House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rail.

Topics

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 5:30.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is it agreed?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 1st, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

moved that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to share with the House the important measures introduced in Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment). The focal point of Bill C-394 is to protect Canadians, especially our youth, by making the act of criminal organization recruitment, or in other words gang recruitment, an offence under Canadian law.

All of us can agree that our youth are our future. This is a statement that holds no partisan or political undertone. Each one of us in the House and every Canadian would agree that our youth will define the trajectory of the country and that trajectory will be determined by the types of opportunities our youth are given.

Young Canadians today have a sense of vulnerability about them. There are challenges that all youth face. My three young children constantly remind me, as a parent, how important it is to provide for their safety and to protect them from any real or imagined dangers. Like every parent, I want the best for my children. I want them to be given every opportunity to succeed. To do this, I strive to create a safe environment in which they are free to grow and explore their potential.

Unfortunately, not all kids or teenagers get to experience the life they deserve. Sometimes the pressures to fit in or join a certain group are just too overwhelming, leaving youth vulnerable to those who might exploit their desire to belong. In a 2008 publication, the RCMP found that street gangs in Canada are increasingly aggressive with their recruitment tactics. In a disturbing trend, these criminal organizations are targeting youth under the age of 12 and as young as 8 years old.

These ruthless gangs pursue our vulnerable youth for several reasons. They know that those falling within this age range cannot be formally charged with a criminal offence. They also know that our youth can be easily pressured to participate in a variety of criminal activities. Our innocent and most vulnerable citizens are being manipulated, coerced and at times forced to embark on a life that no Canadian should ever experience. Gangs exploit our children by forcing them to participate in criminal activities such as drug dealing, robbery, theft and prostitution.

When I had the opportunity to speak with current and ex-gang members who led recruitment initiatives, they told me of a world that knew no boundaries. For instance, gang members will use drug addiction to manipulate potential recruits to take part in criminal activities that support the gang. This means that children, young kids who should have been playing soccer in school yards, are carrying weapons, drugs and money. In the eyes of gangs, these youth are dispensable and easily controlled.

It is worrisome and heartbreaking that Canada's most violent criminal organizations actively recruit youth and teenagers. How can we as a nation sit by and watch this happen?

I remember vividly what the director of the Regina Anti-Gang Services told me as we sat side by side in a small room among hardened gang members seeking to exit that lifestyle. She told me that, once recruited, these innocent children and teenagers were lost to the streets of the city forever. Promising young lives would vanish into the criminal culture forever. What makes this lifestyle so deadly is that leaving a gang is next to impossible.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a chance to speak with several former and current gang members. I sat beside a young man, a mere 19 years old, who had been a gang member for more than seven years. When I looked at him, I saw a kid. However, as we got deeper into a discussion about his past, there was nothing in his life that resembled that of a youth. He was recruited into a gang at a very young age. Instead of school, friends, family and sports, he was robbing drug dealers, attacking rival gang members and selling drugs on the streets.

This was a kid who excelled in a criminal organization because that was the only life he knew. I cannot help but picture his work ethics allowing him to lead an extraordinarily successful law-abiding life. Now he is battling a drug addiction and because he is seeking to exit the gang, he constantly looks over his shoulder fearing for his life. He told me that no matter what one does, one is never really out of the gang.

The people he recruited into the gang have experienced the same thing as he did. He looked me in the eye and asked, “By recruiting others into the gang, how many lives did I ruin? How many families did I hurt? And how many people have experienced pain at my hands?” What type of life is that for a young person?

We see lives being shattered by gangs, families destroyed and our community safety placed in jeopardy. As a father, I fear the presence and power that a gang wields over a community and its most vulnerable citizens. As a member of Parliament, I know there is more that we can do.

In 2006 CSIS estimated that the number of street gang members under the age of 30 was approximately 11,000. The report cautioned that the number would continue to grow rapidly over the coming years.

In the Peel region, which my family and I call home, the number of gangs has exploded in the last few years. In 2003 there were 39. Today there are well over 110 street gangs within our neighbourhoods. This means that more people live in fear, more young people are targeted and more violence is used.

