An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment)

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Parm Gill  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to make it an offence to recruit, solicit, encourage, coerce or invite a person to join a criminal organization. It establishes a penalty for that offence and a more severe penalty for the recruitment of persons who are under 18 years of age. This enactment also makes a related amendment to the National Defence Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • 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.

Business of the House
Opening Of The Second Session Of The 41St Parliament

October 16th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would like to make a statement concerning private members' business.

As hon. members know, our Standing Orders provide for the continuance of private members’ business from session to session within a Parliament.

In practical terms, this means that notwithstanding prorogation, the list for the consideration of private members' business established at the beginning of the 41st Parliament shall continue for the duration of this Parliament.

As such, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, all items of private members' business originating in the House of Commons that were listed on the order paper at the conclusion of the previous session are automatically reinstated to the order paper and shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation.

All items will keep the same number as in the first session of the 41st Parliament. More specifically, all bills and motions standing on the list of items outside the order of precedence shall continue to stand. Bills that had met the notice requirement and were printed in the order paper but had not yet been introduced will be republished on the order paper under the heading “Introduction of Private Members' Bills”. Bills that had not yet been published on the order paper need to be recertified by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and be resubmitted for publication on the notice paper.

Of course all items in the order of precedence remain on the order of precedence or, as the case may be, are referred to the appropriate committee or sent to the Senate.

Specifically, at prorogation there were three private members' bills originating in the House of Commons adopted at second reading and referred to committee.

Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, Bill C-458, an act respecting a national charities week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Bill C-489, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Accordingly, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, committees will be required to report on each of these reinstated private members’ bills within 60 sitting days of this statement.

In addition, prior to prorogation, nine private members' bills originating in the House of Commons had been read the third time and passed. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, the following bills are deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House: Bill C-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials); Bill C-266, an act to establish Pope John Paul II day; Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity); Bill C-290, an act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting); Bill C-314, an act respecting the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue; Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders); Bill C-377, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations); Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment); and Bill C-444, an act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer).

Accordingly, a message will be sent to the Senate to inform it that this House has adopted these nine bills.

Consideration of private members’ business will start on Thursday, October 17, 2013.

As members may be aware, among the items in the order of precedence or deemed referred to committee, there are four bills standing in the name of members recently appointed as parliamentary secretaries who, by virtue of their office, are not eligible to propose items during the consideration of private members' business.

Bill C-511, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (period of residence) and Bill C-517, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons) were awaiting debate at second reading in the order of precedence at the time of prorogation.

Bill C-458, An Act respecting a National Charities Week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts), and Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), were in committee at the time of prorogation and, as stated earlier, have been returned there.

This is in keeping with the principle expressed at pages 550-551 and 1125 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, which provides that bills remain on the order of precedence since they are in the possession of the House and only the House can take further decision on them.

These items are therefore without eligible sponsors but remain in the possession of the House or its committees. If no action is taken, at the appropriate time these items will eventually be dropped from the order paper, pursuant to Standing Order 94(2)(c).

Hon. members will find at their desks a detailed explanatory note about private members’ business. I trust that these measures will assist the House in understanding how private members' business will be conducted in this session. The table officers are available to answer any questions members may have.

I thank all members for their attention.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 30th, 2013 / 5:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

moved 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.

Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to have this opportunity at third reading to share with the House the important measures introduced in Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment).

The focal point of my bill, Bill C-394, is to protect Canadians, especially, our youth, by making the act of criminal organization recruitment, in other words, gang recruitment, a criminal offence under Canadian law.

All of us can agree that our youth are our future. This is a statement that holds no partisan or political undertone. Each one of us in this House, and every Canadian, would agree that today's youth will one day define the course of this country, and that course will be determined by the types of opportunities our youth are provided.

Young Canadians today have a sense of vulnerability about them. There are challenges that all youth face. My three young children constantly remind me of how important it is as a parent to provide for their safety and to protect them from any real or potential danger.

Every single parent in the world wants the best for his or her children. All parents want to provide their children with every opportunity to succeed. To do this, we must strive to create a safe environment in which our children are free to grow and explore their potential. Unfortunately, not every young person gets to experience the life that he or she deserves. Sometimes the pressures to fit in or to join a certain group are just too overwhelming, leaving youth helpless to those who might exploit their desire to belong.

In a 2008 publication, the RCMP found that street gangs in Canada are increasingly aggressive with their recruitment tactics. In a disturbing trend, these criminal organizations are targeting our youth under the age of 12 and as young as eight.

These ruthless gangs pursue our youth for several reasons. They know that those falling within this range cannot be formally charged with a criminal offence. They also know that our youth can be easily pressured to participate in a variety of criminal activities. Innocent Canadians are being manipulated and, at times, forced to embark on a life that no Canadian should ever experience. Gangs exploit our children by forcing them to participate in criminal activities, such as drug dealing, robbery, theft and prostitution.

When I had the opportunity to speak with current and ex-gang members who led recruitment initiatives in Regina, Saskatchewan, they told me of a world that knew no boundaries. For instance, gang members will use drug addiction to manipulate potential recruits to take part in criminal activities that support these gangs. This means that children who should have been playing soccer in a schoolyard are carrying weapons, drugs and money for gangs. In the eyes of the gangs, these youth are dispensable and easily controlled. It is worrisome and heartbreaking that Canada's most wanted criminal organizations actively recruit our youth and teenagers.

How can we, as a nation, sit by and watch while this happens?

I remember vividly what the director of the Regina Anti-Gang Services told me, as we sat side by side in a small room among hardened gang members seeking to exit that lifestyle. She told me that once recruited, these innocent children and teenagers were lost to the streets of the city forever. Promising young lives would vanish into the criminal culture forever.

What makes this lifestyle so deadly is that leaving a gang is next to impossible. As I mentioned earlier, I had the chance to speak with several former and current gang members. I sat beside a young man, a mere 19 years old, who had been a gang member for more than seven years. When I looked at him, I saw a kid.

