House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Government Response To Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table in both official languages the government's response to two petitions.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present in both official languages the first report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Pursuant to the order of reference of Thursday, October 14, 1999, your committee has considered Bill C-202, an act to amend the Criminal Code, and your committee has agreed to report it with amendments.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

moved:

That this House instruct the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to conduct a study of organized crime, to analyse the options available to Parliament to combat the activities of criminal groups and to report to the House no later than October 31, 2000.

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Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I would simply like to draw to your attention that my hon. colleague from Berthier—Montcalm will be sharing his time with our colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, and thereafter all members of the Bloc Quebecois will be doing the same, for the rest of the debate.

Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, the debate we are going to have in this House today is an extremely important one. Members will agree that on an opposition day the matter debated is usually the one the opposition feels is most important at that time.

We could easily have discussed the constitution today, with all the things that are going on across the floor of this House and with the Prime Minister's desire to pass legislation that will provide a framework for Quebec, a framework for certain things that fall under its exclusive jurisdiction, and which the people of Quebec alone can decide in connection with its future. We could have discussed the constitution, but the Bloc Quebecois preferred to address another matter which is, without a doubt, the most important one, not only today but probably in the next century.

It is truly important that today people become aware of the existence of a major problem in Canada and in Quebec: organized crime.

Our motion is one of open-mindedness. With this motion, the Bloc Quebecois is reaching out not just to the government opposite, but to all parties in this House. We are asking all the parties in this House to conduct a serious and non-partisan study, as we are capable of doing and as we have done in the past, of important issues such as organized crime, with the sole objective of finding a solution to a serious problem.

What is the problem? Why does the Bloc Quebecois think the problem is important enough to take a day in the business of the House? Why does it want to try to convince the government and the other opposition parties to join it and adopt a motion asking this House to instruct the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to conduct a study of organized crime and to make proposals, if necessary, after listening to witnesses?

Why? Because in recent years, and particularly since 1995, a number of events show the magnitude of the problem and the urgent need to take action. Since I only have 10 minutes, let me briefly remind the House that in 1995 young Daniel Desrochers died following the explosion of a bomb. I am sure the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve will talk about that incident, because it happened in his riding. The explosion was related to a biker gang war.

In 1997, two prison guards were gunned down in cold blood. It would appear from the information we have that the shooting was related directly to organized crime.

Very recently, as if that were not enough, colleagues in this House have received death threats. The member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot is one, because he dared to criticize the growing of marijuana among corn plants, a practice going on in his riding, and to defend the farmers in his riding. He strongly criticized unacceptable activities and received death threats.

I was looking at statistics before coming here. Between 1994 and 1998, there were 79 murders and 89 attempted murders connected with battles among biker gangs in Quebec alone. However, this problem is not unique to Quebec. It occurs in all the other provinces as well, but I did not have statistics for them this morning.

We talk of murder and attempted murder, but there are also arson and bombings. Over the same period, there were 129 cases of arson and 82 bombings. This is from RCMP sources, which are no doubt reliable.

In terms of drugs, what is the value of the illegal drug trade at the moment in Canada? This is a little more difficult, because the calculation is based on drug seizures. Naturally, seizures account for only a part, and we have to extrapolate to get a total value. They say illicit drugs in Canada are worth between $200 billion U.S. and $500 billion U.S. That is a bit of money.

This is why I am saying the subject is very important. Probably the most important issue in the next millennium will be an effective response to organized crime, because at the rate of $200 to $500 billion U.S. annually, it will not be long before it controls almost everything in Canada. We must therefore give thought to whether the legislation before us will do the job.

The Bloc Quebecois began a broad consultation in June, which it stepped up in September. We have met with many stakeholders: police officers, judges and law enforcement officials. It is clear that our present tools may not be up to the task.

The purpose of the motion we are introducing this morning is to ensure that all parties become aware of how extensive a problem organized crime is and of the shortcomings of our current legislative tools, as we have come to realize.

The police will say they need bigger budgets. And in fact, when we look at the last few years, we see that, despite its protests to the contrary, the government has cut, or is getting ready to cut, police budgets and the budgets of certain RCMP offices.

Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Even in Saint-Hyacinthe.

Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

My colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot will certainly talk about it in his speech. There may a lack of funds, but the issue goes beyond that and we must take a serious look at all the legislative tools available.

Speaking of legislative tools, the issue of witness and jury protection immediately comes to mind. Are jury members adequately protected , since they must decide whether an accused is guilty or not while all his friends are sitting in the front rows, staring at them throughout the trial? This is very intimidating. It is not surprising that we have difficulties finding people willing to sit on a jury and follow the rules.

Then there are the witnesses. Do we provide adequate protection to witnesses? We should check to see if we do.