Gang members in Canada have a blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of those around them. For instance, in some communities, families are afraid to leave their home or let their children play outside. Gangs also pose a significant risk for law enforcement officers. The increase in gang recruitment has far-reaching and systemic effects on our country as a whole. Our safety, security and well-being are placed in jeopardy.

The purpose of Bill C-394 is twofold.

First and foremost, we are seeking to further protect our youth and communities by criminalizing the act of gang recruitment. Far too many communities in Canada are facing a gang problem. It is vitally important that we maintain the security and safety of our neighbourhoods, streets and families.

By tackling gang recruitment, we can help reduce the number of innocent and vulnerable citizens who would otherwise be lost in this dead-end lifestyle forever. It is about protecting our children, neighbourhood and future. Criminal organizations use fear, intimidation and violence to advance their objective and grow within a community. This behaviour can no longer be tolerated.

Second, Bill C-394 is designed to provide law enforcement officers with additional tools to address gang recruitment. I had the opportunity to meet with numerous stakeholders across Canada to discuss this issue. The valuable insight we gained was used in the development of the bill. We spoke with several law enforcement officers who praised the bill's direction, scope, focus and resourcefulness.

The 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs, conducted under contract to the Solicitor General of Canada, was the first of its kind in the country. This landmark study identified some startling figures. Of 264 Canadian police services surveyed, 57% believed that the youth gang problem was getting worse. Most concerning was the fact that 44% reported that youth gang members had established a relationship with larger organized crime groups.

The common theme that we witnessed while meeting with law enforcement officers was that the more tools they had to fight what they called the “war on gangs”, the better the outcome could be. Bill C-394 has taken that request and seeks to augment current efforts.

Youth gang membership has and will continue to grow in the country if we sit back and do nothing.

Restorative and preventive approaches complement other justice responses to criminal activity, but they cannot replace them. Bill C-394 is focused on addressing the criminal actions that allow a gang to proliferate, strengthen and grow within our communities. We are tackling the criminal conduct that is destroying our youth's lives and placing others in jeopardy on a daily basis.

With this being said, I am strongly committed to supporting a balanced approach to gang recruitment by advancing preventive and education-based programs across this country. We are focusing on bolstering our law enforcement, legal and justice system to respond to the increasingly aggressive gang recruitment strategies that are ongoing.

Bill C-394 would allow our justice system to appropriately hold those who would recruit individuals into a criminal organization accountable for their devastating actions. By doing so, we will be able to take these dangerous criminals off our streets for good. This not only maintains the safety and security of our communities, but it offers the opportunity to severely inhibit a criminal organization's growth.

When I spoke with the president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, he told me a story that exemplified the need for this proposed legislation. At one of their inner-city club chapters, gang members will wait under the parking garage directly behind the building. Their sole purpose for being there is to engage those leaving the Boys and Girls Club in hopes of recruiting them into their gang, a targeted strategy that is not a coincidence.

This example highlights the reality that our youth in our communities face. Education and prevention programs are only a part of our response. We need to provide our justice system with the ability to respond through legal action.

Imagine for a moment if these children, youth and teenagers were empowered to report those trying to recruit them. Imagine if our community members knew that something could be done about gang recruiters who operated in their neighbourhood. It would empower communities to take action.

Today, we have an opportunity not just as members of Parliament, but as Canadians, to come together and make a difference in our neighbourhoods. I urge each member to view the bill for what it is: an important new tool in our criminal justice system that will benefit families, communities and future generations.

It is time that we take back our streets from criminal organizations that are increasingly tightening their grip on our freedoms, safety and security. It is time we take a stand so every child, teenager and adult can experience the life that they deserve to live.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, adding more and more minimum sentences to the Criminal Code slowly but surely deprives judges of their discretionary power when it comes to sentencing.

Can my colleague tell me why the government insists on taking this direction that has been roundly criticized by countless legal experts?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, a very detailed consultation was done on this private member's bill before it was introduced. I travelled across the country. I spoke to thousands of parents, stakeholders, law enforcement agencies and boards of education. The bill was developed with everyone's input.

