House of Commons Hansard #141 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was copyright.

Topics

Copyright Modernization Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Copyright Modernization Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Copyright Modernization Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Copyright Modernization Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Copyright Modernization Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 45, the deferred recorded division shall be deferred to Monday, June 18, 2012, at the ordinary time of daily adjournment.

Copyright Modernization Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Madam Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 1:30.

Copyright Modernization Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Is there unanimous consent to see the clock at 1:30?

Copyright Modernization Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from May 1 consideration of the motion 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.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

June 15th, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, once again, in my speech regarding the bill to amend the National Defence Act, I will discuss some socio-cultural nuances that are important as we study the proposed legislation.

My experience in criminal law and, particularly, my years of professional experience in the itinerant court—the circuit court—in northern Quebec, have given me some perspective to be able to look at the underlying causes of juvenile delinquency and why young people identify with criminal organizations.

I am well aware that this bill has to do with suppressing criminal organization recruitment. I will now take my speech in another direction. I would like to discuss where the group mentality among young people comes from, and why this kind of organization appeals to young people.

I have seen first-hand the devastating consequences of targeted groups being marginalized, most often because of their ethnicity, so today I would like to discuss the highly questionable reasons why criminal organizations operate within legal jurisdictions that have a high ethnocultural population.

As I have said in the past, I worked at the legal aid office in my riding for two years. During those two years and few months, I was expected to travel with the itinerant court north of the 52nd parallel, particularly to the communities of Kawawachikamach, Matimekush and Unamen Shipu, one being a Naskapi community and the other two Innu communities.

Given my youth when I started working at the legal aid office, the young people who were facing criminal charges under the youth criminal justice system, were almost always inclined to turn to me. I learned early on to apply the principles of social intervention in the handling of my files. I soon realized that many of these young people were naturally drawn to stick together in groups out of an instinct for self-preservation, because they lacked means and parental role models. They had to turn to alternative means for their own survival and subsistence. To these young people, coming together in groups and joining forces was the obvious solution.

By now it must be clear that my argument focuses mainly on highlighting the circumstances that lead to juvenile delinquency. As members are aware, an approach based on identifying, preventing and correcting elements of deviance must be applied at the first signs of deviant behaviour in the individual.

At the time, I put a great deal of effort into social intervention with young people, because the positive impact this can have is particularly noticeable among that age group. It is less noticeable among older clients, considering the fact that individuals who have adopted a deviant or criminal lifestyle for some time are less likely to change their behaviour, depending on the age and willingness of each individual, of course.

Principles linked to an ethnocultural analysis of factors underlying the appearance of gangs of youth—street gangs—invite us to consider a number of elements having to do with the image of particular ethnic groups as they are portrayed by the mass media.

I would now like to discuss the attraction of the gangster-rapper lifestyle for young people. In my community, it is very noticeable, since many kids walk around wearing t-shirts celebrating street gangs and bearing the images of well-known rappers in the United States.

I know the media rely heavily on these images, because they are big sellers. If young people in a community on the 52nd parallel are walking around wearing these t-shirts, I imagine they are popular around the world. Since the early 1990s, the media have been promoting this African-American model. The message that is being sent and the image that is being reflected is that it is possible to live a similar lifestyle if one gets involved in crime and joins a street gang, whether it be the Bloods, the Crips or any other such gang.

The goal of all this is to sell CDs, although now, in 2012, it is more about selling the promotional material that goes along with them.

That message really resonates with young people in my community, in my riding, because the images they see in those videos often mirror their day-to-day experiences. I am not necessarily suggesting that the South Central Los Angeles lifestyle is the same as that in Uashat, but there are similarities, and that resonates with young people because they can identify with the messages those images are sending. The media therefore have some responsibility in this.

That is why it is important to stop sending young people messages that glorify the criminal lifestyle associated with street gangs. In addition, the media have to re-evaluate their portrayals of situations that exclude and marginalize a particular cultural group. I am more than happy to criticize the media.

There are newspapers in my own riding—I know that this comes up in Montreal and other places too—that, when a young Innu person commits an offence, write about “Innu youth” breaking into a business or “Innu youth” assaulting another individual. The newspapers make a point of identifying the person's ethnicity. But if a young Quebecker commits a similar offence, there is no mention of his ethnicity. I just wanted to point that out. That kind of information ostracizes young people and further marginalizes them.

