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 organized.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

I believe so but, more important, the police believe so.

It is helpful to have the advice of those who are actually in the field. It certainly was on gun control. We had the support of the chiefs of police and the Canadian Police Association. They believed it would make a difference in terms of community safety. I know the hon. member voted for Bill C-68. He must have come to that conclusion. I know how carefully he thinks through positions before taking them.

The member referred to this being our opportunity for due diligence. I do not want him to think for a moment that I do not welcome the opportunity to discuss these features of Bill C-95 with my colleagues. I welcome the chance to have their views. As I said earlier, I am sure we will learn from the incite they bring to the process. We need this kind of examination and I welcome it.

What will the bill give police forces that they do not already have under the existing Criminal Code? Why do they think it will be important to them in their fight against organized crime?

At the moment if police officers want to get a wiretap they have to prove a number of things to a judge first. Among those they have to prove on evidence that every other kind of investigative technique either has been tried and failed or if it was tried would fail because of the nature of the investigation. That takes police officers to the point of having to swear an affidavit or other form of particulars of what has already been done, go through the list of alternative methods and satisfy the court on evidence that it is a last resort in the investigation of a certain crime.

The bill would remove that burden. It would simplify the process of getting a wiretap if the police officer is investigating criminal organization offences. Similarly with warrants. Returning to wiretaps, it would relieve police officers of a paper burden. We are not saying we should allow free access to intrusive methods because it is administratively difficult for police. We are saying we should make that change because when investigating organized crime it is almost always obvious that it is a last resort for the reasons I have already given. It is very difficult to investigate.

We are taking a burden from the police which we think is undue in the circumstances of offences of this kind. Some say if it is all so easy to establish they can establish it to the satisfaction of the judge and nothing is lost. We are trying to recognize the unique character of these offences in the way investigative tools are available to police officers. If we have the courage to conclude on the facts that it is almost always the last resort, then let us say it in the criminal law and not have the police go through the empty process of establishing it. It sends a signal as well.

Furthermore, police officers have told me that they get wiretaps and the day after they start the paperwork to prepare for the renewal because they only get it for 60 days. They tell me that in the context of an organized crime offence it is absurd because those investigations take an exceptional period of time. They have to put together bits and pieces of conversations and relate them to other information. It is a very complex process. They almost always need the wiretap for longer than 60 days.

In the bill we are permitting the court to provide the wiretap for an extended period so that the police will be using their resources investigating crime rather than busily working at paperwork for the extension application.

Similarly notice of the wiretap has to be given after the wiretap is finished to people wiretapped so that they know it and can take proceedings. We have extended the period during which they can give notice in these cases because some of the investigations go on for an exceptional period of time.

At the moment there is a very narrow category of offences for which access to income tax information can be gained. That is as it should be. Income tax is filed on an undertaking with the Canadian people. It is implicit the information be kept absolutely confidential by Revenue Canada. We do permit it at the moment for a very few offences. Officials will know the sections. Basically they deal with drug offences.

What we have proposed is significant. It is to extend the category of access to tax information to assist in investigations into organized crime offences. They cannot just walk in and take the information out of a file. They have to go before a judge, get a warrant, establish to the satisfaction of the judge that a criminal organization offence is being investigated, and that they need the information and it relates to the investigation. Then the warrant can be given and can be limited to such information as the court thinks is appropriate. Nonetheless it is an important breakthrough in terms of giving police more information to fit the puzzle together as to who has what, what are the proceeds of crime, what money is being laundered or what illegal activity is taking place?

Similarly we are proposing for the first time to extend the proceeds of crime legislation beyond drug offences and the like to organized crime offences. It is not only the proceeds. Cash can be taken from their desks during the arrest. It can be instruments as well possibly including real estate if it has been fortified or modified to facilitate the commission of an offence. That is a very important point.

We spoke to the mayor of St. Nicolas or other communities where there are headquarters of organizations of great concern to the citizens. We can imagine a gang setting up in a municipality somewhere, taking over a house, fortifying it, setting up barriers so that the police could not raid it, putting concrete in front and surveillance cameras on top, modifying it and selling drugs out the back door or using it to store explosives or some other such thing. If the real estate is modified or fortified to facilitate the commission of criminal offences, the real estate could be regarded as one of the instruments of crime and could potentially be seized after conviction for an organized crime offence. That is an extremely important tool.

The bill includes serious increases in sentences for crimes committed in association with or for the benefit of criminal organizations. I could have explosives illegally on my person and I would be subject to a maximum of five years in prison. If I am doing it for the benefit of a gang, if I am delivering the explosives to a gang or have planted them for the gang, whether or not I am part of the gang I could face up to 14 years in prison. Why? Because we are targeting organized crime which in turn is targeting us, our families and our children. That is why.

