committed. This ignores the fact that there are other elements to criminal justice such as prevention, rehabilitation of the offender and reintegration into society, let alone addressing the underlying causes of crime.
As I mentioned, I may be accused of perhaps committing sociology on this. Let there be no mistake. Bill C-394 deals with gang recruitment only on the back end once it has occurred. I submit that by then, it is way too late.
As I have indicated, this issue is already addressed by the Criminal Code. Former justice minister Anne McLellan said in this place, upon the introduction of what is currently in the Criminal Code that we are seeking to amend today, the following:
We know that successful recruitment enhances the threat posed to society by criminal organizations. It allows them to grow and to more effectively achieve their harmful criminal objectives. Those who act as recruiters for criminal organizations contribute to these ends both when they recruit for specific crimes and when they recruit simply to expand the organization's human capital.
In other words, we knew when introducing what was already in the code that recruitment was an issue, is an issue, and we put in place offence language that captured it. Thus, while the regime in the code at present may not use the word “recruitment”, the intention is clear in the record and there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that prosecutions for recruitment are not happening because of some legislative loophole.
Indeed, as it is proposed, the bill will actually add to the problem by putting in a mandatory minimum penalty. International studies corroborate what even Justice Canada has found, that mandatory minimums do not deter crime. Among other things, mandatory minimums remove prosecutorial and judicial discretion. They lead to prison overcrowding. They lead to more crimes in prison and more crimes outside of prison. They contribute to a clogging of the courts, resulting in accused persons being set free. They are, as I indicated in my question to the member earlier, constitutionally suspect. Mandatory minimums have prejudicial consequences, particularly on aboriginal peoples and minority communities.
I know colleagues in the NDP have argued that the mandatory minimum in this bill is light and, therefore, acceptable, in their view. We take a different approach, which is that there is no need for adding something that could lead, in the right fact situation, to this legislation being overturned. This just is not smart legislating.
However, if I were to address the Conservatives' inability to legislate intelligently, I would certainly run out of time. In fact, we might be here all night. Instead, I will focus on one shortcoming relevant here, which is the failure to vet bills for constitutionality. Much has been made of that in the House and, in particular, by my colleague, the member for Mount Royal, of the obligation of the Minister of Justice, under the Department of Justice Act, to review government legislation for compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights.
The minister, time and time again, has said that his bills are constitutional, yet time and time again the provisions are struck down and the government is called to account for its failure to comply with the supreme law of the land. Not only does legislating in such a reckless way risk the statute being struck, it also clogs up the courts with challenges that could have been avoided. It also costs the taxpayers, who bear the burden of defending the government. For a government that claims accountability, why is it not accountable to the charter and its statutory obligations? For a government that prides itself on fiscal restraint, why is it wasting taxpayer money?
One may wonder why I am raising this issue when the obligation for a charter check is only on government bills, not on private members' bills like Bill C-394. The answer is that the government has been increasingly using private members' bills to legislate through the back door. If this bill was so important, why was it not included in the omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10? Why has the minister not introduced it on his own accord? Surely, if it were so necessary, the minister could have made this change to a government bill and it would have passed through the House much faster. Indeed, by using the private member bill route, the government minimizes House debate and circumvents the required charter review.
We must address the cycle of poverty and homelessness that affects too many children in the country. Where is the government on that? We must say to ourselves that if children are to be the priority, maybe we need more camp councillors, rafting instructors and drama teachers. What they do not need is a government that says it cares, throws a band-aid on the problem that will not hold and then pats itself on the back for having done anything at all. Bill C-394 would be just that, and that is why the Liberal Party will vote no on this bill.
Private Members' Business
April 30th, 2013 / 5:45 p.m.
Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC
Bill C-394 amends the Criminal Code to create a new offence in relation to organized crime, namely recruiting a person to join a criminal organization. The NDP supports this bill as part of a response to the problem of gang recruitment, particularly of young people.
Upon reading the text, we find that the bill was amended by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. One amendment adds the concept of coercion to the new offence. The others are designed to ensure consistency between the English and French versions, and in the terminology used in the Criminal Code. The bill was examined for three hours by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
As a member of the committee, I had an opportunity to hear valuable and thought-provoking testimony, and to question witnesses. I also had an opportunity to take part in interesting exchanges with my colleagues on the committee. The phenomenon of recruitment, mainly of young people, by gangs presents a real problem, which calls for a balanced public safety approach, that is an approach combining prevention and enforcement.