Even though gang recruitment activities have been reported across Canada, criminal organizations appear to target marginalized youth who are more likely to buy into the role and fate society has created for them. Young people who belong to targeted minority groups are more likely to be ostracized because the media have already shaped public opinion about their ethnic group.

The acceptance of this stigma and the defeatism that accompanies it makes it that much easier for these young people to adopt a group mentality and join a street gang. It is therefore essential that, when creating legislative measures to prevent the establishment of organized crime cells in the country, the government focuses on the real reasons why these small groups hold such an attraction for these young people, who have to deal with the media's negative portrayal of their ethnic group.

The adversarial conditions experienced every day by many young people from traditionally ostracized social classes are a fertile ground for the formation of groups of young people who struggle with people's negative image of their identity. I spoke about how the young people in my community came together and joined forces. It is a phenomenon that I experienced first hand, since there was a time in my life when I, too, did not have much and I turned to peers who were a bad influence. That is behind me now, but I just wanted to mention it today.

Too often, Innu and Naskapi youth, particularly those who end up in prison, could technically be considered members of street gangs. They were forced into it out of necessity or spite or ultimately, because of a lack of means. Because I grew up in this environment, I can talk only about what I experienced in my daily life and about the experiences of others that have been brought to my attention. Even having enough food to eat is a problem when you do not have a parental figure and you do not have any money. I submit this respectfully.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Madam Speaker, I am really pleased to participate in this debate today. This is a really important issue for Canadians and for our communities.

I want to commend the member who has put forward Bill C-394 as a very sincere and thoughtful effort to do something about the proliferation of gangs and gang membership across Canadian society. I think it is a very well-motivated and good-faith initiative.

It tries to make it an offence to recruit, solicit, encourage or even invite a person to join a criminal organization. It would change the penalties if such a person did join a criminal organization. That is where we part ways with the member and the government. It is with respect to their position in this regard.

We strongly support efforts to combat and criminalize the recruitment of individuals, particularly young people, into gangs and criminal organizations. However, we are just as strongly opposed to mandatory minimum penalties. Studies everywhere on the planet prove that such sentences do not deter criminals or make Canadians safer.

However, we do support in the bill the expansion of the definition of “criminal organization offence” to include gang recruitment. This, we believe, would be a very good step toward dealing with our challenge, which is improving the situation of gangs and gang membership.

As I said, we are alarmed about the increasing number of Canadians, particularly young people, who are recruited into gangs. We support the criminalization of this activity.

However, with regard to this question of mandatory minimum sentences for gang recruitment, all the evidence from Canada, the United States, state by state by state; New Zealand; Australia; the United Kingdom; and everywhere this has been tried is overwhelmingly that mandatory minimums do not work. They are ineffective. They are often constitutionally challenged. They are problematic, because they remove the discretion from judges, who are best placed to assess the situation based on the evidence and the facts of the case in front of him or her.

We also know that mandatory minimums do not deter crime.

On the other hand, we know for sure that what mandatory minimums do is increase recidivism. They actually make it more likely that a person who gets a mandatory minimum sentence comes back and offends again. How can that be good when we are talking about dealing with young people, in particular?

Half of gang membership in Canada is under the age of 18. When we increase recidivism, we get into a vicious circle that in turn increases crime. That has a more discriminatory impact on more vulnerable groups, notably, in Canada, our aboriginal young people, among whom gang recruitment is higher than it is in other parts of our society.

In my own community of Ottawa South, I deal with community police officers all the time. These are front-line officers, men and women, who are charged with the responsibility of dealing with so-called hot spots. All of us as members of Parliament deal with these in our ridings, particularly in urban spaces.

They tell us that the ticket now, the key, is to get to kids between the ages of 8 and 12. That is the time to get to kids with activities, particularly post-school activities, that keep them on the right track.

Let us talk about that for a second. What are the circumstances that lead kids, young people in particular, to join gangs?

We know it is linked to, for example, neighbourhood crime. We know it is directly linked to poverty levels. We know it is partly about peer pressure and peer influence.

We know it is sometimes about the lack of vigilance by parents, teachers and community members and leaders. We know it has to do with a lack of opportunities for positive after-school recreation programs, for example, or homework clubs. We know it is linked to substance abuse and alcohol use. We know that this is altogether tied into a large challenge.

