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

April 21st, 1997 / 3:20 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman

House again in committee of the whole on Bill C-95. When the committee was interrupted at 2 p.m., clause 1 of the bill was under consideration. Is there a desire for further consideration of clause 1?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Etobicoke Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Allan Rock Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Chairman, when the committee rose at two o'clock, questions had been put to me by the member for Fraser Valley East. In fairness to his questions, it may be best that I record my responses now. I can do so very briefly.

The hon. member asserted that the chiefs of police have been asking for this legislation since 1994 and here we are five days before an election call with the bill.

First, I do not think that any of us knows when there will be an election nor should our actions in the House be based on those calculations. We should act as we see it in the public interest, and that is what the government is doing.

Since at least 1984, the chiefs of police and the police community in general have been asking Parliament to give them more effective tools to deal with organized crime. The fact that the government has listened to the police community saying it needs more tools is evidenced by this legislation which has not been developed over the last few weeks, but rather emerges from the last 18 months of methodical preparation and consultation.

On March 21, senior ministers of the Quebec government invited me to a meeting at which they told me in the presence of some 14 municipal mayors that they wanted us to accelerate the work which was already under way to deal with organized crime. It was in connection with that we completed the work we had started 18 months ago and produced Bill C-95.

The hon. member made reference to some newspaper stories about how law and politics may commingle. I dare say that these issues should not be determined on the basis of the volume of newsprint that is generated for one side or the other. Not only do I think that the hon. member might find that the volume is very much in favour of the government acting decisively to save lives through this legislation, I also think we should make our own judgment. As parliamentarians it is our duty to do so.

We are here today to consider in detail the clauses of the bill. I welcome the opportunity and I think we should use our time in that way.

The hon. member also made reference to some sections in Bill C-42, which he said had slipped through the House. I want to assure the hon. member that nothing slipped through in Bill C-41. Bill C-41 was a comprehensive reform of the sentencing laws in the Criminal Code. Among other things it provided for conditional sentences, another alternative available to sentencing courts in appropriate cases. It did not slip through. It was considered over many years and was the subject of broad public comment. It was concluded as a strategic decision by the Parliament of Canada to provide sentencing courts with a useful alternative.

The fact that the section has been amended through Bill C-17 ought not to discourage parliamentarians. A wide variety of legislation can be improved through amendment after experience is gained with it. That is exactly what happened with the conditional sentencing provisions of Bill C-41. We have now made it clear through an amendment, to which all parties agreed, that before the courts award a conditional sentence they should have regard not only to whether the person might be a danger to the community which was the original test, but also all of the principles that traditionally govern the determination of sentence, including repudiation, deterrence, denunciation and protection of the community.

Nothing has slipped through. Legislation was enacted by Parliament to achieve a purpose. I think it has now been improved with the amendment we all agreed on and which forms part of Bill C-17.

The hon. member then turned to the substance of Bill C-95, and he raised questions in relation to the definitions and whether the definitions are appropriate for the purpose we are trying to achieve with this legislation. I suggest that they are, that they have been designed and drafted to catch those who have dedicated their lives to the commission of serious crime as a career and who are acting in groups for that purpose. That is exactly what we are intending to achieve with the definitions that we have chosen.

The hon. member made reference to victims. As I said earlier today, if we really want to serve the interests of victims, not just talk about it with a so-called victims bill of rights-most of which deals with provincial jurisdiction anyway-but if we want to cut through the rhetoric and get to the results, if we want to set aside the slogans and get to the substance, if we want to go beyond the symptoms and deal with the sources of the problem, then we should look at what Bill C-95 does for us.

Last week I met with a victim, a woman who had lost her little boy to the gang wars in the Montreal area. He was an 11 year old whose innocent life was taken because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, walking down the street on an errand for his mother. She is a victim. She is asking Parliament for help. She met with me last week and asked me to do everything I could to have this bill enacted so that the police would have the tools they could use in an effort to find those responsible for taking the life of her little boy.