I do not believe there is anything that we can do which will not help our young children, our youth, our future, in order to protect them. Whether that is minimum mandatory sentences, judges do have the discretion to use that for a maximum prison time of up to five years. In terms of youth under the age of 18, I believe it is essential that we have minimum mandatory sentences to hold these criminals accountable for their action. They are destroying our youth and ultimately our future.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is a serious issue in the province of Manitoba. I am sure many Canadians are concerned about it. During the nineties there was very little marginal gang-type activities. It was not until the turn of the century where the numbers really started to increase. Today, unfortunately and sadly, gang-related activities are estimated somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 in the province of Manitoba, which causes a great deal of concern. It is one of those issues that is of great concern to my constituents and we have tried to make this a priority issue.

When looking at trying to deal with gangs, the best way to deal with them and gang recruitment is to try to provide alternative activities for those individuals who I would classify are high risk and are susceptible to being recruited by gang members. This is really where the government has dropped the ball.

Therefore, to fight gang recruitment activities, I would suggest that one of the things the government really has to put more emphasis on is to try to find those alternatives to keep kids and young people out of those situations. He made reference to the boys and girls clubs as one example, which was a somewhat sad story.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am all for alternative measures, but the problem is those measures alone do not solve the problem. There are criminals whose sole purpose or objective is to target youth. These are repeat offenders. They are doing this over and over again and they are destroying our youth.

Therefore, I feel it is absolutely necessary that we give these tools and resources to our law enforcement officers as well as our justice system so they can hold these criminals accountable for their actions.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, from the outset, I can say that the NDP will vote in favour of Bill C-394 at second reading, but that does not mean we are signing a blank cheque. We will study Bill C-394 at length in committee with the help of expert witnesses, and we will do a comprehensive clause-by-clause review in committee and make any necessary amendments.

I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment). This private member's bill amends the Criminal Code in order to create a new offence related to organized crime: criminal organization recruitment.

There is currently a set of rules in the Criminal Code that prohibit criminal organizations: participation in activities of a criminal organization, commission of an offence for a criminal organization and instructing a person to commit an offence for a criminal organization. The bill being debated in the House today seeks to add a fourth offence to the Criminal Code: the recruitment of an individual to join a criminal organization, as defined by the Criminal Code, for the purpose of enhancing the criminal organization's ability to facilitate or commit a criminal offence.

With this bill, my hon. colleague hopes to put the brakes on recruitment by gangs. Gangs are criminal organizations that have operated in a number of Canadian provinces for decades. They exist in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. They are flourishing and must be condemned in no uncertain terms.

The configuration of gangs is changing, and more and more young people are joining these criminal groups. Gangs target young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have family problems. Gangs also target girls and have been observed recruiting in prisons. Consequently, the make-up of gangs can vary. Therefore, I congratulate my hon. colleague for introducing this bill, which is a first step in solving the problem of gangs.

Public safety is a priority for the official opposition, and we always take a great interest in analyzing bills that will amend the Criminal Code. However, although I acknowledge the legitimacy of the bill sponsored by my hon. colleague, I must admit that I find the penalty for this new offence to be inappropriate.

The bill sets out a five-year maximum sentence and a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for recruitment of a minor. The very principle of a mandatory minimum is open to criticism from a legal perspective because it deprives the judge of discretionary power, which is a basic tenet of criminal law. The penalty set out in this bill would, once again, encroach on the judge's sentencing powers.

Enhancing the legal arsenal for gang suppression is important, but it is not enough to solve the gang problem and minimize their impact on society. Prevention and suppression always go hand in hand, and we support programs designed to help young people in cities with a gang presence so that our society can enable everyone to develop in a positive way.

I think we should support work done in collaboration with various stakeholders to curb this situation. By way of explanation, I would like to quote Louis Lacroix, the project manager at the Centre of Expertise on Juvenile Crime and Behavioural Disorders and coordinator of the Programme de suivi intensif de Montréal:

Each of us was doing good work in our individual areas of expertise, but no one was successfully addressing the street gang problem. American studies show that coordinated approaches in the community are more successful than when we all work in isolation.

Various projects were therefore created in a number of provinces and the following stakeholders participated: the federal government through the National Crime Prevention Centre, schools, associations, the music industry, foundations, banks, municipalities, the legal community, correctional services and the police. It is important to put forward these initiatives, and it is up to the government to promote them.