However, as we got deeper into a discussion about his past, there was nothing in his life that resembled that of a youth.

He was recruited into a gang at a very young age. Instead of school, friends, family and sports, he was robbing drug dealers, attacking rival gang members and selling drugs on the street. This was a kid who excelled in a criminal organization because that was the only life he knew. I cannot help but picture his work ethic, allowing him to lead an extraordinarily successful law-abiding life. Now he is battling a drug addiction and because he is seeking to exit the gang, he constantly looks over his shoulder fearing for his life. He told me that no matter what he did, he was never really out of the gang. People that he recruited into the gang have experienced the same pain as him. He looked me in the eyes and asked “By recruiting others into the gang, how many lives did I ruin? How many families did I hurt? How many people have experienced pain at my hands?”

As a member of Parliament, I know there is more we can do.

In 2006, CSIS estimated the number of street gang members under the age of 30 was approximately 11,000. The report cautioned that this number would continue to grow rapidly over the coming years.

In the region of Peel, which my family and I call home, the number of gangs has exploded in the past few years. In 2003, there were just 39. Today there are well over 110 street gangs within our neighbourhoods. This means more people live in fear, more young people are targeted and more violence is used.

Gang members in Canada have a blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of those around them. For instance, in some communities families are afraid to leave their homes or let their children out to play. Gangs also pose a significant risk for law enforcement officers.

The increase in gang recruitment has far-reaching and systemic effects on our country as a whole. Our safety, security and well-being are placed in jeopardy.

The purpose of Bill C-394 is two-fold.

First and foremost, we are seeking to further protect our youth and our communities by criminalizing the act of gang recruitment. Far too many communities in Canada are facing a gang problem. It is vitally important that we maintain the security and safety of our neighbourhoods, our streets and our families. By tackling gang recruitment, we can help reduce the number of innocent and vulnerable citizens who would otherwise be lost in this dead-end lifestyle forever. This is about protecting our children, our neighbourhoods and our future. Criminal organizations use fear, intimidation and violence to advance their objectives and grow within our communities. This behaviour cannot be tolerated any longer.

Second, Bill C-394 is designed to provide law enforcement officers with additional tools to address gang recruitment.

I had the opportunity to meet with numerous stakeholders across our great nation in order to discuss this issue. The valuable insights I gained were used in the development of this legislation. We spoke with numerous stakeholders and law enforcement agencies across the country, which praised the bill's direction, scope, focus and resourcefulness.

This legislation was recently studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. During its study, the committee heard witness testimony from a Winnipeg police officer who had spent over six and a half years working in his department's anti-gang unit. In his statement to the committee, this officer testified that gang recruitment was targeting younger and younger Canadian youth. He explained that in his city of Winnipeg, 10-year-olds were being actively recruited into gangs.

Fifteen-year-olds are on charge for murder who were driven to kill by older gang members who knew they would face much lesser penalties. He went on to testify that:

—tackling recruitment and making it illegal is very important, because often when these people are recruited at a young age, they don't understand the life they're getting into. They see it as having rock-star status in the media. Popular culture makes it look like it's something to do. It's not until they're in it and they've been in it for two, three, or four years at age 15 that they realize the road they're going down. There aren't riches, there isn't fame and fortune, and they cannot leave the gang.

Further to this witness testimony, the committee also heard from the minister of justice for Manitoba, the Hon. Andrew Swan. Also supportive of the bill, the minister stated:

This bill would provide guaranteed consequences, which...are needed in order to take on those who would recruit young people into gangs. It also increases the range of penalties that could be imposed by a court if somebody were found guilty of this provision.

We have a front line police officer and a justice official who both support the bill and believe it would benefit police and justice officials in helping to stop the recruitment of young individuals into gangs.

Youth gang membership has grown, and will continue to grow, in our country if we sit back and do nothing. Bill C-394 would allow our justice system to appropriately hold those who recruited individuals into criminal organizations accountable for their devastating actions. By doing so, we would be able to help take these dangerous criminals off our streets.

This not only maintains the safety and security of our communities, but it offers the opportunity to severely inhibit a criminal organization's growth.

When I spoke with the president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Winnipeg, he told me a story that exemplified the need for this proposed legislation.

At one of its inner city club chapters, gang members will wait under the parking garage directly behind the building. Their sole purpose for being there is to engage those leaving the Boys and Girls Club in hopes of recruiting them into their gang, a targeted strategy that is not a coincidence. This example highlights the reality that our youth in the community currently face.

Education and prevention programs are important, but they are only a part of our response to this going problem. We need to provide our front line police officers and justice officials with the ability to respond through legal action.

Imagine for a moment if these children, youth and teenagers were empowered to report those trying to recruit them into gangs. Imagine if our community members knew that something could be done about gang recruiters who operated in their neighbourhood. It would empower communities to take action and fight back.

In conclusion, we have an opportunity, not just as members of Parliament but as Canadians, to come together and make a difference, which will protect our youth and our neighbourhoods.

I urge each and every one of my colleagues in the House to view the bill for what it is: an important new tool in our criminal justice system that would benefit families, communities and future generations.

It is time we take back our streets from criminal organizations that are increasingly tightening their grip on our freedoms, safety and security. It is time we take a stand so every child, teenager and adult can experience the life they deserve to live.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 30th, 2013 / 5:45 p.m.
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Conservative

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.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 30th, 2013 / 5:45 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today as Bill C-394, presented by my colleague the member for Brampton—Springdale, reaches third reading.

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.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 30th, 2013 / 5:50 p.m.
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Liberal

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.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 30th, 2013 / 6:05 p.m.
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Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

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.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 30th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

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.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

June 15th, 2012 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Madam Speaker, I am really pleased to participate in this debate today. This is a really important issue for Canadians and for our communities.

I want to commend the member who has put forward Bill C-394 as a very sincere and thoughtful effort to do something about the proliferation of gangs and gang membership across Canadian society. I think it is a very well-motivated and good-faith initiative.

