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.
Parm Gill Conservative
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
In committee (Senate), as of April 1, 2014
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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.
- May 1, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
- April 24, 2013 Passed That Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
- June 20, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Private Members' Business
May 1st, 2012 / 6 p.m.
Kerry-Lynne Findlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour and pleasure of speaking in favour of Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment). It is my honour to present a bill that is of particular importance to me and that is also very important for the House of Commons.
This private member's bill, Bill C-394, is relatively straightforward. It has as its focus a practice that would enhance the ability of organized crime groups to engage in criminal activity; that is, the recruitment of members to join criminal organizations. The bill's sponsor, the member for Brampton—Springdale, seems particularly concerned about the recruitment of young persons to join criminal organizations.
In this regard, I strongly support his proposals and I am sure that his amendments will be met with wide support.
I urge my colleagues to vote for this bill.
Before going into the substance of the proposed amendments, it is important for me to provide some context regarding the state of organized crime in Canada.
According to 2011 estimates by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, 729 organized crime groups are active in Canada. This number tends to change from year to year. The reasons for this fluctuation include changes in intelligence-collection practices, the relatively fluidity of some of these organized crime groups and law enforcement policing practices that have disrupted the activities of these organizations. Many of these groups are street gangs that are active in the trafficking of illicit commodities. Most notable among these goods is drug trafficking.
However, street gangs are also widely known to be involved in street-level prostitution, theft, robbery, fraud and weapons offences. The wide range of organized crime activity undermines community safety, interferes with legitimate economies, and costs Canadians millions of dollars each year. Furthermore, organized crime groups frequently resort to violence to achieve their criminal objectives, putting the public at risk as a result.
For organized crime groups to be successful, they must constantly ensure that they have enough members to carry on their criminal activities. When people are successfully recruited into a criminal organization, it enhances the threats posed by these groups to society at large. As the members increase, the criminal influence of those gangs or chapters of gangs is increased.
Frequently, these groups, or individuals acting on their behalf, target young people. Organized crime groups may do so because young persons are more vulnerable and can be convinced that joining such groups will bring them money, respect, protection and companionship. They may convince young persons to engage in criminal activity by telling them that even if they get caught, the justice system will be lenient on them because of their age.
Parliamentarians, and indeed all Canadians, should be rightly concerned about this. Bill C-394 proposes to create a new indictable offence that would prohibit anyone, for the purpose of enhancing the ability of a criminal organization, to facilitate or commit an indictable offence, from recruiting, soliciting, encouraging or inviting a person to join a criminal organization. This new offence would be punishable by a maximum of five years' imprisonment. It also proposes a mandatory minimum penalty of six months' imprisonment when the person recruited is under the age of 18 years.
It is worth noting that this offence mirrors the language of the existing Criminal Code offence of participating in the activities of a criminal organization found at section 467.11. It also has the same maximum penalty. This is appropriate because recruitment is a specific example of participation. In fact, the existing participation offence has been used to address recruitment in the past.
Now, some members in the House might question the need for this stand-alone offence, given what I have just said. These same members may argue that the existing participation offence is adequate and that duplication or overlap in the Criminal Code should be avoided.
In my view, the enactment of a specific offence which explicitly prohibits active recruitment would serve a more than valuable function. It would send an unequivocal message, reflecting Parliament's intent that such conduct must be condemned, in the clearest of terms.
It educates the community and reflects the important principle that the law must not only be clear but must also be clearly understood. There can be no doubt that this offence would put on notice those who would seek to recruit others to join a criminal organization. One of the most important aspects of this new offence is that it would provide police and prosecutors with an additional tool and would allow them to make a determination of which offence best fits the facts of a particular case. Let me be clear. This bill would provide additional tools to law enforcement officers.
In addition to this offence, the bill proposes a number of other amendments. These amendments would ensure that the new offence would be treated the same way as the other criminal organization offences in respect of procedural, evidential and sentencing matters in the Criminal Code. As I am sure all members know, the Criminal Code contains a number of special rules in relation to organized crime. For example, in cases where someone has been charged with a criminal organization offence, there is a reverse onus which requires accused persons to show why their custody pending trial is not required. Another example is that for persons convicted of any of the specific criminal organization offences, any sentence that is imposed on them must be served consecutively to any other sentence for an offence arising out of the same series of events. So the proposed consequential amendments in Bill C-394 would ensure that the Criminal Code is consistent and coherent in its treatment of organized crime investigations and prosecutions. I strongly support these amendments.
Before concluding, I wish to draw attention to a couple of technical concerns that I have identified with this bill and which I expect could be readily addressed through technical amendments without interfering with the objectives of the bill.
The first relates to the way the new offence is characterized. In the bill, the offence is called “recruitment of members by a criminal organization”. While it is certainly true that much of the recruitment would be done by gang members, it is not strictly speaking required. That is, the offence is not limited to recruitment by gang members. This is an important distinction because we do not want an overly restrictive offence. So in order to make it clear to everyone, I would support a technical amendment to change the way this offence is described.