We think the government should be investing more in activities that engage our kids, rather than forcing mandatory minimums on judges and then downloading to the provinces the responsibility to build more jails. By the way, that is a strategy that was tried in Texas and California. Is it not interesting that the governors of both of those states have now publicly denounced that experiment? In California, the state legislature is now struggling with the weight of the cost of prisons. This is a huge part of California's teetering right now on the verge of bankruptcy.

Liberals believe that we should be investing more in soccer fields and music groups and in making our recreational spaces more available for kids. It is not a bad idea, especially when we are dealing with a childhood obesity epidemic and all kinds of health challenges related to sedentary lifestyles.

We are alarmed by the increase in the number of kids joining gangs. We support the provisions of the bill that actually go a ways in criminalizing the recruitment of kids. However, we just do not understand the government's fixation on mandatory minimums. We know that it is a narrative the government uses for its base, but it flies in the face of all experience. It flies in the face of our community policing. Front-line officers tell us that it is not working. We are scratching our heads and asking why the government wants to spend all this money on incarceration, when we know that every dollar we spend up front saves us $40 afterwards in terms of costs for criminal enforcement, incarceration, parole and beyond.

We think the bill is good in a halfway respect, but unfortunately, it goes the wrong way when it comes to mandatory minimums. As a result, we will not be supporting this bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be joining the debate on this bill, which seeks to respond to a practice that is critical to the success of organized crime activity in Canada: the recruitment of persons to join criminal organizations.

Colleagues have heard so far during debate on our second reading of this bill that those who are most likely to be recruited to join criminal organizations are most often young and marginalized in society. They suffer socio-economic inequality, and they come from difficult family circumstances.

These vulnerable young persons need to be protected from the tactics of organized crime. That is what I understand private member's Bill C-394 to be trying to do.

This bill, which would amend the Criminal Code to explicitly prohibit the recruitment of others to join a criminal organization, is a welcome contribution to tackling the practices of gangs. I want to congratulate the member for Brampton—Springdale for bringing it forward.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I am obviously in favour of such a proposal and urge all members to support its passage into law.

The issue of gang recruitment is a serious one, and it requires a multi-faceted response. Neither I nor my colleagues are naive enough to think that this bill, by itself, will solve the problem of gang recruitment. However, we believe that a criminal justice system plays an extremely important role in the overall strategy to respond to organized crime.

It is also obvious that prevention efforts must be put in place so that those newly involved in organized crime, or those who are thinking about joining a gang, are meaningfully deterred from these opportunities. This is particularly true when those efforts are targeting young people who have not yet gone down the path to a life of serious crime.

As has already been said, this government has, through budget 2011, invested $10 million to support youth gang prevention activities. It is also important to recall that the government, in 2009, amended the Criminal Code to strengthen the gang peace bond provisions. As members may know, peace bonds require an individual to agree to specific conditions to keep the peace. They can be issued when it is feared, on reasonable grounds, that persons will join a criminal organization and commit a criminal organization offence.

I am told that these provisions of the Criminal Code are frequently relied upon by police in cities such as Winnipeg and Toronto and are an important prevention tool in the fight against organized crime. The government recognizes the value of prevention, but we must do more.

There is, however, a need to recognize the limits of prevention. Many of those involved in organized crime are hardened criminals who will not be dissuaded by prevention activities. Frankly speaking, many of these same individuals are not dissuaded by the possibility of jail time. They see that such a possibility is part of the cost of doing business.

In such cases, the criminal law must respond clearly to behaviours society has deemed unacceptable. In this respect, the proposal to create a stand-alone offence to target gang recruitment is appropriate. In doing so, we ensure that there is a full spectrum of responses to recruitment practices. We also make clear our disapproval and our belief that such conduct must be denounced, deterred, and punished, given the increased threats to society posed by larger criminal organizations.

In looking at the proposed offence, it is important to be clear that it is not targeting the mere association of individuals. Rather, the focus of the offence is recruitment done for the purposes of enhancing the ability of criminal organizations to facilitate or commit an indictable offence.

The proposed offence's focus is consistent with the purpose of the existing participation offence found at section 467.11 of the Criminal Code and is now well understood by the courts in Canada. In this respect, the jurisprudence under this existing participation offence will likely be helpful in informing the correct interpretation of the proposed offence as it is used by police and prosecutors.

For example, the concept of facilitation has been interpreted on many occasions to mean “to make easier”. Accordingly, I expect that this new offence will be quickly relied upon and will be familiar to many in the criminal justice system.