That is not only important because it reflects society's denunciation of organized crime activity. It is also an important tool for the police that may be in a position of having picked people up, arrested them and charged them. Then they have a potentially serious sentence facing them. Police officers can say they are prepared to discuss with them the charge they will be brought before the court on or what submission they will make to the court in relation to the sentence if they co-operate by providing them with information they need. It is a very important tool for police that should not be underestimated.

Then there is the so-called peace bond provision which is not there now. It will let police officers bring someone before the judge and say they have reasonable grounds to fear the person will commit a criminal organization offence.

They can ask the judge to look at the evidence, at the people he associates with, at what he has done in the past, at what the wiretap has turned up and at all the other circumstances. Then they invite the judge to conclude there is a reasonable basis to fear the person will commit a criminal organization offence. They can tell the judge that he has committed a number of them in the past and is still with the same group of people. They can ask the judge to look at what he has said publicly and privately.

In those circumstances the court can impose for up to a year conditions on the person's liberty such as prohibiting him from communicating with other members of the group. This would seriously undermine the ability of the leadership of groups to carry on their business. The police believe that is also a valuable tool.

I take the member's point. I should have to satisfy him that what we are proposing here is not only lawful but will be effective. I am able to report from my dealings with the police, the crown attorneys and the attorneys general of the provinces that we have a collection of measures. They are not enough in and of themselves but they will make a difference. They will make it that much easier for the police to tackle this dreadfully difficult problem.

We will be back in the future with more proposals. This is only the first phase of what we will do. Organized crime is a menace in the country. I do not think most of us have an appreciation for what a serious threat it is to the economy and future of the country.

It is a good start. These measures will make a difference for police and that is why we are here.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Chairman, I have one final question. I would just rephrase a good start to a fresh start because I feel it is a fresh example of co-operation between all parties. In any event, because of the nature of the amendments to the Criminal Code the concern is that they not be thrown out by some future supreme court justice.

There is a lot more to discuss in the bill. Why does it have to be done by Friday of this week? Why can we not take two to three weeks? We fast track bills through the House at second reading, report stage, third reading, over to the Senate and back, with exception of the blood bill of last year. Why can we not take two to three weeks from today and do it a little more slowly for the sake of not infringing upon the civil liberties of honest, law-abiding citizens, groups, associations or other bodies?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

We have asked for all-party agreement to deal with the bill now. My hon. friends have been kind enough to agree. We are dealing with, as I have said, a process that has been methodical. For some time we have been working at it, but it has been accelerated by reason of the request of the Government of Quebec for help in the present circumstances.

Over the last couple of years there have been almost 50 people killed in the gang war in Quebec. I met last week with Mrs. Desrochers, whose 11-year old son, Daniel, was killed in August 1995. He was walking down the street in Montreal on an errand for his mother. The police believe one of these gangs detonated an explosive that was intended as another offensive in their gang war. A piece of shrapnel blew across the street and took the life of the 11-year old boy.

I met with Mrs. Desrochers last summer in my office. The hon. member for Hochelaga was kind enough to introduce me to her. She asked how much longer she must wait before something was done about it. I told her we were working on it and the police were working on it. She met with me again last week. She said she wanted the bill in place and she wanted the police to have these tools. The most important thing to her was that the bill might help the police to find the people who are responsible for her son's death.

There are few more eloquent explanations of why we are moving quickly on the bill. I think of that grieving mother. I think of that 11-year old boy who lost his life. I think of a gang war that continues. We do not know from day to day where another bomb might be found or where it might be exploded. The criminal law is not something that can react on an hourly basis either to judicial decisions we do not like or crises that arise in terms of crimes in the country. It is an instrument that should be brought to bear in those circumstances where we feel as parliamentarians it can help in a lawful, practical way.

This is a problem of long standing which is of significant concern to our second most populous province. It has asked for our help and our urgent action. We have produced a bill we think is lawful and which will make a difference. It is under those circumstances we have asked that its adoption be expedited.

I am sensitive to those who say that greater care should be taken and a longer look should be taken at this bill. It may be that the other place may have its own ideas too about when and how the bill is considered.

If it does become law in the next little while, I can see us saying that we will commit to monitoring its progress, to reviewing its operation, to seeing what we have learned from it in operation. I have discussed this matter with officials. They think it may need a period of a couple of years or three years before we are able to look meaningfully at what we have learned from it by the time the wiretaps are in place and there is some empirical data by police across the country.

