House of Commons Hansard #160 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Chairman

Is the hon. member finished asking questions?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Yes, Mr. Chairman. Inasmuch as this section is not unlike the conspiracy laws that are on the books, I would be prepared to move an amendment to reduce the number from five to three.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Chairman

Would the member be kind enough to provide that amendment in handwritten form?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Chairman, once we move beyond this can we come back to these various sections to make amendments?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Chairman

If the clause is approved as it is then it is too late to make an amendment. However, if the member wishes to make an amendment it can be debated and then voted on or perhaps there will be unanimity on the amendment.

We can defer clause 1 if that is the wish of both sides.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Chairman, then I will not make that amendment at this time.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Chairman, I have some questions for the minister. I have been listening to try to not cover the same ground the hon. member for Crowfoot has covered.

I am concerned about a number of issues. It is from that perspective that I approach this legislation. I am concerned, as the minister is, about the impact of this legislation on law-abiding groups. I am also concerned about the importance of us passing a law recognizing there is an immediate problem in the province of Quebec with this issue. It is a serious issue. The police are asking for more powers to deal with group criminal activity.

I still feel that if it goes too fast, if a bad law is passed, it will be worse than no law. I have heard the minister say this on occasion, especially with reference to the victims bill of rights when answering the hon. member for Fraser Valley West. The minister explained why he would not proceed forward with that issue. There is that point of view.

The minister would like to avoid legislation that would allow for the following situation: Somebody from one of these groups commits a crime, the case goes before the courts and then either the person gets off scot-free on a technicality or the supreme court nullifies the court decision in six months or so. Time spent now is time well spent versus wasting taxpayers' dollars and a horrendous and embarrassing situation before a court somewhere down the road after this law goes through.

Starting with clause 1, the major issue the minister and the justice department want to cover is the definition of a criminal organization. That is a huge starting point. Personally I feel the definition is too restrictive and will avoid capturing those groups that sometimes tend to start criminal activities and then grow to huge numbers.

The minister may be addressing the problem from the wrong point of view. If we argue for larger numbers, by that time the groups have already committed a lot of crimes. It might be better to look at it from the point of view of the smaller number with the knowledge that a group has the intent to commit criminal activities. The group is associated for that purpose. I have no problem with the word association in this first definition.

I have a problem with the term group. I know that group means three or more. The minister said today in testimony to the member for Crowfoot that it is the ordinary meaning. The ordinary meaning of group is three or more, not five or more. If a group of four or more commits a crime this law does not apply. Therefore, the surveillance, the wiretapping and the income tax investigation cannot be done. That is restrictive if the purpose is to nip things in the bud.

I am submitting this argument for consideration for the amendment that may come later from the member for Crowfoot. He talked about lowering the number to three. I would argue and support three.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

The Chairman

Would it be agreeable to defer clause 1 until later on?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley East, BC

I think we may want to defer the amendments on clause 1 but there is further debate from several others here.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB

I have a comment and about three or four questions. I wanted to build the framework of where I am coming from, much like the minister has in his response so that we better understand what he is trying to do. I think that is important. I do not mean to be wordy like a normal politician is. I am trying to do my job effectively here. However, I happen to be a wordy individual so please bear with me.

First, that is my argument, rationale and reasoning to possibly look at lowering the number because if the minister says "ordinary meaning," a group means three or more. In light of that and because the minister was a lawyer and worked in the courts, is there any previous precedent that would contradict any of those three words that he uses in his definition and that would exclude his five or more? That is one assurance I would like to have.

Second, in terms of the impact on law-abiding groups, about the Rock biker gang to which he symbolically referred, are we prejudging? Will this law prejudge the Hell's Angels and Rock Machine as criminal organizations de facto when this bill is passed? Are there people already known to the government and the police who have committed criminal acts punishable by five years or less within that group presently? If so, why have not one of the over 800 sections in the Criminal Code that are there to help police officers in the performance of their duties been used to put these people before the courts to try them for the acts that their group has done?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

First, Mr. Chairman, I full agree with the hon. member, this is time well spent. I am very happy to have this interchange with hon. members about this bill.

The hon. member referred to a problem in Quebec as having inspired the bill. While the issue takes centre stage in Quebec because of the open warfare between certain gangs there now, it is a problem throughout Canada that we are addressing. I spoke with the chief of police in Vancouver in the course of consulting when we were drafting the bill and he was telling me about the problems in Vancouver with gangs and organized crime. Indeed, a serious criminal offence had been charged that very week involving a member of a biker gang in Vancouver.

I have spoken with attorneys general in Manitoba and Ontario, to the chiefs of police in Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa who have all told me the same thing. This is not just a Quebec issue. It so happens that the most spectacular aspects of the problem are evident there now with the bombs that have gone off and the lives that have been lost. However, we are dealing with a pan-Canadian issue, not just Quebec.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

The Chairman

Does the hon. member have any further questions?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Chairman, the minister did not answer the two questions.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

I will answer those questions now. I should not pause. I should just keep talking straight through and not look as though I am going to stop.