Here is something we can do for victims that will mean something. It is not just an empty rhetorical flourish to capture the newspaper headlines but substantive action that will improve the criminal justice system so that we might have fewer victims in the future. That is a much more laudable objective and it is for that purpose we have introduced Bill C-95.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Minister, I find it very refreshing to hear you in the debate on this bill saying that your department has been working on it for 18 months.

However, I find that rather strange, because barely four weeks ago the Prime Minister was saying that it did not come under his jurisdiction and that he was washing his hands of it. I am very glad though that the government changed its position and agrees that it is within its jurisdiction to legislate in this area.

I would like you to convince me about one thing, because I heard you speak on a number of occasions, and when I look at the definitions and the wording of the bill, I see that we do not perhaps agree on an important point. I wonder if you would tell me clearly what clause in this bill applies to the leaders, since you say to the press that the bill deals with the leaders?

I must say, at the outset, that this bill is a step forward and the government is going to do everything it can to get it passed. The step you have just taken is something we have been asking for since 1995. What the government realized just now, we have known since 1995. However the government failed to act.

Had it acted in time, we would not be considering this bill one week before an election call, even though you say you do not know the date. Let us not bury our heads in the sand, we are adults and we can see what is going on both in this House and outside it. I do not understand why the government did not act faster. That having been said, Mr. Rock, where exactly in the bill does it refer to the leaders, since, the way I understand it, according to the definitions in the bill, a crime has to be committed?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman

The hon. member will address the Chair, even if we are in committee of the whole.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Chairman, earlier the minister spoke directly to someone for 15 minutes and you did not call him to order. I will address my remarks to him through you, Mr. Chairman.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Réginald Bélair Cochrane—Superior, ON

It is because you are a member of the Bloc Quebecois.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Yes, it is because we are in the Bloc Quebecois that we are called to order as the Liberal member across has said. However, I will address the Chair, because I am pleased to do so.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

An hon. member

How sad.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Earlier we listened to the Liberals, and we made no disparaging remarks. I would ask you, Mr. Chairman, to ask the members opposite not to make any disparaging remarks either, and we will get along just fine.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to have the minister tell me where in the bill the leaders are mentioned, because, according to the definitions in the clause under study and in the subsequent clauses, an individual must have committed an offence. We know perfectly well that the leaders are not the ones committing the crimes, but rather their subordinates.

I would like to know from the minister where the bill deals with the leaders and how he intends to implement these clauses, if it does.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

Yes, Mr. Chairman. First, I must respond to the hon. member's comment that everyone has been waiting a long time for the government to take action on this matter. In fact, we have been working on it for a long time, for years. We have heard the views of chiefs of police and of police forces throughout Canada. We have studied the entire issue and we have acted in consultation with and with the backing of police forces.

A few days ago, here in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said that responsibility for dealing with this problem did not rest solely with the federal government. The provinces also have a responsibility, under the Constitution, for the administration of the justice system.

Everyone knows that there is no miracle solution. People know that an answer will not be found overnight. We must all do our part.

With Bill C-95, the federal government has begun to do its part. Now, provincial authorities must ensure that they give police officers and counsel the resources they need, and do their part as well.

In my opinion, we will only be able to move forward if both levels of government work together. That is the position taken by the Prime Minister, to which the hon. member referred during oral question period here in the House.

The hon. member is asking me the following question: What clauses apply to leaders of gangs and of organized crime? My answer is that all the clauses in the bill have this objective. All aspects of the bill can be used to prosecute gang leaders. For example, we have suggested changes to augment and improve the methods of investigation used by police forces against leaders and members of gangs and of criminal organizations.

The same applies to the clauses dealing with the proceeds of criminal activities and the means used to carry out those activities. It also applies to the sentences proposed in the bill. They are tougher and are aimed at leaders as well as members.

Finally, one clause will deal with the order to keep the peace and will give the court authority to make an order limiting an individual's freedom if the court is convinced there is a reasonable fear that the individual might commit a crime described in the bill. This is a very valuable tool against leaders of organized crime.