It tries to make it an offence to recruit, solicit, encourage or even invite a person to join a criminal organization. It would change the penalties if such a person did join a criminal organization. That is where we part ways with the member and the government. It is with respect to their position in this regard.

We strongly support efforts to combat and criminalize the recruitment of individuals, particularly young people, into gangs and criminal organizations. However, we are just as strongly opposed to mandatory minimum penalties. Studies everywhere on the planet prove that such sentences do not deter criminals or make Canadians safer.

However, we do support in the bill the expansion of the definition of “criminal organization offence” to include gang recruitment. This, we believe, would be a very good step toward dealing with our challenge, which is improving the situation of gangs and gang membership.

As I said, we are alarmed about the increasing number of Canadians, particularly young people, who are recruited into gangs. We support the criminalization of this activity.

However, with regard to this question of mandatory minimum sentences for gang recruitment, all the evidence from Canada, the United States, state by state by state; New Zealand; Australia; the United Kingdom; and everywhere this has been tried is overwhelmingly that mandatory minimums do not work. They are ineffective. They are often constitutionally challenged. They are problematic, because they remove the discretion from judges, who are best placed to assess the situation based on the evidence and the facts of the case in front of him or her.

We also know that mandatory minimums do not deter crime.

On the other hand, we know for sure that what mandatory minimums do is increase recidivism. They actually make it more likely that a person who gets a mandatory minimum sentence comes back and offends again. How can that be good when we are talking about dealing with young people, in particular?

Half of gang membership in Canada is under the age of 18. When we increase recidivism, we get into a vicious circle that in turn increases crime. That has a more discriminatory impact on more vulnerable groups, notably, in Canada, our aboriginal young people, among whom gang recruitment is higher than it is in other parts of our society.

In my own community of Ottawa South, I deal with community police officers all the time. These are front-line officers, men and women, who are charged with the responsibility of dealing with so-called hot spots. All of us as members of Parliament deal with these in our ridings, particularly in urban spaces.

They tell us that the ticket now, the key, is to get to kids between the ages of 8 and 12. That is the time to get to kids with activities, particularly post-school activities, that keep them on the right track.

Let us talk about that for a second. What are the circumstances that lead kids, young people in particular, to join gangs?

We know it is linked to, for example, neighbourhood crime. We know it is directly linked to poverty levels. We know it is partly about peer pressure and peer influence.

We know it is sometimes about the lack of vigilance by parents, teachers and community members and leaders. We know it has to do with a lack of opportunities for positive after-school recreation programs, for example, or homework clubs. We know it is linked to substance abuse and alcohol use. We know that this is altogether tied into a large challenge.

We think the government should be investing more in activities that engage our kids, rather than forcing mandatory minimums on judges and then downloading to the provinces the responsibility to build more jails. By the way, that is a strategy that was tried in Texas and California. Is it not interesting that the governors of both of those states have now publicly denounced that experiment? In California, the state legislature is now struggling with the weight of the cost of prisons. This is a huge part of California's teetering right now on the verge of bankruptcy.

Liberals believe that we should be investing more in soccer fields and music groups and in making our recreational spaces more available for kids. It is not a bad idea, especially when we are dealing with a childhood obesity epidemic and all kinds of health challenges related to sedentary lifestyles.

We are alarmed by the increase in the number of kids joining gangs. We support the provisions of the bill that actually go a ways in criminalizing the recruitment of kids. However, we just do not understand the government's fixation on mandatory minimums. We know that it is a narrative the government uses for its base, but it flies in the face of all experience. It flies in the face of our community policing. Front-line officers tell us that it is not working. We are scratching our heads and asking why the government wants to spend all this money on incarceration, when we know that every dollar we spend up front saves us $40 afterwards in terms of costs for criminal enforcement, incarceration, parole and beyond.

We think the bill is good in a halfway respect, but unfortunately, it goes the wrong way when it comes to mandatory minimums. As a result, we will not be supporting this bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

June 15th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be joining the debate on this bill, which seeks to respond to a practice that is critical to the success of organized crime activity in Canada: the recruitment of persons to join criminal organizations.

Colleagues have heard so far during debate on our second reading of this bill that those who are most likely to be recruited to join criminal organizations are most often young and marginalized in society. They suffer socio-economic inequality, and they come from difficult family circumstances.

These vulnerable young persons need to be protected from the tactics of organized crime. That is what I understand private member's Bill C-394 to be trying to do.

This bill, which would amend the Criminal Code to explicitly prohibit the recruitment of others to join a criminal organization, is a welcome contribution to tackling the practices of gangs. I want to congratulate the member for Brampton—Springdale for bringing it forward.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

June 15th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I am obviously in favour of such a proposal and urge all members to support its passage into law.

The issue of gang recruitment is a serious one, and it requires a multi-faceted response. Neither I nor my colleagues are naive enough to think that this bill, by itself, will solve the problem of gang recruitment. However, we believe that a criminal justice system plays an extremely important role in the overall strategy to respond to organized crime.

It is also obvious that prevention efforts must be put in place so that those newly involved in organized crime, or those who are thinking about joining a gang, are meaningfully deterred from these opportunities. This is particularly true when those efforts are targeting young people who have not yet gone down the path to a life of serious crime.

As has already been said, this government has, through budget 2011, invested $10 million to support youth gang prevention activities. It is also important to recall that the government, in 2009, amended the Criminal Code to strengthen the gang peace bond provisions. As members may know, peace bonds require an individual to agree to specific conditions to keep the peace. They can be issued when it is feared, on reasonable grounds, that persons will join a criminal organization and commit a criminal organization offence.

I am told that these provisions of the Criminal Code are frequently relied upon by police in cities such as Winnipeg and Toronto and are an important prevention tool in the fight against organized crime. The government recognizes the value of prevention, but we must do more.

There is, however, a need to recognize the limits of prevention. Many of those involved in organized crime are hardened criminals who will not be dissuaded by prevention activities. Frankly speaking, many of these same individuals are not dissuaded by the possibility of jail time. They see that such a possibility is part of the cost of doing business.