I would be happy to say to the hon. member that the government will return within three years with a statistical assessment of how this bill has operated, what the effect has been, what judicial decisions have been reached under the bill, whether there have been challenges to its validity, what the police say about how valuable this is as a tool in their hands, what changes might be desirable from a policy or practice point of view. That would be useful. It should be done anyway, but I would be happy to undertake to the member that the government will do so if he would find it of assistance.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

April 21st, 1997 / 1:15 p.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB

I respect the example the minister gave me about the 11-year old boy and his mother, and the need to move quickly. That is no different from the pleadings and representations made to the minister by Debbie Mahaffy in terms of having a victims bill of rights, victims impact statements and things like that being clearly identifiable in the law.

Is the minister sure that he is not being pressured by a pending election when he rushes forward with this bill?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Chairman, it is a good question. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General holds a place apart in any cabinet. He is a politician by definition but he has another responsibility as well: to be the guardian of the Constitution and the rule of law.

He or she is there to focus issues of principle on questions of politics, to borrow a phrase from Ian Scott who served with such distinction as Attorney General of Ontario for five years. I can tell the hon. member that I have considered that question at every stage of this process. I can tell him with honesty that in my view this is good law. It is needed. It is good policy.

I can tell him that if the request from the province of Quebec had come under different circumstances at a different time, I would respond in the same way. Within two days of getting a call from the minister of public security, I was in Quebec City to meet with him and 14 mayors of the region because I was aware of the depth of their concern and the extent of the problem.

I promised to look immediately at the proposal they gave to me. I did and I concluded it was unacceptable, but I also put something else on the table. I said: "Here are tools that we think are legal but that will make a difference". I solicited the involvement of others in the process I have already described in terms of consultation.

What we produced is before members now in Bill C-95. It is an urgent response to a very difficult and serious problem. I believe focusing issues of principle on questions of politics is the right thing to do.

Two years ago, members were kind enough to look carefully at Bill C-104 which had to do with adding DNA testing to the criminal law. We went through a similar process. I was here in this chair in committee of the whole, on clause by clause study for Bill C-104.

We passed that bill in a day. It went on to the other place and was adopted very quickly. It became law. Again, it did not go through the long, extensive process that we associate with legislation. We did it because we came to the common view that here was something that was needed and was not already in the criminal law. There was a case to be made that it was going to make a difference to police inquiries so we went ahead and acted quickly. There was no election pending; it was not as though the House was going to rise and we were all going to go on the hustings. It was two years ago, in the middle of our mandate.

My point is that there are times, quite apart from elections, when the need arises and circumstances require that we act quickly. I believe this is one of those cases. As a general rule, as I said in connection with Bill C-104, it is better to take the extended period. On this bill, with the facts and with this law we are in a position to act quickly and it is in the public interest to do so.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Chairman

Would the member indicate whether he wants this clause deferred until the end of all of the clauses?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Yes, but there are more parts to this clause that I would like to discuss with the minister if that is in order, Mr. Chairman.

The DNA bill came about as a direct result of the member for Wild Rose assuring the justice minister that he would have our support if they moved forward on that bill. It was as a result of that initiative that the DNA bill came forward because it was clear, simple and straightforward.

With regard to this bill, a little 11-year old boy died two years ago. There is no question in my mind that we had enough time to bring this bill forward and give it the due diligence it should have had. I am still concerned that we have not had witnesses from both sides. I would like to hear from prosecutors and ask them some of these questions, those who stand in the courts each day and have to bear the weight of providing evidence to bring forward the conclusion that they want. I would like to hear what they have to say.

I appreciate the time we are taking but it is not the same as having witnesses come forward with the various perspectives that this bill should have before we go forward with it. We are here because we do support the thrust of this bill.

I am concerned with the vagueness of some of the terms we have dealt with. I want to deal with more of them. There is a vagueness that is left to the courts to interpret. We know what happened with Bill C-41 on the conditional sentencing issue. Even the justice minister himself admits that rapists should not be walking free, yet that is the manner in which that law is being interpreted and administered by judges across the country.

When we say we will leave some of these definitions or these words to be defined and interpreted by the courts, we have had unpleasant experiences in the past that I do not think are in the best interests of society.

Nevertheless, I would like to turn to (b) of that first clause at the top of page 3. It states:

any or all of the members of which engage in or have, within the preceding five years, engaged in the commission of a series of such offences;

There is another word without definition and that is "series". What does that mean? What did the justice minister mean when he placed that word within this statute?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Chairman, we intended it to have its ordinary meaning. I would be happy if a court would look at the ordinary dictionary definition of that term when it comes to interpreting it and applying it.

May I say it is quite common in legislation, not just justice legislation but bills in general, that Parliament does not define all the terms that are used. We could scarcely do that because we would never get out of the definition section. Even if we were to do so, the definition sections themselves are open to interpretation by the courts. The courts will have the last word on all legislation; that is just the way things work in this democracy.