I would also like to take a moment to address the concerns expressed by some that the new offence is not required, as the existing participation offence already addresses recruitment. As my colleague from Delta—Richmond previously stated, laws must not only be clear, but must be clearly understood. This is an important principle and one that I will strongly support. Our laws must be accessible to all Canadians, police, prosecutors, and the courts. Clearly written and clearly understood laws make the identification of relevant evidence easier for police and make the job of the prosecutor easier.

Clear laws benefit accused individuals as they help to ensure that they properly understand what is and is not legal. And of course, clear laws help the courts in determining guilt or innocence.

This is particularly important in the area of organized crime. I am aware that a common concern expressed by police and prosecutors, in investigating this type of crime, is that the laws are complex. While the proposed amendments will not address all of the complexities, they will certainly assist in making obvious to all that the act of recruiting someone to join a criminal organization is a form of participation and is therefore liable to sanction.

I would also note in passing that terrorism offences, which are modelled on the organized crime offences, also deal with the issue of recruitment. For example, the participation in activity of terrorist group offences found at 83.18 of the Criminal Code makes explicit that participating in the activities of a terrorist group include recruitment. While this is all included in one single offence, in my opinion, there is nothing different, from a policy perspective, in making this explicit in a single offence, as is done in terrorism, or in two offences, as is proposed through Bill C-394. The result is the same.

In addition to establishing a new offence, this private member's bill, Bill C-394, makes a number of other consequential amendments to ensure that the new offence is subject to the same special rules in the area of criminal procedure, evidence and sentencing as are the existing organized crime offences. This makes perfect sense and I support these proposals.

Let me close by noting the following as stated in the recently released seventh report, of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, entitled “The State of Organized Crime”:

Organized crime poses a serious long-term threat to Canada’s institutions, society, economy, and to our individual quality of life.

We must take all steps possible to ensure that our responses to these threats constantly evolve, so that our children are safe to grow and play in their communities, our businesses thrive, and our quality of life is preserved.

I urge all members to support Bill C-394.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to support Bill C-394 going to committee.

I think we have an opportunity here for some serious cross-party co-operation with respect to this private member's bill. That said, I have some of the same concerns I always do with private members' bills being the vehicle for criminal law reform. They have serious limitations, limitations I will address a little bit in my remarks, and that is why I was very pleased to see that one of the parliamentary secretaries to the Minister of Justice is involved in the file. I hope that as much as possible, a broader, more holistic justice department input to this private member's bill can be forthcoming.

We are all aware that street gangs are becoming more and more of a problem in this country. My own city, Toronto, is ranked among the cities having the largest growing problem. We all know recent events at the Eaton Centre in Toronto, which is actually linked to ongoing gang violence within an area very close to my own riding, although not exactly in my riding, of Regent's Park where, at the end of March on one evening alone, five different incidents occurred producing 90 bullets flying around a housing community in that one evening. The escalating gang violence in that area of Toronto was what, it appears, led to the shooting at the crowded Eaton Centre food court.

Clearly something is wrong, if not terribly wrong, and we must act now, so I welcome the member's private member's bill. It is completely consistent with what the NDP has been calling for since the 2011 election, when it was part of our campaign platform to create an offence for gang recruitment.

That said, we recognize that it cannot be viewed in isolation as an ad hoc measure, which brings me back to the concerns I have with private members' bills and their limitations.

It is important that we rely, as we move forward to committee, on serious, expert studies about what works and what does not and how this one provision will and will not fit with a broader, more holistic strategy.

There is a 2010 report from a leading academic, Scott Wortley, of the University of Toronto, called “Youth, Gangs and Violence: Characteristic Causes and Prevention Strategy”. In this report he notes a few things that are very important for us to keep in mind, because I would like to focus mostly on the issue of youth. He says, “Gang violence is more likely to occur in public spaces, involve weapons, especially firearms, and involve multiple victims...and is more likely to result in the victimization of innocent bystanders”.

He goes on to speak more generally about the involvement of youth gang members in much higher levels of crime and violence than non-gang youth as something that studies in Canada and in other countries have consistently shown.

He finally notes that youth gang members are much more likely to themselves become victims of serious violence, including homicide, than youth who are not involved in gangs, and I think this is really important for us to remember. In this respect it helps us consider the fact that members of gangs themselves can be viewed as, and are, victims.