In such cases, the criminal law must respond clearly to behaviours society has deemed unacceptable. In this respect, the proposal to create a stand-alone offence to target gang recruitment is appropriate. In doing so, we ensure that there is a full spectrum of responses to recruitment practices. We also make clear our disapproval and our belief that such conduct must be denounced, deterred, and punished, given the increased threats to society posed by larger criminal organizations.

In looking at the proposed offence, it is important to be clear that it is not targeting the mere association of individuals. Rather, the focus of the offence is recruitment done for the purposes of enhancing the ability of criminal organizations to facilitate or commit an indictable offence.

The proposed offence's focus is consistent with the purpose of the existing participation offence found at section 467.11 of the Criminal Code and is now well understood by the courts in Canada. In this respect, the jurisprudence under this existing participation offence will likely be helpful in informing the correct interpretation of the proposed offence as it is used by police and prosecutors.

For example, the concept of facilitation has been interpreted on many occasions to mean “to make easier”. Accordingly, I expect that this new offence will be quickly relied upon and will be familiar to many in the criminal justice system.

I would also like to take a moment to address the concerns expressed by some that the new offence is not required, as the existing participation offence already addresses recruitment. As my colleague from Delta—Richmond previously stated, laws must not only be clear, but must be clearly understood. This is an important principle and one that I will strongly support. Our laws must be accessible to all Canadians, police, prosecutors, and the courts. Clearly written and clearly understood laws make the identification of relevant evidence easier for police and make the job of the prosecutor easier.

Clear laws benefit accused individuals as they help to ensure that they properly understand what is and is not legal. And of course, clear laws help the courts in determining guilt or innocence.

This is particularly important in the area of organized crime. I am aware that a common concern expressed by police and prosecutors, in investigating this type of crime, is that the laws are complex. While the proposed amendments will not address all of the complexities, they will certainly assist in making obvious to all that the act of recruiting someone to join a criminal organization is a form of participation and is therefore liable to sanction.

I would also note in passing that terrorism offences, which are modelled on the organized crime offences, also deal with the issue of recruitment. For example, the participation in activity of terrorist group offences found at 83.18 of the Criminal Code makes explicit that participating in the activities of a terrorist group include recruitment. While this is all included in one single offence, in my opinion, there is nothing different, from a policy perspective, in making this explicit in a single offence, as is done in terrorism, or in two offences, as is proposed through Bill C-394. The result is the same.

In addition to establishing a new offence, this private member's bill, Bill C-394, makes a number of other consequential amendments to ensure that the new offence is subject to the same special rules in the area of criminal procedure, evidence and sentencing as are the existing organized crime offences. This makes perfect sense and I support these proposals.

Let me close by noting the following as stated in the recently released seventh report, of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, entitled “The State of Organized Crime”:

Organized crime poses a serious long-term threat to Canada’s institutions, society, economy, and to our individual quality of life.

We must take all steps possible to ensure that our responses to these threats constantly evolve, so that our children are safe to grow and play in their communities, our businesses thrive, and our quality of life is preserved.

I urge all members to support Bill C-394.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

June 15th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to support Bill C-394 going to committee.

I think we have an opportunity here for some serious cross-party co-operation with respect to this private member's bill. That said, I have some of the same concerns I always do with private members' bills being the vehicle for criminal law reform. They have serious limitations, limitations I will address a little bit in my remarks, and that is why I was very pleased to see that one of the parliamentary secretaries to the Minister of Justice is involved in the file. I hope that as much as possible, a broader, more holistic justice department input to this private member's bill can be forthcoming.

We are all aware that street gangs are becoming more and more of a problem in this country. My own city, Toronto, is ranked among the cities having the largest growing problem. We all know recent events at the Eaton Centre in Toronto, which is actually linked to ongoing gang violence within an area very close to my own riding, although not exactly in my riding, of Regent's Park where, at the end of March on one evening alone, five different incidents occurred producing 90 bullets flying around a housing community in that one evening. The escalating gang violence in that area of Toronto was what, it appears, led to the shooting at the crowded Eaton Centre food court.

Clearly something is wrong, if not terribly wrong, and we must act now, so I welcome the member's private member's bill. It is completely consistent with what the NDP has been calling for since the 2011 election, when it was part of our campaign platform to create an offence for gang recruitment.

That said, we recognize that it cannot be viewed in isolation as an ad hoc measure, which brings me back to the concerns I have with private members' bills and their limitations.

It is important that we rely, as we move forward to committee, on serious, expert studies about what works and what does not and how this one provision will and will not fit with a broader, more holistic strategy.

There is a 2010 report from a leading academic, Scott Wortley, of the University of Toronto, called “Youth, Gangs and Violence: Characteristic Causes and Prevention Strategy”. In this report he notes a few things that are very important for us to keep in mind, because I would like to focus mostly on the issue of youth. He says, “Gang violence is more likely to occur in public spaces, involve weapons, especially firearms, and involve multiple victims...and is more likely to result in the victimization of innocent bystanders”.

He goes on to speak more generally about the involvement of youth gang members in much higher levels of crime and violence than non-gang youth as something that studies in Canada and in other countries have consistently shown.

He finally notes that youth gang members are much more likely to themselves become victims of serious violence, including homicide, than youth who are not involved in gangs, and I think this is really important for us to remember. In this respect it helps us consider the fact that members of gangs themselves can be viewed as, and are, victims.

One of the issues that will be coming up in committee, I hope, is youth recruiting youth. It is not simply a matter of youth being recruited, but as youth as recruiters. It is not entirely clear what a criminalization provision will do to that very important complex social fact. We have to keep in mind that members of youth gangs are, not surprisingly, youth. They are used for the recruitment of their peers, and simply criminalizing that behaviour would not get us very far, I submit.

We have to counter the flaring up of violence and what looks to be the increase in gang activity not only by clamping down on violence in a pure Criminal Code mode but also by looking for more long-term solutions. As Professor Wortley said in his report, “Enforcement alone is not going to stop this problem”.