We discussed this particular aspect with police forces and I can say today, in response to the hon. member's questions, that they found this a very useful approach, particularly with respect to gang leaders.

So, this bill provides for a whole range of measures, and concrete and specific stages for improving the Criminal Code, for giving police forces very useful tools against organized crime in general, but in particular against leaders of organized crime.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Chairman, I think the minister either did not understand my question or could not find the clause.

I realize that according to the bill-and now I am going beyond clause 1, because this goes further than clause 1-the individual must have committed a criminal offence. As for "possession without lawful excuse of an explosive substance", we do not see the leaders going around with sticks of dynamite in the trunks of their cars. And as for "possession in association with a criminal organization", the person who manufactures explosive substances or has them in his possession is not one of the leaders either.

Among all the offences the minister included in Bill C-95, not one has a direct impact on the leaders, not one, otherwise the minister would have told me which clause. Even if we consider the definitions at the very beginning under "criminal organization", it says "having as one of its primary activities the commission of indictable offence"-we know that the dirty work is not done by the leaders. We do not see the mafia bosses installing dynamite. Neither do we see the leaders of biker gangs installing dynamite and doing all these things that are harmful to society.

I do not understand the hon. member opposite who says it is not enough, who says he has the support of Canadian chiefs of police and all police forces in Canada and in Quebec and who tells me that in Quebec, people are very satisfied with this. Sure, we are very satisfied, but once the minister got going, he should have done more. It is not true that all chiefs of police and all police forces say that this bill mainly affects the leaders. This is a misrepresentation of the truth, because this is not what is happening in Quebec. It is not the opinion of the people who commented on this bill.

I realize this is a step forward, but that is not enough. I again want to ask the minister to show me which clause in the bill refers specifically to the leaders, to those who are responsible for the biker gangs, those who do the planning, who give the orders for jobs in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada.

The minister said in the House earlier that he met the mother of young Desrochers. According to this bill, the police is given additional powers to carry out investigations and to try and find out who installed the bomb and why. Unless I am mistaken, the person who ordered this particular job, the leader who was behind all this is not affected by Bill C-95, and correct me if I am wrong. So I am asking the minister where in Bill C-95 we can find the provisions that affect leaders.

Even so the bill is a step forward. Before, there was nothing. Thanks to the Bloc Quebecois, the government decided to act. The minister says he has been working on this for 18 months, but we have been asking questions for at least two years about this issue. He said there was no problem, that the police had all the elements they needed to conduct their investigations, and so forth.

And then all of a sudden, he told us he had been examining this aspect for 18 months, probably very secretly, because he never told us he was looking into this. He even said that the Bloc Quebecois was mistaken and that it wanted to make political capital with an issue like this. By the way, I think it is odd we are considering this bill one week before an election is called.

So again I want to ask the Minister of Justice who he is very knowledgeable on the bill before us, to tell me exactly where this clause is. I also have legal training. I am a lawyer, and I will understand. Let him say which clause it is. I see no clause that deals specifically with leaders. And this is one of the weaknesses of Bill C-95.

I am very anxious to hear the minister say specifically which clause concerns the leaders. Is it in a definition? Is it under a particular offence? Where is it? I wish someone would tell me exactly where we can find the clause that affects the leaders. After that, I may have another question for him.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Chairman, I do not claim that this bill represents everything we need to fight organized crime. It is just the first step. It is one bill to start things off. It is the first phase in our work. There is much yet to be done, but it is a very good start, a very valuable start.

The hon. member has asked which clause applies to leaders of organized crime. As I said, the entire bill can be used against them: wiretapping, search warrants, changes to regulations for obtaining search warrants, access to tax information-very important for the crime kingpins-the fruits and instrumentalities of crime, harsher sentences, reversal of the burden of proof for bail, recognizance to keep the peace. All of this can be used directly against the leaders. As I said, those on the front line, that is to say, the police forces, agree that these measures will be highly effective in attaining this objective.