Building a case is one of the major problems faced by police officers. They have techniques to infiltrate crime gangs, but is it enough? Should we not review certain provisions in the Criminal Code to allow undercover officers, as they are commonly called, to commit criminal acts to be on the criminals' good books and eventually be in a position to testify? This is an extremely complex area, but we must take a look at the whole issue.

We must improve the exchange of information between the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and various departments, because police forces complain that communications are very bad.

I could spend another hour discussing this issue, but my time is almost up, so I know I have to wrap up. I will conclude by urging all members of this House to forget about the fact that this is a motion from the opposition, from the sovereignists in this House, because we are simply asking that the committee conduct a serious study of the whole issue of organized crime.

I am asking members to overlook that fact and to vote with the Bloc Quebecois so that a serious, non-partisan study of the whole issue of organized crime can take place, and that a report be submitted to the House no later than October 31, 2000. This would allow us to begin the new millennium with good tools to fight organized crime effectively.

Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating the hon. Bloc Quebecois member on this motion. It is very important for Quebec, for the country, and for each and every Canadian.

The hon. member has identified many of the problems we are facing. He has laid out quite accurately the level at which organized crime has crept into many Canadian communities and many different levels of society.

The threat is so real for our law enforcement agents. They are particularly vulnerable because of the cutbacks they have undergone. Their salaries are not on par with some other sectors of society and they themselves in essence can be bought. The member talked about how law enforcement agents themselves may be infiltrated. Could the member expand on that element of his remarks?

He quite rightly says this is a non-partisan issue. I certainly assure him he will get the support from the Conservative Party of Canada.

What particular elements of funding does he see as being the way to address the issue? What elements will help bolster our law enforcement agents and help address the problem of infiltration by organized crime which is buying off our officers, or at least posing that threat to officers in Canada today?

Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party for his question and take note of the fact that it will probably support this morning's motion.

His question is an extremely complex one and a response would take more than the time available to me this morning. As far as infiltration is concerned, with $200 billion to $500 billion U.S. yearly, organized crime can certainly buy people off, including members of parliament and ministers, not just police officers. I do not think that any individual or group is protected from organized crime trying to buy them off at some point in time.

I have as much confidence in the political system as I do in the justice and law enforcement system. Both Quebecers and Canadians have certain values, and cannot be bought off as easily as that. It must be realized, however, that this is a risk in Quebec and Canada at this time, and we need to see whether the legislation is sufficient protection.

When I spoke of infiltration, one of the useful tools in law enforcement is infiltration of criminal groups. At present, with the legislation available to us, it is extremely complicated and difficult for police officers to infiltrate such groups. For one thing, they need years to move up in the ranks of organized crime until they reach the decision makers, the kingpins.

I am saying this morning I hope that, if the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights considers this question, it will look very carefully at legislation enabling the police to infiltrate criminal groups in order to discover whether there is a way to help them do so. In this case, would society agree to an amendment of the Criminal Code to enable those infiltrating, the undercover officers, to commit acts that are illegal under the Criminal Code so criminal groups will consider them criminals?

The police tell me they have “officer-sources” within certain criminal groups. When a gang leader has doubts about the loyalty of one member, do members know what this person is asked to do? He asks them to go and kill someone. Under the Criminal Code, this person is a criminal, at the moment. There is no way this person can be exempted from the application of the Code.

In addition, this person is in a tough position. If he does not kill anyone, his days are likely numbered. If he does, his days are likely numbered as well, because he will be treated as a criminal under the Criminal Code.

Has society reached a point where we will authorize an undercover officer, with all the proper authority, to go so far as to commit a crime, to go so far as to commit murder in an effort to protect society and save tens or hundreds of people, perhaps? I think we have reached this point, and we must examine the issue in committee.

Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion by the Bloc Quebecois to the effect that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights should study organized crime in Canada, an issue I am deeply interested in, and which the Bloc Quebecois has entrusted to my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm and myself.

It seems obvious to us that organized crime is on the rise in Canada and the rest of the world. These organizations are said to be octopus-like for good reason. With tentacles extending into all segments of society, they have no problem finding people to carry out their dirty jobs.

We know that many are lured into crime by the temptation of easy money. To maximize their efficiency, criminal organizations impose the law of silence, and any transgression means death, immediately and unconditionally, for the informers.

We should acknowledge that the various levels of government have taken steps to deal with organized crime. The Carcajou squad in Quebec comes to mind, as well as the new sections in our criminal law that make it illegal for five people and more to associate when two of them have already been convicted for crimes that are punishable by five years in prison or more. These initiatives have some merit, but the question that begged to be asked when they were taken and still today is whether they are enough. The only possible answer is no.