We have to focus on prevention. Members opposite sometimes feel that the NDP overdoes its focus on prevention. They think that somehow this means the NDP is soft on crime. Far from it; it simply means we understand the most effective ways to root out crime before it starts and to prevent it from occurring again.

There is a whole continuum of measures that need to be put in place by a society to give opportunities to those who might otherwise turn to crime or, in this instance, those who might be susceptible to being recruited. If they fall off the wagon, so to speak, they end up being put in jail. We have to make sure that downstream measures within our jail system do not recreate the tendencies to engage in criminal behaviour. This more holistic, long-term and continuum-like approach of the NDP is perfectly consistent with a hard-on-crime approach; it is just a smart-on-crime approach as well.

Gangs have always targeted young people, but they seem to be doing so increasingly. As the member for Brampton—Springdale, who introduced the bill, stated in his own introduction, criminal organizations do appear to be targeting youth as young as eight years old and quite commonly in the age of 12 and 13 to participate in criminal activities and to become actual members of organizations. Members are even hanging around boys and girls clubs just, for example, hoping to recruit innocent children.

As we have already heard from the member for Ottawa South and the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, the most vulnerable to be recruited tend to be young people who are marginalized, those who are from lower socio-economic groups, those who are from tougher family situations and some who in a more long-term sense are looking ahead to their future prospects in society and are in some despair about where the opportunities do and do not lie for them. These background social facts are as important as the immediate goal of preventing recruitment or preventing organized crime youth gang activity itself.

The NDP's priority is to approach this using a balanced approach. We want to make sure that people live in safe, non-violent communities by putting the emphasis on more programs to prevent young people from being recruited into gangs. I am speaking of programs like the Remix Project created some five years ago in Toronto to serve the needs of young people who are vulnerable to being recruited to gangs.

I have had the opportunity with colleagues to have an early meeting with boys and girls club representatives, knowing the bill would be coming forward. I urge other members to listen to their perspectives and the perspectives of other organizations that work closely with youth.

Among the concerns we heard in what was at this stage still a fairly casual discussion was exactly what I have already raised. The youth being recruited by youth issue cannot be ignored. It has to be directed head on. Youth themselves can be recruiters, and this will criminalize their behaviour as well as anybody else who is recruiting.

The second part of the strategy is that we need to have programs and measures that take a positive approach and create bright options for youth looking into the future. These two messages I took away from our early conversations as being absolutely key.

The NDP has called for an offence of gang recruitment, but we have also put it in the context of a long-standing defence of such measures such as putting more police into communities and creating dedicated youth gang prevention funds and activities.

Let me now go to three concerns about the bill that have to be taken into account. We cannot simply say that we are in favour of it in principle and would like to see it in committee and that therefore everything is fine. It is not entirely fine.

The first point is that the nature of the private member's bill means that at least from the beginning, the justice department is not involved. We do not have anything resembling a whole-of-government approach to the bill. It is one of the classic areas that I hope I have already outlined in my remarks that needs a more holistic, continuum-like approach to the issue.

That does not mean that something like this cannot go forward on its own, but it will be a real shame if we lose the opportunity to build this initiative into a much broader understanding of what else is out there and, most importantly, what needs to be put in place for this not to be simply a punitive approach to the problem. It is an approach that is necessary as part of the solution, but on its own, it will only make us feel good but get nothing done.

It is important to note, and I do not mean to make this sound too partisan, but the Conservatives have not been generally favourable to the preventive side. In January 2011, a scarce year ago, the Conservatives announced severe cuts to the youth gang prevention fund, and it was only a push-back from the NDP that had that reinstated.

The Conservatives need to approach this more holistically. We have to focus on the mandatory minimum concern that was already brought up.

Finally, we really have to look at the issue of youth recruiting other youth, and make sure the committee process hears from witnesses who know about that and have real ideas on how to deal with it.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

June 15th, 2012 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank my hon. colleagues from all sides for participating in the debate on this important piece of legislation.

Bill C-394 is the 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. This bill is a necessity in today's environment.

Recently, the necessity for this bill has been made even more clear. Two heartbreaking and tragic examples of gang activity have instilled horror and fear in communities across this country.

The tragic shooting which took place at the Eaton Centre in Toronto seems to have been fuelled by an internal gang rift. The shooting claimed two lives and injured numerous others. The shooter's father said that his son was changed by his involvement in gangs at an early age.

This incident put the security and safety of law-abiding citizens in jeopardy. My most heartfelt and deepest condolences go out to the families and loved ones of those affected by this horrific violence.

This week Canadians were horrified by the story of a 16-year-old girl from Winnipeg. This young girl was taken around to different lawyers' offices by a street gang in hopes of her signing a sworn statement falsely pinning the blame of operating a crack house solely on her.

This highlights the brazen lengths to which gangs will go to manipulate our most vulnerable citizens without a care for their well-being, safety or future. Gangs have absolutely no regard for the lives of innocent Canadian citizens. We need to do something about this, and the time is now.

It has been noted by the RCMP, CSIS and front-line service workers that gang recruitment is a growing problem in our neighbourhoods. These entities have cautioned that Canada's gang population will continue to grow as a byproduct of aggressive recruitment.

While restorative and preventive programs and measures are needed, there is a legal void that needs to be filled. Bill C-394 would fill that void. There are far too many youth today who are coerced, manipulated and at times forced to join gangs.

The realities of the gang lifestyle are heartbreaking. Death, guns, drugs, violence, substance abuse, criminal activity and prostitution are all too common in this environment. It is a lifestyle in which no person should ever find himself or herself, yet far too many 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 does not just affect those directly involved, but it also is a danger to families, communities and the safety of every Canadian.

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 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 need to live in fear in communities across this country and can enjoy the safety and security that we all deserve.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 1st, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

moved that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to share with the House the important measures introduced in Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment). The focal point of Bill C-394 is to protect Canadians, especially our youth, by making the act of criminal organization recruitment, or in other words gang recruitment, an offence under Canadian law.