Another important point is that these measures can be used indirectly against the leaders. In other words, if, using these investigative means, a person can be found who worked with a group in an act of gang violence or is associated with a gang and if that person can be accused of an offence under our bill, with a harsh sentence of 14 years to be served consecutive to all of the other sentences, we have an indirect means of obtaining evidence against the leaders. The police forces have told me that, with such a tool, they can get information out of an accused in exchange for a reduced sentence, if they act as an informant and help the police in their investigation.

Directly or indirectly, this bill gives us concrete and effective means to investigate and put an end to organized crime.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, what the minister just said about harsher sentences, bail and peace bonds clearly applies to gang leaders. That is not the issue.

The issue is: Where, in the bill, are the additional powers given police authorities so they can get to the leaders of these biker gangs or criminal organizations?

If it makes the other side react, it is usually because we hit a nerve.

Once these leaders are grabbed by police, they will indeed be subject to the provisions on harsher penalties, bail and peace bonds. I agree and I have no problem with that. However, the bill does not give police officers more power to go after these leaders.

Let me go back to the example provided earlier by the minister himself, the case of the Desrochers boy. It is not the leaders who went out and put the bomb under the vehicle that exploded. The leader simply told one of his henchmen: "Mr. X is starting to get on my nerves. I want him out of the picture. Do what you have to do". The leader gives the order to his henchmen who then go out and set off the bomb. However, under this bill, it is the person who sets off the bomb who will face the harsher penalty, who will have more difficulty getting bail, who will be slapped with a peace bond or what have you. It will not be the leaders.

I will ask the question for the third time, and I promise it will be the last time. If the minister does not mention the specific clause, then it is because the clause does not exist. I will be convinced of that beyond a reasonable doubt. Will the minister tell me exactly where in the bill are these additional powers given the police to go after the leaders? Because if we do not go after the leaders, we may end up having more hit men in jail, but the leaders will always be able to find others to do the job for them.

For the last time, I ask the minister: Where, in this bill, are the provisions that specifically target gang leaders? All the provisions on offenses clearly stipulate that they must have committed the offence. So before the minister tells me which specific clause of the bill provides for such powers, he must answer this question: Does he agree that those who commit such offenses are usually not the leaders, but their henchmen?

If the minister answers yes to that question, maybe he can tell me where in the bill are the specific provisions targeting gang leaders.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Chairman, since the question was repeated, I have to repeat the answer. As I have already pointed out, we have taken all the measures needed to deal with gang leaders. Even in the question he put, the hon. member provided us with an example. He said that the explosive charges are not set by the leaders, but by those who help the gangs.

As the hon. member mentioned, it is necessary for gang leaders to communicate with others to let them know where to set the explosive charges. So they must be able to contact their members or their associates.

First of all, we improved the Criminal Code provisions concerning electronic surveillance to make it easier for the police to monitor and record communications between gang leaders and their members. So the changes relating to electronic surveillance can be used to catch the leaders.

Then we have a peace order that can prohibit a gang leader from contacting another person. If the leader does so anyway, he may be charged for violating the order. The bill provides for a prison term in such cases. So, all of these clauses and all of these measures can be used against gang leaders.

We do not need one specific clause dealing with leaders. All of the bill's provisions empower the police. So, I have to repeat myself, because I already have answered this question. It is the same question, so I have to give the same answer as before.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Chairman, just before question period I posed a question to the minister and probably as a classic mistake gave him and his department all kinds of time to put together a long political type of an answer in which he charged back that the Reform Party was not interested in specifics. He knows full well that if the Reform Party had not agreed to go to this procedure of committee of the whole, if we had not agreed to fast track this bill, it would not have a snowball's chance of becoming law.

Of course we are interested in specific proposals. The minister knows that. I am interested to know how he picks one bill over another.

This bill will likely become law tonight. I am not thrilled with the process. I still think it is a lousy process not to have a day or two in committee to hear witnesses and consider amendments.

That being said, I am interested to know how the minister chose this bill for fast tracking. He has our agreement to do it. We are here today to do that. Why for instance did the minister not choose to fast track the DNA legislation also or instead of this bill? What was his criteria in picking this bill as the premier bill to get through before the election?