What we intended was to communicate the idea that where members engage over the last five year period in more than one of these criminal offences and indeed a series, then it should catch the definition of criminal organization. We are not talking here about an isolated event. We are not talking here about an exceptional event. We are talking about a series of events and therefore we are

giving the court the nature of the organization that we have in mind.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Chairman, if the justice minister means that a series is more than one, that clarifies it in my mind, but I do not read that definition anywhere in the bill. What does a series mean to the various judges across the country? Would the justice minister be prepared to define "series" as more than one?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Chairman, I said the dictionary definition should govern. Perhaps we should have that before us. I could ask one of my officials to provide me with a copy of the dictionary definition of "series" and we could read from that.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Chairman

Does the member have a further question?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Chairman, I would like to wait until the minister has responded to that.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Chairman, I have a question and a comment. Earlier, I was relieved when I heard the hon. member for Calgary-Centre, because I was afraid we were getting into something close to a filibuster. That would have been disappointing, I must admit. But the hon. member was most reassuring, and I know his reputation for style and fair play. I really had the feeling that the three parties had reached an agreement to ensure that the bill would be passed as soon as possible.

I am grateful to the minister for recalling what happened in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. The minister knows how concerned I am about the whole issue of organized crime. I have two comments, since I will not speak again on this bill because I really want us to proceed as quickly as possible.

I had an opportunity, for which I thank the minister and his officials, to ask some questions during a briefing session. I imagine the same opportunity was offered to our Reform Party colleagues. During this session I was able to discuss technical aspects of the bill.

So I would appeal to all members of the House to let us proceed as quickly as possible. I also want to explain to my Reform Party colleagues who are very close to the police community that three major demands made by police associations across the country have been documented in a report.

I would be delighted to table this report which is about the management of the proceeds of crime in Canada, if the House were to give its unanimous consent. One of the document's main recommendations is that there should be aggravating circumstances when an offence is committed in relation to organized crime. I understand why this provision found its way into the bill, and the minister can confirm my statement.

My question to the minister is as follows: Could he ask his officials to make a list of the offences covered by this bill, so that we have a better understanding of the legislation? I do not know whether departmental employees have already done so. I do know that there is a reference to all offences punishable by more than five years imprisonment, and these are mainly offences already included in the Criminal Code. However, to give all members of this House a better understanding of the legislation, it might be useful if the Department of Justice promised to distribute this list before we finish our business or by the end of this week. I think it would be very interesting for all members to have this list.

Finally, I want to make one last appeal to have this bill passed with all due dispatch, and I can assure the minister he will have our full co-operation.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Chairman, in the definition the reference is to offences for which there is a maximum of at least five years imprisonment as a punishment. It is for indictable offences with that consequence. It is not only in the Criminal Code but in other federal statutes as well. I am not sure if it would be helpful to provide that list because it is very long.

In terms of penalties, the Criminal Code is divided into a series-to use a word-in which there are groups of offences punishable by six months, two years less a day, two years, five years, ten years, fourteen years, and life. Those are the distinctions in terms of Criminal Code penalties.

Those offences punishable by a maximum of five years on indictment make up a very considerable group both in the code and in other statutes. I do not know that it would be helpful to have that list. What we are trying to do here is give the court a sense of the degree of seriousness to which we are looking when we say that someone is involved in a criminal organization. Therefore we have picked those offences which have the maximum of five years, which are up on the scale. They are not six months or two years plus a day or two years, they are in the medium range of seriousness and beyond. These are significant offences.

In response to the question put by my friend from Crowfoot on the issue of series, I am reminded as I look at the Oxford concise definition of series that the element that would be missing if we used two or more, rather than series, is the element of successive or the temporal relationship between the offences. In other words, if a person committed both offences in the same day, both having to do with the same event, for example, robbery and assault, that would be more than one but they would both be in connection with the same event and would not capture the notion of series in the sense that there would be successive occasions on which such events took

place; a person committed a crime in February but also committed the crime in October and so on.

As we look back over the five year period the notion of series is to connote not only a number, more than one, but that they were successive, in temporal relationship, one to the other, and there was a pattern which demonstrated that on more than one occasion the person had engaged in that criminal conduct. That is what series gives us that two or more would not.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Chairman, I do not know if that is going to make this any easier to establish without a definition more definitive than what I just heard from the minister.

The clause indicates what a criminal organization offence is. I ask the justice minister whether the criminal organization offence applies to youth gangs. I do not see that anywhere in the bill. I wonder why this bill is not applicable to youth and, in particular, why the definition of criminal organization does not apply to youth gangs.