All of us can agree that our youth are our future. This is a statement that holds no partisan or political undertone. Each one of us in the House and every Canadian would agree that our youth will define the trajectory of the country and that trajectory will be determined by the types of opportunities our youth are given.

Young Canadians today have a sense of vulnerability about them. There are challenges that all youth face. My three young children constantly remind me, as a parent, how important it is to provide for their safety and to protect them from any real or imagined dangers. Like every parent, I want the best for my children. I want them to be given every opportunity to succeed. To do this, I strive to create a safe environment in which they are free to grow and explore their potential.

Unfortunately, not all kids or teenagers get to experience the life they deserve. Sometimes the pressures to fit in or join a certain group are just too overwhelming, leaving youth vulnerable to those who might exploit their desire to belong. In a 2008 publication, the RCMP found that street gangs in Canada are increasingly aggressive with their recruitment tactics. In a disturbing trend, these criminal organizations are targeting youth under the age of 12 and as young as 8 years old.

These ruthless gangs pursue our vulnerable youth for several reasons. They know that those falling within this age range cannot be formally charged with a criminal offence. They also know that our youth can be easily pressured to participate in a variety of criminal activities. Our innocent and most vulnerable citizens are being manipulated, coerced and at times forced to embark on a life that no Canadian should ever experience. Gangs exploit our children by forcing them to participate in criminal activities such as drug dealing, robbery, theft and prostitution.

When I had the opportunity to speak with current and ex-gang members who led recruitment initiatives, they told me of a world that knew no boundaries. For instance, gang members will use drug addiction to manipulate potential recruits to take part in criminal activities that support the gang. This means that children, young kids who should have been playing soccer in school yards, are carrying weapons, drugs and money. In the eyes of gangs, these youth are dispensable and easily controlled.

It is worrisome and heartbreaking that Canada's most violent criminal organizations actively recruit youth and teenagers. How can we as a nation sit by and watch this happen?

I remember vividly what the director of the Regina Anti-Gang Services told me as we sat side by side in a small room among hardened gang members seeking to exit that lifestyle. She told me that, once recruited, these innocent children and teenagers were lost to the streets of the city forever. Promising young lives would vanish into the criminal culture forever. What makes this lifestyle so deadly is that leaving a gang is next to impossible.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a chance to speak with several former and current gang members. I sat beside a young man, a mere 19 years old, who had been a gang member for more than seven years. When I looked at him, I saw a kid. However, as we got deeper into a discussion about his past, there was nothing in his life that resembled that of a youth. He was recruited into a gang at a very young age. Instead of school, friends, family and sports, he was robbing drug dealers, attacking rival gang members and selling drugs on the streets.

This was a kid who excelled in a criminal organization because that was the only life he knew. I cannot help but picture his work ethics allowing him to lead an extraordinarily successful law-abiding life. Now he is battling a drug addiction and because he is seeking to exit the gang, he constantly looks over his shoulder fearing for his life. He told me that no matter what one does, one is never really out of the gang.

The people he recruited into the gang have experienced the same thing as he did. He looked me in the eye and asked, “By recruiting others into the gang, how many lives did I ruin? How many families did I hurt? And how many people have experienced pain at my hands?” What type of life is that for a young person?

We see lives being shattered by gangs, families destroyed and our community safety placed in jeopardy. As a father, I fear the presence and power that a gang wields over a community and its most vulnerable citizens. As a member of Parliament, I know there is more that we can do.

In 2006 CSIS estimated that the number of street gang members under the age of 30 was approximately 11,000. The report cautioned that the number would continue to grow rapidly over the coming years.

In the Peel region, which my family and I call home, the number of gangs has exploded in the last few years. In 2003 there were 39. Today there are well over 110 street gangs within our neighbourhoods. This means that more people live in fear, more young people are targeted and more violence is used.

Gang members in Canada have a blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of those around them. For instance, in some communities, families are afraid to leave their home or let their children play outside. Gangs also pose a significant risk for law enforcement officers. The increase in gang recruitment has far-reaching and systemic effects on our country as a whole. Our safety, security and well-being are placed in jeopardy.

The purpose of Bill C-394 is twofold.

First and foremost, we are seeking to further protect our youth and communities by criminalizing the act of gang recruitment. Far too many communities in Canada are facing a gang problem. It is vitally important that we maintain the security and safety of our neighbourhoods, streets and families.

By tackling gang recruitment, we can help reduce the number of innocent and vulnerable citizens who would otherwise be lost in this dead-end lifestyle forever. It is about protecting our children, neighbourhood and future. Criminal organizations use fear, intimidation and violence to advance their objective and grow within a community. This behaviour can no longer be tolerated.

Second, Bill C-394 is designed to provide law enforcement officers with additional tools to address gang recruitment. I had the opportunity to meet with numerous stakeholders across Canada to discuss this issue. The valuable insight we gained was used in the development of the bill. We spoke with several law enforcement officers who praised the bill's direction, scope, focus and resourcefulness.

The 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs, conducted under contract to the Solicitor General of Canada, was the first of its kind in the country. This landmark study identified some startling figures. Of 264 Canadian police services surveyed, 57% believed that the youth gang problem was getting worse. Most concerning was the fact that 44% reported that youth gang members had established a relationship with larger organized crime groups.

The common theme that we witnessed while meeting with law enforcement officers was that the more tools they had to fight what they called the “war on gangs”, the better the outcome could be. Bill C-394 has taken that request and seeks to augment current efforts.

Youth gang membership has and will continue to grow in the country if we sit back and do nothing.

Restorative and preventive approaches complement other justice responses to criminal activity, but they cannot replace them. Bill C-394 is focused on addressing the criminal actions that allow a gang to proliferate, strengthen and grow within our communities. We are tackling the criminal conduct that is destroying our youth's lives and placing others in jeopardy on a daily basis.

With this being said, I am strongly committed to supporting a balanced approach to gang recruitment by advancing preventive and education-based programs across this country. We are focusing on bolstering our law enforcement, legal and justice system to respond to the increasingly aggressive gang recruitment strategies that are ongoing.