It is also essential to be able to give front-line police officers financial and human resources. However, it seems that the current government has failed in this responsibility and has not taken into account the suggestions made by professionals who deal with gangs every day. This time, I would like to cite the comparative report on types of intervention used for youth at risk of joining a street gang, released in 2011.

[A] meeting of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, or the CACP, in 2009 produced the recommendation that a national anti-gang strategy be developed. The national strategy would ensure the “constant allocation of police resources” to deal effectively with the phenomenon....To date, this strategy has yet to be adopted.

One thing this shows is that the present government is refusing to fund municipal front-line officers, and this shows a glaring lack of vision on the part of the government when it comes to public safety.

The Conservatives may be showing the will to combat criminal organizations, including by making it an offence to recruit people into gangs, but they are not completely meeting the needs and expectations of our fellow Canadians.

In January 2011, the Conservatives announced a dramatic cut to the Youth Gang Prevention Fund. At the time, the NDP responded forcefully, pointing out the significant benefits of the prevention programs implemented under that fund. Thanks to the NDP, the Conservative government backpedalled a few months later and announced that the funding allocated to the program would now be permanent.

The Conservatives have also disappointed the provinces in the case of the allocation of funding under what was called the Police Officers Recruitment Fund for the provinces to recruit front-line police officers. The fund was created in 2008 and will end in 2013. Once again, the Conservatives have failed to keep their promise.

Canadians expect the members of this House to take reasonable measures in order to meet their expectations: to be able to live in crime-free, violence-free communities. This bill is one solution to the problem of individuals being recruited by gangs, but it is not the only solution. An approach that strikes a balance between punishment and prevention must always take precedence when it comes to public safety, and aiming for that balance is the way to ensure that Canadian society is more harmonious.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, while the debate this evening is on Bill C-394 and criminal organization recruitment, it reflects and, indeed, invites initial comment on the overall approach to criminal policy by the Conservative government in general.

In this bill, we see the problems of this generic approach to criminal law, namely, that everything is a matter for the criminal law even if there already exists an offence in the Criminal Code on this issue, that the only way to address these criminal matters is through the prism of punishment and that the best approach to punishment is through the use of mandatory minimums.

Frankly, this is a variance with long-standing principle, policy and an evidence-based approach to criminal justice. The government's preoccupation with this type of legislating is not only somewhat disingenuous but also ineffective, wasteful, prejudicial, constitutionally suspect and, simply put, bad public policy.

I realize that colleagues in this place may be somewhat surprised that I am beginning with this type of approach and perspective. However, I believe that as a chamber, given this whole approach to policy-making, that we must take a step back and gain some perspective on what we are doing.

I know the government is very quick to pounce on these types of critiques and to label those who make them, be it the Liberal Party, others or myself, as being soft on crime. We all have a shared commitment to combatting crime. The issue is how we combat it, whether we are smart and effective on crime or whether we are in a situation where we are simply legislating for the sake of legislating and sending a signal as if we are tough on crime when in fact the very subject matter may already be present in the Criminal Code.

If one looks at the legislation, it proposes to punish anyone who ”recruits, solicits, encourages or invites a person to join a criminal organization”. This offence would become the new section 467.11 of the Criminal Code, but, and this is the important point, enhancing the ability of a criminal organization is already a crime under the Criminal Code.

Section 467.11 of the Criminal Code, the very section to which this bill adds a subsection, clearly states:

Every person who, for the purpose of enhancing the ability of a criminal organization to facilitate or commit an indictable offence under this or any other Act of Parliament, knowingly, by act or omission, participates in or contributes to any activity of the criminal organization is guilty of an indictable offence....

I have no problem with legislation that sometimes seeks to make a necessary clarification to the law or to enhance the law, but what is being suggested here is that somehow without this bill there will be no offence with respect to gang recruitment. Yet recruitment previously was one of the issues on the minds of the legislators themselves in this House, as evidenced by the fact that when enacting section 467.11 in 2001, the then-minister of justice, Anne McLellan, said in this place upon the introduction of what is currently in the Criminal Code, in order to reference that this was already anticipated and then implemented as law:

We know that successful recruitment enhances the threat posed to society by criminal organizations. It allows them to grow and to more effectively achieve their harmful criminal objectives. Those who act as recruiters for criminal organizations contribute to these ends both when they recruit for specific crimes and when they recruit simply to expand the organization's human capital.