In the NDP, we believe that this bill contains part of the answer to the problem, but in committee we pointed out that the creation of a new offence amending the Criminal Code with the addition of section 467.111 is the outcome of a private member’s bill, not a government bill. The government should make changes to its policy to deal with street gangs. Let me pursue this point further.
The street gang phenomenon is so important in our country that the government should adopt a strategy to deal with these criminal organizations. The government should find effective solutions for the problem of recruitment by criminal organizations.
Representatives of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada came to testify before the committee. This Canada-wide organization provides guidance and assistance to young Canadians who are marginalized or in difficulty, work that is essential to social cohesion in our country.
I would like to quote Marlene Deboisbriand, vice-president of that organization, regarding the importance of these clubs in Canada:
Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada is a leading provider of quality programs that support the healthy development of children and youth. Our association of over 100 clubs reaches over 200,000 children, youth, and their families across the country. We are in 500 community locations from coast to coast to coast.
These representatives emphasized the need for funding for prevention programs:
We are not opposed to Bill C-394. Our concerns are mostly related to the need for enhanced prevention efforts....and rehabilitative programs for youth who want to rebuild their lives outside gangs.
The testimony given by Rachel Gouin of Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada was very compelling. She addressed three important points.
First of all, is it very important that public authorities take a comprehensive approach to the complex phenomenon of the recruitment of young people into gangs. Targeted punitive measures like this one, combined with adequate police action to catch people who are recruiting, would be best. However, these measures must be accompanied by programs and social services geared towards housing assistance, mental health support and employment assistance.
Secondly, recruiters are sometimes children or teenagers themselves. As Ms. Gouin said in her testimony, the scope of this bill does not apply to them. Children and youth have their own criminal justice system, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The third point, which is related to the first, is the importance of continuity of funding for prevention programs that target both those likely to do the recruiting and those likely to be recruited.
The Youth Justice Services Funding Program helps the provinces establish rehabilitation services for these people. It is regrettable that budget cuts have affected this program.
The presentation by Manitoba's attorney general was also very important. The NDP paid close attention to what he said. Our only amendment to the bill, presented in committee, came out of this evidence. The attorney general said:
...we believe Bill C-394 could be improved by being applied to anyone recruiting in places where youth are expected to gather, the very places I think all of us want to keep safe, such as schools and schoolyards, community centres, friendship centres, and parks—places where we want it to be safe for young people to go.
The NDP presented an amendment concerning sentencing. It would ensure that the court take into consideration elements of proof establishing the recruitment of someone under 18 into a gang, near a school or community centre, for example, as aggravating factors. Our excellent amendment was hotly debated and the Conservatives unfortunately decided to reject it.
The NDP has always been proactive when it comes to public safety. On the one hand, we want more money for crime prevention programs. On the other, we want police forces to have the resources needed to adequately protect communities across Canada. It is therefore important to continue to collaborate with the provinces, the territories and first nations.
In closing, this bill is a solution to the problem of recruitment by gangs, but it is not the only one.
We support this bill. However, we are asking the government to do more. An approach that strikes a balance between repression and prevention must always prevail when it comes to public safety.
Private Members' Business
April 30th, 2013 / 5:45 p.m.
Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON
Mr. Speaker, when I was putting together the bill, I had an opportunity to travel right across the country and discuss it with a number of different stakeholders and communities, including youth. I came across far too many incidents like the one I shared in my remarks about gang members in Winnipeg targeting younger and younger people with some of their tactics. This is very heartbreaking, the destroying of our future, because especially at a young age, as young as eight years of age, these young people have no idea what they are getting into. They are being enticed. Their lives are being ruined. These criminal gangs are terrorizing our communities and our streets. Bill C-394 would help protect us.
Private Members' Business
April 30th, 2013 / 5:40 p.m.
Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON
Mr. Speaker, our government has a strong record. It has actually invested more money in protecting Canadians and in our justice system than any previous government in history.
This is a very important issue. Our government has introduced a number of initiatives to protect Canadians and to make our streets safer. Bill C-394 is another tool in the toolbox to help our justice officials and our front-line police officers protect Canadians, especially our youth, the young generation, who are the future of our country.