Bill C-394 would allow our justice system to appropriately hold those who would recruit individuals into a criminal organization accountable for their devastating actions. By doing so, we will be able to take these dangerous criminals off our streets for good. This not only maintains the safety and security of our communities, but it offers the opportunity to severely inhibit a criminal organization's growth.

When I spoke with the president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, he told me a story that exemplified the need for this proposed legislation. At one of their inner-city club chapters, gang members will wait under the parking garage directly behind the building. Their sole purpose for being there is to engage those leaving the Boys and Girls Club in hopes of recruiting them into their gang, a targeted strategy that is not a coincidence.

This example highlights the reality that our youth in our communities face. Education and prevention programs are only a part of our response. We need to provide our justice system with the ability to respond through legal action.

Imagine for a moment if these children, youth and teenagers were empowered to report those trying to recruit them. Imagine if our community members knew that something could be done about gang recruiters who operated in their neighbourhood. It would empower communities to take action.

Today, we have an opportunity not just as members of Parliament, but as Canadians, to come together and make a difference in our neighbourhoods. I urge each member to view the bill for what it is: an important new tool in our criminal justice system that will benefit families, communities and future generations.

It is time that we take back our streets from criminal organizations that are increasingly tightening their grip on our freedoms, safety and security. It is time we take a stand so every child, teenager and adult can experience the life that they deserve to live.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 1st, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, from the outset, I can say that the NDP will vote in favour of Bill C-394 at second reading, but that does not mean we are signing a blank cheque. We will study Bill C-394 at length in committee with the help of expert witnesses, and we will do a comprehensive clause-by-clause review in committee and make any necessary amendments.

I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment). This private member's bill amends the Criminal Code in order to create a new offence related to organized crime: criminal organization recruitment.

There is currently a set of rules in the Criminal Code that prohibit criminal organizations: participation in activities of a criminal organization, commission of an offence for a criminal organization and instructing a person to commit an offence for a criminal organization. The bill being debated in the House today seeks to add a fourth offence to the Criminal Code: the recruitment of an individual to join a criminal organization, as defined by the Criminal Code, for the purpose of enhancing the criminal organization's ability to facilitate or commit a criminal offence.

With this bill, my hon. colleague hopes to put the brakes on recruitment by gangs. Gangs are criminal organizations that have operated in a number of Canadian provinces for decades. They exist in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. They are flourishing and must be condemned in no uncertain terms.

The configuration of gangs is changing, and more and more young people are joining these criminal groups. Gangs target young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have family problems. Gangs also target girls and have been observed recruiting in prisons. Consequently, the make-up of gangs can vary. Therefore, I congratulate my hon. colleague for introducing this bill, which is a first step in solving the problem of gangs.

Public safety is a priority for the official opposition, and we always take a great interest in analyzing bills that will amend the Criminal Code. However, although I acknowledge the legitimacy of the bill sponsored by my hon. colleague, I must admit that I find the penalty for this new offence to be inappropriate.

The bill sets out a five-year maximum sentence and a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for recruitment of a minor. The very principle of a mandatory minimum is open to criticism from a legal perspective because it deprives the judge of discretionary power, which is a basic tenet of criminal law. The penalty set out in this bill would, once again, encroach on the judge's sentencing powers.

Enhancing the legal arsenal for gang suppression is important, but it is not enough to solve the gang problem and minimize their impact on society. Prevention and suppression always go hand in hand, and we support programs designed to help young people in cities with a gang presence so that our society can enable everyone to develop in a positive way.

I think we should support work done in collaboration with various stakeholders to curb this situation. By way of explanation, I would like to quote Louis Lacroix, the project manager at the Centre of Expertise on Juvenile Crime and Behavioural Disorders and coordinator of the Programme de suivi intensif de Montréal:

Each of us was doing good work in our individual areas of expertise, but no one was successfully addressing the street gang problem. American studies show that coordinated approaches in the community are more successful than when we all work in isolation.

Various projects were therefore created in a number of provinces and the following stakeholders participated: the federal government through the National Crime Prevention Centre, schools, associations, the music industry, foundations, banks, municipalities, the legal community, correctional services and the police. It is important to put forward these initiatives, and it is up to the government to promote them.

It is also essential to be able to give front-line police officers financial and human resources. However, it seems that the current government has failed in this responsibility and has not taken into account the suggestions made by professionals who deal with gangs every day. This time, I would like to cite the comparative report on types of intervention used for youth at risk of joining a street gang, released in 2011.

[A] meeting of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, or the CACP, in 2009 produced the recommendation that a national anti-gang strategy be developed. The national strategy would ensure the “constant allocation of police resources” to deal effectively with the phenomenon....To date, this strategy has yet to be adopted.

One thing this shows is that the present government is refusing to fund municipal front-line officers, and this shows a glaring lack of vision on the part of the government when it comes to public safety.

The Conservatives may be showing the will to combat criminal organizations, including by making it an offence to recruit people into gangs, but they are not completely meeting the needs and expectations of our fellow Canadians.

In January 2011, the Conservatives announced a dramatic cut to the Youth Gang Prevention Fund. At the time, the NDP responded forcefully, pointing out the significant benefits of the prevention programs implemented under that fund. Thanks to the NDP, the Conservative government backpedalled a few months later and announced that the funding allocated to the program would now be permanent.

The Conservatives have also disappointed the provinces in the case of the allocation of funding under what was called the Police Officers Recruitment Fund for the provinces to recruit front-line police officers. The fund was created in 2008 and will end in 2013. Once again, the Conservatives have failed to keep their promise.

Canadians expect the members of this House to take reasonable measures in order to meet their expectations: to be able to live in crime-free, violence-free communities. This bill is one solution to the problem of individuals being recruited by gangs, but it is not the only solution. An approach that strikes a balance between punishment and prevention must always take precedence when it comes to public safety, and aiming for that balance is the way to ensure that Canadian society is more harmonious.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 1st, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, while the debate this evening is on Bill C-394 and criminal organization recruitment, it reflects and, indeed, invites initial comment on the overall approach to criminal policy by the Conservative government in general.