Thus, the express provisions of the proposed participation offence make it clear that the crown does not, in making its case, need to link the impugned participation, in this case recruitment, to any particular offence. In fact, these words could have been spoken by the introducer of this particular bill because that particular section in the Criminal Code already covers what this bill purports to do, as reflected in the words of the then justice minister at the time. Indeed, this is the current state of the law.

Section 467.11 of the Criminal Code goes on to note that in the prosecution of an offence under subsection (1) it is not necessary for the prosecutor to prove that, and it goes through a whole series of factors which, for reasons of time, I will not enter into here. If one looks at the offence, one will see that it already covers that which this bill purports to do.

I do not therefore wish to dwell on some of those technical points of law. Suffice it to say that the behaviour the new offence seeks to criminalize is something already criminal under another provision of the Criminal Code. Whatever act that would give rise to this proposed section would also likely be criminal under another section, such as the offences relating to counselling, aiding, abetting, conspiracy and the like.

As such, Bill C-394 is both duplicative and arguably duplicitous as well, duplicative in that it essentially repeats what is already in the Criminal Code and somewhat duplicitous in that it is being presented as if this were our only option with respect to combatting gang recruitment and as if there were no present offence that deals with this issue before us, and that those who will oppose this piece of legislation are again somehow soft on crime or do not care about street gangs and the like.

As I mentioned in my introduction, Conservative crime policy is regrettably all about punishment, yet we should be seeking to prevent young people from joining gangs to begin with. This involves an understanding and appreciation of the serious initiatives that need to be taken with respect to education, social services and the like, in order to allow people to stay in school for as long as they can to provide them with employment opportunities, so that young people are shown that there are alternatives to gang life.

Yet this would involve, and this is the core of my remarks here this evening, addressing the underlying causes and concerns relating to gang crime: housing, poverty, income inequality, employment, minority inclusion and access to education, and an understanding of why young people join gangs.

There are no young people in Canada contemplating gang life because they believe there is no offence against it or their recruitment in the Criminal Code.

There are plenty of offences in the Criminal Code, an ever-expanding list that has grown tremendously with the adoption of Bill C-10, and yet these do very little to address the root causes and concerns of crime. In fact, many of them will only lead to an increase in crime.

Here I am speaking in particular of mandatory minimum penalties, something which Bill C-394 seeks to add to the Criminal Code in the matter of gang recruitment. While I have spoken many times in the House on this point, once again one finds an ignoring or marginalizing of the evidence with respect to the fallout of mandatory minimums.

Simply put, not only do we know that mandatory minimums do not deter crime, rather they tend to increase crime both within prisons, which become schools for crime, and outside prisons. They do not deter crime. This is not my conclusion. This is a conclusion reached by studies the world over and even our own justice department here in Canada.

They remove necessary prosecutorial and judicial discretion, leading to pleas for lesser offences or forcing trials where there may have been none. This clogs the courts. The Canadian Bar Association has warned us that with the addition of more mandatory minimums, we may end up in a situation where more accused are set free contrary to the intention and objectives of the government's legislation to begin with simply because their charter right to a fair trial within a reasonable period of time has been violated.

Moreover, mandatory minimums will lead to further overcrowding in prisons, yet prisons in this country are already overcrowded. We have seen in U.S. court judgments that overcrowding amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Lastly, though perhaps most important, such sentences also invite constitutional critiques and have been struck down, as we saw recently in the Ontario courts, for being cruel and unusual, arbitrary, disproportionate, outrageous and intolerable.

While I do not have time to elaborate further, I would like to conclude by simply reminding members that criminal law should be as much about prevention as it should be about punishment. Our approach to social evils should be as much to ensure that individuals and groups have a viable way of avoiding that which leads them into gang recruitment through all the causes and concerns that I addressed earlier in this regard.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Delta—Richmond East
B.C.

Conservative

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.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

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.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order. Before I recognize the hon. parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Finance for resuming debate, I will just let her know that I will need to interrupt her about four minutes into her speech, as this is the end of private members' business for today.

The hon. parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Finance.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

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.