I would also note there appear to be some discrepancies between the way the English and French versions of the bill are drafted. For example, in the English version of the offence the words used are, “...to recruit, solicit, encourage or invite a person to join a criminal organization”. In other words, the recruitment can refer to any criminal organization whereas in the French version the recruitment must be done into the specific criminal organization that will be enhanced. So as currently drafted, the English is broader than the French. Based on my understanding of what this offence is trying to do, as well as looking at the existing criminal organization offences, the French version seems to be more accurate. A technical amendment to address this discrepancy should be made. These are minor changes that I think would strengthen the bill.
I am prepared to debate an amendment that would clarify that intent. I call on all members of the House to support Bill C-394.
I strongly support this bill and look forward to working with the sponsor and all members to move it quickly into law.
Private Members' Business
May 1st, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I rise today on Bill C-394, introduced by the member for Brampton—Springdale. To begin with, I would like to congratulate the member on his initiative and for recognizing the fact that the gang problem in Canada is on the rise, which is a major problem that needs addressing. I would like to thank the member for giving us the opportunity to consider solutions to this problem.
To begin with, I want to make it clear that further legislation dealing with the problem of street gangs will not be a cure-all. We need to consider other solutions rather than simply throwing more legislation at the problem.
The NDP considers it important to protect our youth from gangs and organized crime. We believe that this bill is an important and positive tool in order to stem the tide of the street gang phenomenon. That is why we included this important issue in our 2011 election platform. We are in favour of a balanced approach to public safety that relies on both prevention and punishment.
The NDP's priority is to combat gangs by adopting a balanced approach. This approach, which focuses on prevention, will help meet the expectations of Canadians, who obviously want to live and thrive in communities free of violence. We want to see as many effective prevention programs as possible because they help to prevent young people from being recruited into street gangs.
Currently, there are three offences dealing with organized crime. These offences are defined in section 467.11 of the Criminal Code: participation in the activities of a criminal organization; the commission of an offence for a criminal organization; and instructing a person to commit an offence for a criminal organization.
The bill adds a fourth offence: recruiting a person to join a criminal organization for the purpose of enhancing the ability of the organization to facilitate or commit an indictable offence. It constitutes an additional legislative tool, which is at the heart of the bill.
Although there are no major problems that prevent us from supporting this bill, I do have some reservations about imposing mandatory minimums. I must remind government members that every time Parliament has attempted to include mandatory minimums in the Criminal Code, the Supreme Court has overturned these mandatory minimums because they do not allow judges to take into consideration mitigating factors that may have come into play in the commission of the crime. I remind members that this may be a major problem. It is my hope that the government will stop imposing mandatory minimums because they are not appropriate.
We must remember that young people have a fundamental need to identify with a group and to belong. If young people do not have this feeling of belonging to their family or school, for example, sometimes they unfortunately turn to gangs in order to find a sense of belonging. Peer pressure, the desire to be protected and the need to identify can therefore influence a young person's decision to join a criminal organization.
Families and children living in poverty and unemployment, or experiencing family problems, are often more vulnerable to recruitment by street gangs. In some urban neighbourhoods, where poverty and violence are everyday facts of life, young people may feel so vulnerable that they decide to join a gang because they believe it is the only way to survive. They may see it as the only available option. Joining a gang may also look to them like an alternative to their current living situation, particularly if they are from an extremely poor environment or if they have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. Stopping gang recruitment is a way of striking at the very foundation of these gangs, which is the recruitment that enables them to continue their unlawful activities.
There are data indicating that almost half the street gang members in Canada are under the age of 18, and 39% of gang members are in the 16 to 18 year age group. Almost half of all street gang members are under 18 years old.
They are also often highly ethnically diverse. Although youth gangs are primarily made up of young men, in some parts of the country, more young women are becoming gang members. As the gangs are a cross-section of many ethnic, geographical, demographic and socio-economic groups, many adolescents are at risk of becoming involved in such gangs or of being influenced by them in future.
In 2008, the statistics showed over 900 gangs totalling more than 7,000 members. Gangs made up of young Canadians are involved in many disturbing criminal activities including assault, drug trafficking, burglary, break and enter, vandalism and, increasingly, violent crimes against individuals.
There is also a disquieting relationship between many youth gangs and organized crime groups, and this increases the inherent dangers of the gang phenomenon in Canada.
Most gangs subject new members to some kind of initiation. This may consist of being beaten for a certain time by the other gang members, or it may be that most new members are required to commit crimes in order to become members of such a criminal gang. The same applies to some female members.
As is the case with most organized groups, female gang members are not really considered equal to male members. Women are more often invisible or less important, until the male members need them to commit a certain crime.
Female gang members usually participate in the same activities as male gang members. However, even though they take many of the same risks, they do not have the same status as their male counterparts. Furthermore, female gang members are often the victims of abuse such as rape and assault committed by male members of the gang. Unfortunately, male gang members can also sexually exploit them.