There are two questions to answer in particular, the first one about lowering it to three. I am not aware of any court decisions that would bind us about the definitions of groups, organizations or associations. As I said earlier, we are happy to consider lowering it to three. Even as we speak there are people out there watching this and people in the justice department who are intensively examining the proposals that are being made to see if there are any other things we should say so we can add to this discussion. Before this process is over we will have a position for you on your suggestion that we lower it to three.

In your second question you asked us about the impact on law-abiding groups. I say that if there is a group out there that has as one of its primary activities the commission of indictable offences for which imprisonment of five years or more is provided in the code and which has as members people who have engaged over the last five years in the commission of a series of such offences, then they are not law-abiding groups and, by definition, law-abiding groups are excluded from the application of that section.

My friend also asks if we will prejudge certain organizations or gangs, the so-called clubs. No, we will not. The very thing that the attorney general of Quebec asked me for I simply could not give, which is to say that membership alone in a certain group called X is an offence and that there be a schedule to the act with the names of the groups on it which indicate that those people are all criminals and, therefore, they lose certain rights and we can do certain things. We said that we will not do that. We cannot do that.

Instead, we said that we would talk concepts instead of people. We will talk about teams and ideas instead of the names of groups. We will give a description in the criminal law. If there is a group which has as one of its primary purposes the commission of serious crimes and if that group has a membership which has engaged in the last five years in a series of serious crimes, that is a criminal organization. That does not create an offence, it just describes what a criminal organization is.

We then went on to say that if a person commits a crime to benefit a criminal organization, that is more serious than it would otherwise be because this is a particular mischief we are trying to root out of our society.

That is not to say that particular groups are automatically deemed to be criminal when we pass this bill. The reality is that the crown attorney will have to tender evidence in each case: that this person is doing this for the benefit of a criminal organization, that gang X is a criminal organization because it is borne out in the facts. The court will have to be persuaded that they fall within the definition.

The last question my friend asked was why is it that the 800-odd sections in the very thick and complete Criminal Code have not succeeded to date in achieving all of this?

Organized crime, as I have learned from the police, presents a unique challenge in investigation. The police techniques typically are that an informer is sent inside, an officer is sent in under cover or they try to persuade someone in the organization to turn and become their informer. Also they solicit bits of information from people who are prepared to talk. In organized crime, particularly some of the groups which are active in Canada today, the police cannot infiltrate because the groups require that in order to become a member or be admitted to the inner circle that person has to commit a serious crime to qualify. It is an initiation. Police cannot do that.

Second, those who are inside, who police sometimes try to turn to become informers, realize they will face the death penalty if they are caught. That is a serious disincentive to providing information to the police. Similarly, there is an element of intimidation of those who might otherwise give information.

The fact is that the police find it exceedingly difficult to investigate these groups based on the powers in the code. That is why the police have been asking for the kind of tools that are contained in this bill, which we believe will make a difference in these exceptional cases.

I hope that responds to the questions which my friend asked.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

April 21st, 1997 / 12:55 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Chairman, the minister did address the questions I asked.

It is like I am acting as a director of a huge public corporation, the Government of Canada and, with due diligence, I am making sure as a director that the right questions are asked. I think that is what we are all trying to do here.

The minister said that this is not specifically Quebec related. We all know that the leader of the Bloc Quebecois and the justice critic for that party have been asking questions on this issue since 1995. March 1995 was the first time a question was asked in the House of Commons on this issue. At that time the minister indicated that the code had enough tools, as he has done until recently. A political perception might be that this is being rushed through for a pre-election purpose to build up and shore up popularity in a province in which the Prime Minister may or may not have the proper poll numbers.

I did not create those stories. I did not allege those charges. They are very well documented in all the press and media. That has made me very concerned that we not rush this legislation through in such a way that we do not show the Canadian public that we are trying to provide good governance. It is the Minister of Justice and his department which has that responsibility. I make an analogy to the victims bill of rights where the argument used was not to proceed. That addresses the answer. I just wanted to make a comment on the minister saying it was pan-Canadian.

With respect to criminal organizations consisting of five or more or three or more, they will not declare in writing their intent. It is like gun control. I hate to touch on it, but criminals who need handguns, rifles or shotguns for the purposes of committing crimes will not register them because it would lead to a quicker trail to them. They will get one illegally and commit the crime anyway. We will see if gun control will reduce crime. We will also see if this definition of criminal organization will reduce warring activities across the country.

With this preamble and setting the stage, if we now define criminal organization which up until now has not been defined in the Criminal Code, what different powers will it give police officers that they do not have now under the 800 sections?

As I understand the law, if they suspect somebody of committing a crime or they suspect somebody of being guilty of something, if there is suspicion and sufficient evidence, police officers can obtain warrants. Search and seizure are available. Surveillance is available. Wiretapping with a judge's permission is available, as is requesting tax records of somebody who has committed income tax fraud. I am the revenue critic. I know how heavy, hard and strong tax avoidance audit groups work. They do a darned good job. I know the powers they have.

Now we are defining criminal organizations. Will it give police forces that much more power when they already have the same powers on an individual basis?