One of the issues that will be coming up in committee, I hope, is youth recruiting youth. It is not simply a matter of youth being recruited, but as youth as recruiters. It is not entirely clear what a criminalization provision will do to that very important complex social fact. We have to keep in mind that members of youth gangs are, not surprisingly, youth. They are used for the recruitment of their peers, and simply criminalizing that behaviour would not get us very far, I submit.

We have to counter the flaring up of violence and what looks to be the increase in gang activity not only by clamping down on violence in a pure Criminal Code mode but also by looking for more long-term solutions. As Professor Wortley said in his report, “Enforcement alone is not going to stop this problem”.

We have to focus on prevention. Members opposite sometimes feel that the NDP overdoes its focus on prevention. They think that somehow this means the NDP is soft on crime. Far from it; it simply means we understand the most effective ways to root out crime before it starts and to prevent it from occurring again.

There is a whole continuum of measures that need to be put in place by a society to give opportunities to those who might otherwise turn to crime or, in this instance, those who might be susceptible to being recruited. If they fall off the wagon, so to speak, they end up being put in jail. We have to make sure that downstream measures within our jail system do not recreate the tendencies to engage in criminal behaviour. This more holistic, long-term and continuum-like approach of the NDP is perfectly consistent with a hard-on-crime approach; it is just a smart-on-crime approach as well.

Gangs have always targeted young people, but they seem to be doing so increasingly. As the member for Brampton—Springdale, who introduced the bill, stated in his own introduction, criminal organizations do appear to be targeting youth as young as eight years old and quite commonly in the age of 12 and 13 to participate in criminal activities and to become actual members of organizations. Members are even hanging around boys and girls clubs just, for example, hoping to recruit innocent children.

As we have already heard from the member for Ottawa South and the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, the most vulnerable to be recruited tend to be young people who are marginalized, those who are from lower socio-economic groups, those who are from tougher family situations and some who in a more long-term sense are looking ahead to their future prospects in society and are in some despair about where the opportunities do and do not lie for them. These background social facts are as important as the immediate goal of preventing recruitment or preventing organized crime youth gang activity itself.

The NDP's priority is to approach this using a balanced approach. We want to make sure that people live in safe, non-violent communities by putting the emphasis on more programs to prevent young people from being recruited into gangs. I am speaking of programs like the Remix Project created some five years ago in Toronto to serve the needs of young people who are vulnerable to being recruited to gangs.

I have had the opportunity with colleagues to have an early meeting with boys and girls club representatives, knowing the bill would be coming forward. I urge other members to listen to their perspectives and the perspectives of other organizations that work closely with youth.

Among the concerns we heard in what was at this stage still a fairly casual discussion was exactly what I have already raised. The youth being recruited by youth issue cannot be ignored. It has to be directed head on. Youth themselves can be recruiters, and this will criminalize their behaviour as well as anybody else who is recruiting.

The second part of the strategy is that we need to have programs and measures that take a positive approach and create bright options for youth looking into the future. These two messages I took away from our early conversations as being absolutely key.

The NDP has called for an offence of gang recruitment, but we have also put it in the context of a long-standing defence of such measures such as putting more police into communities and creating dedicated youth gang prevention funds and activities.

Let me now go to three concerns about the bill that have to be taken into account. We cannot simply say that we are in favour of it in principle and would like to see it in committee and that therefore everything is fine. It is not entirely fine.

The first point is that the nature of the private member's bill means that at least from the beginning, the justice department is not involved. We do not have anything resembling a whole-of-government approach to the bill. It is one of the classic areas that I hope I have already outlined in my remarks that needs a more holistic, continuum-like approach to the issue.

That does not mean that something like this cannot go forward on its own, but it will be a real shame if we lose the opportunity to build this initiative into a much broader understanding of what else is out there and, most importantly, what needs to be put in place for this not to be simply a punitive approach to the problem. It is an approach that is necessary as part of the solution, but on its own, it will only make us feel good but get nothing done.

It is important to note, and I do not mean to make this sound too partisan, but the Conservatives have not been generally favourable to the preventive side. In January 2011, a scarce year ago, the Conservatives announced severe cuts to the youth gang prevention fund, and it was only a push-back from the NDP that had that reinstated.

The Conservatives need to approach this more holistically. We have to focus on the mandatory minimum concern that was already brought up.

Finally, we really have to look at the issue of youth recruiting other youth, and make sure the committee process hears from witnesses who know about that and have real ideas on how to deal with it.