In this bill, we see the problems of this generic approach to criminal law, namely, that everything is a matter for the criminal law even if there already exists an offence in the Criminal Code on this issue, that the only way to address these criminal matters is through the prism of punishment and that the best approach to punishment is through the use of mandatory minimums.

Frankly, this is a variance with long-standing principle, policy and an evidence-based approach to criminal justice. The government's preoccupation with this type of legislating is not only somewhat disingenuous but also ineffective, wasteful, prejudicial, constitutionally suspect and, simply put, bad public policy.

I realize that colleagues in this place may be somewhat surprised that I am beginning with this type of approach and perspective. However, I believe that as a chamber, given this whole approach to policy-making, that we must take a step back and gain some perspective on what we are doing.

I know the government is very quick to pounce on these types of critiques and to label those who make them, be it the Liberal Party, others or myself, as being soft on crime. We all have a shared commitment to combatting crime. The issue is how we combat it, whether we are smart and effective on crime or whether we are in a situation where we are simply legislating for the sake of legislating and sending a signal as if we are tough on crime when in fact the very subject matter may already be present in the Criminal Code.

If one looks at the legislation, it proposes to punish anyone who ”recruits, solicits, encourages or invites a person to join a criminal organization”. This offence would become the new section 467.11 of the Criminal Code, but, and this is the important point, enhancing the ability of a criminal organization is already a crime under the Criminal Code.

Section 467.11 of the Criminal Code, the very section to which this bill adds a subsection, clearly states:

Every person who, for the purpose of enhancing the ability of a criminal organization to facilitate or commit an indictable offence under this or any other Act of Parliament, knowingly, by act or omission, participates in or contributes to any activity of the criminal organization is guilty of an indictable offence....

I have no problem with legislation that sometimes seeks to make a necessary clarification to the law or to enhance the law, but what is being suggested here is that somehow without this bill there will be no offence with respect to gang recruitment. Yet recruitment previously was one of the issues on the minds of the legislators themselves in this House, as evidenced by the fact that when enacting section 467.11 in 2001, the then-minister of justice, Anne McLellan, said in this place upon the introduction of what is currently in the Criminal Code, in order to reference that this was already anticipated and then implemented as law:

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.

Thus, the express provisions of the proposed participation offence make it clear that the crown does not, in making its case, need to link the impugned participation, in this case recruitment, to any particular offence. In fact, these words could have been spoken by the introducer of this particular bill because that particular section in the Criminal Code already covers what this bill purports to do, as reflected in the words of the then justice minister at the time. Indeed, this is the current state of the law.

Section 467.11 of the Criminal Code goes on to note that in the prosecution of an offence under subsection (1) it is not necessary for the prosecutor to prove that, and it goes through a whole series of factors which, for reasons of time, I will not enter into here. If one looks at the offence, one will see that it already covers that which this bill purports to do.

I do not therefore wish to dwell on some of those technical points of law. Suffice it to say that the behaviour the new offence seeks to criminalize is something already criminal under another provision of the Criminal Code. Whatever act that would give rise to this proposed section would also likely be criminal under another section, such as the offences relating to counselling, aiding, abetting, conspiracy and the like.

As such, Bill C-394 is both duplicative and arguably duplicitous as well, duplicative in that it essentially repeats what is already in the Criminal Code and somewhat duplicitous in that it is being presented as if this were our only option with respect to combatting gang recruitment and as if there were no present offence that deals with this issue before us, and that those who will oppose this piece of legislation are again somehow soft on crime or do not care about street gangs and the like.

As I mentioned in my introduction, Conservative crime policy is regrettably all about punishment, yet we should be seeking to prevent young people from joining gangs to begin with. This involves an understanding and appreciation of the serious initiatives that need to be taken with respect to education, social services and the like, in order to allow people to stay in school for as long as they can to provide them with employment opportunities, so that young people are shown that there are alternatives to gang life.

Yet this would involve, and this is the core of my remarks here this evening, addressing the underlying causes and concerns relating to gang crime: housing, poverty, income inequality, employment, minority inclusion and access to education, and an understanding of why young people join gangs.

There are no young people in Canada contemplating gang life because they believe there is no offence against it or their recruitment in the Criminal Code.

There are plenty of offences in the Criminal Code, an ever-expanding list that has grown tremendously with the adoption of Bill C-10, and yet these do very little to address the root causes and concerns of crime. In fact, many of them will only lead to an increase in crime.

Here I am speaking in particular of mandatory minimum penalties, something which Bill C-394 seeks to add to the Criminal Code in the matter of gang recruitment. While I have spoken many times in the House on this point, once again one finds an ignoring or marginalizing of the evidence with respect to the fallout of mandatory minimums.

Simply put, not only do we know that mandatory minimums do not deter crime, rather they tend to increase crime both within prisons, which become schools for crime, and outside prisons. They do not deter crime. This is not my conclusion. This is a conclusion reached by studies the world over and even our own justice department here in Canada.

They remove necessary prosecutorial and judicial discretion, leading to pleas for lesser offences or forcing trials where there may have been none. This clogs the courts. The Canadian Bar Association has warned us that with the addition of more mandatory minimums, we may end up in a situation where more accused are set free contrary to the intention and objectives of the government's legislation to begin with simply because their charter right to a fair trial within a reasonable period of time has been violated.

Moreover, mandatory minimums will lead to further overcrowding in prisons, yet prisons in this country are already overcrowded. We have seen in U.S. court judgments that overcrowding amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Lastly, though perhaps most important, such sentences also invite constitutional critiques and have been struck down, as we saw recently in the Ontario courts, for being cruel and unusual, arbitrary, disproportionate, outrageous and intolerable.

While I do not have time to elaborate further, I would like to conclude by simply reminding members that criminal law should be as much about prevention as it should be about punishment. Our approach to social evils should be as much to ensure that individuals and groups have a viable way of avoiding that which leads them into gang recruitment through all the causes and concerns that I addressed earlier in this regard.