Gangs and criminal organizations are recruiting more and more young people, and at even younger ages. That is why we need to ferociously attack this phenomenon, in order to protect our youth.
Not only do we need to make it illegal to recruit people into gangs and criminal organizations, but we also need to strengthen and focus our efforts on youth crime prevention. Through such programs, we would be able to identify young people who might be susceptible to recruitment. It is therefore important to break down the radicalization process, so that our young people can thrive without the negative influence of these gangs.
Beyond criminalizing recruitment, we want more resources to be allocated to crime prevention programs, especially those designed for young people. We also want police forces to have enough resources to protect our communities across the country. To do so, we must certainly work together with the provinces, the territories and communities such as the first nations.
Fighting crime has to be done in partnership with all the players in the legal sector and the social sector.
We have constantly asked for an increased investment in front-line police officers. We have also asked for more money for youth crime prevention programs. Thanks to pressure from the NDP, the government has provided funding to these programs. Nonetheless, it has refused to provide funding for front-line municipal police officers. The Conservatives have thereby let down the provinces when it comes to the police officers recruitment fund that is allocated to the provinces to recruit front-line police officers. This is a very useful program that unfortunately will end in 2013.
The Conservatives are trying to show that they are willing to fight organized crime through this bill. However, they are not fully meeting the needs and expectations of Canadians.
In conclusion, I would just like to reiterate the importance of preventive programs. The punitive approach unfortunately has its limitations, and the best way to prevent recruitment into criminal organizations is to combat poverty and all the variables that result in individuals becoming involved in organized crime.
Criminal behaviour is caused by multiple social variables. Those are what we must work to eliminate. That is how we will have the greatest effect in the battle against crime and the recruitment of young people into criminal gangs.
Private Members' Business
May 1st, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance
Mr. Speaker, I will begin by reading some of the speech that I have prepared for today. Then I want to take a moment to give some practical examples of how this would affect youth not only in my community and in the province of Manitoba but in many communities across this country.
Bill C-394 would create a new offence that addresses the practice of recruiting or encouraging persons to join a criminal organization. The person who is recruiting must be doing so in order to enhance the ability of the criminal organization to commit or facilitate the commission of an indictable offence.
Organized crime, to be successful, requires a constant stream of new recruits. These individuals replace others who have either been incarcerated or have perhaps experienced worse outcomes. New members join the ranks of an existing organization so that the group can maintain or expand its criminal enterprises into new territories or new activities.
It is particularly disturbing when young people are targeted. In many instances the job of recruiters is very easy, because they target our most vulnerable young people. This leads me to some examples.
As members know, I have been a police officer for some 19 years with the Winnipeg Police Service, and I intend to go back to the police service. What brought me here to this House was the failure of the previous Liberal government to address the recruitment of our youth by criminal organizations, our youth being exploited into the criminal element.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act was created by the previous Liberal government. It was supposed to address this exploitation of our youth. It was supposed to address the fact that our kids were being dragged into gangs. It did none of that. In fact, it removed denunciation and deterrence from the act itself. It created an environment in which criminal organizations could easily target our kids into gangs. As a result, I as a police officer, and many police officers across this country, experienced direct recruitment of our youth through gangs providing them with incentives.
I know that the Liberal member for Winnipeg North is in the House right now. I really want him to pay attention, because it was in his area that I experienced this kind of recruitment. It was fairly common in Winnipeg following the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which was put forward by the previous Liberal government.
First, what the criminal element will do is target a vulnerable youth who perhaps does not have parental supervision, perhaps is in a low-income family, perhaps has not been able to eat, or perhaps is not going to school. The recruiters target these kids and convince them by incentives to become gang members. They would give them $50 to go into Safeway to steal a tube of toothpaste. They would give them $50 after that to go into a house that an adult had broken into and ask them to steal a tube of toothpaste for $50. Then they would start to ask them to deliver packages for $50. What is in the package? Drugs. Now the child, without knowing it, is a drug dealer. The gang member then discloses that they have this information and threatens the young person to stay in the gang and work for the gang. It is despicable.
This is what the Youth Criminal Justice Act did to the children in my community, and this bill will help us to stop that kind of behaviour. I applaud it 100%. I know police officers across the country will applaud it.
I encourage the members of both opposition parties to please consider supporting this bill. It is absolutely necessary. It will do such wonders for our youth in our communities. It is high time that we address these victims who are unnecessarily being put at risk.
February 13th, 2012 / 3:05 p.m.
Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment).
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to introduce my private member's bill entitled An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment). The bill aims to protect the increasing number of innocent and vulnerable youth who are actively targeted and recruited by criminal organizations. The bill would provide the necessary tools for law enforcement officials and our justice system to hold these criminals accountable for their actions and protect our youth.
I look forward to having a debate on the bill in the House in the very near future.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)