The problems remain, and I will mention some hurdles that still exist: gang leaders often have only minor offences on their record. The judge has then to be convinced of the danger that these people represent for society.

The effectiveness of orders issued under Bill C-95 to prevent a gang member from associating with other gang members is questionable.

Belonging to a bikers group is not a criminal offence per se. Also, it is not easy to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the accused has accumulated his fortune through a series of very specific and identified criminal offences.

There is also the law of silence governing all relationships in the underworld; search warrants that are restrictive because of the courts interpretation of the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights; small police budgets compared to resources available to criminal groups; the difficulty to assert that, simply by associating with them, a person is really involved with other individuals for a criminal purpose, since organized crime is not considered a crime, and only individual actions are; the banking secret of tax havens, which protects against the laundering of proceeds of crime. All in all, organized crime does not know any boundaries.

The necessary measures should be taken by our economic and commercial partners, otherwise all attempts made to solve the organized crime problem will fail.

Moreover, all legislative or other measures should have an impact on every organized crime group, from the Russian mafia to the Chinese triads, the Italian mafia and biker gangs. All measures taken against any of these groups would only create a vacuum that would immediately be filled by the other criminalized groups.

This is why our recommendations must take into account what is done outside Canada.

Generally, anti-gang laws seek to improve the tools law enforcement and judicial authorities are provided with to fight organized crime. I will give a few examples.

In Hong Kong and Russia, access to proof is made easier. In the United States, laws were enacted on specific infractions committed by organized crime. It should be noted that, in the case of the recycling of products of crime, the Canadian law is more efficient than the American law since it allows confiscation after the first designated offence instead of two, as is the case in the United States.

It is important, in comparing Canadians laws to those of other countries, to remember that Canada draws inspiration largely from the British common law, which makes its judiciary system quite different from those of other countries.

We can question the effectiveness of the legislation passed by all these countries in light of the fact that organized crime continues to operate.

Little data is available on the actual impact of such legislation on organized crime. In any event, I want to talk briefly about a legislation whose effectiveness and limits have been demonstrated, namely the “Racketeer Influences and Corrupt Act”, also called RICO, which was passed in 1970 and which creates four offences covered under two definitions.

The first offence, called “racketeering activity”, is a criminal offence that covers 50 crimes, such as extortion, robbery, arson, kidnapping, fraud, counterfeiting, and so on.

The second one is the “pattern of racketeering activity”, which consists of at least two of the criminal offences covered, one having been committed after the enactment of the RICO, and the other one over the preceding 10 years.

Here is a short description of the four offences I previously mentioned and whose purpose is to prevent the infiltration of companies by criminal groups. It has to do with the investment or the acquisition of an interest in a company that is doing business in another country or another American state, through capital derived directly or indirectly from criminal activities or from the collection of an illegal debt.

It could also be the participation in or the management of, through a series of criminal activities or the collection of an illegal debt, of a company doing business overseas or in more than one American state by an individual who is either employed by or associated with the company, or a conspiracy to commit one or the other of these offences.

The maximum jail sentence for these offences is from 20 years to life and there are also monetary fines.

There is no need for a criminal conviction to launch legal proceedings under RICO. The state needs only prove that crimes were committed. Once the suspect has been convicted, he or she can be sued under RICO's provisions.

RICO allows for the confiscation of goods obtained through the illegal activity and of all interests in the business concerned. There is also a protection and redress mechanism for third parties affected by the confiscation of goods.

RICO also allows for two types of civil remedy: one for the government and the other for individuals. It enables the US District Courts to issue orders at the request of the Attorney General. For the government, these remedies are: dispossession of all direct or indirect interests of the individual in a business; restriction of future activities or investments by the individual; dissolution or reorganization of the business, except that in that case, the court must take into account the interests of third parties.

The Racketeer Influences and Corrupt Act provides individuals with the following redresses: damages amounting to three times the victim's loss and the right to be reimbursed for all the court and lawyers' fees.

In spite of its huge shortcomings and of the fact that it is far from perfect, the RICO Act is an illustration of a jurisdiction that used exceptional means to achieve its aims. The committee members could build on the positives results of the RICO Act and avoid its drawbacks and shortcomings to give Canada the appropriate legal instruments.

To conclude, I want to mention that it is important to make the public in Quebec and Canada, the lobbies and the government aware of this problem so that nobody can slip through the dragnet and the fight against organised crime can be effective. This is why I ask all members of this House to support this motion today so that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and parliament can contribute in a constructive way to the debate and give the government a clear indication of the way to fight this scourge in our society.

Finally I move:

That the motion be amended by inserting before the word “combat”, the following: “effectively”.