moved that Bill C-349, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other acts (criminal organization), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, the bill that I introduced in the House and that we are going to debate today is the last step in a series of measures put forward by the Bloc Québécois to weaken organized crime. Before getting into the crux of this bill, I think it is important to talk about the steps that the Bloc Québécois has taken in the House to fight organized crime.
In the 1990s, when the biker wars were raging in Quebec, it quickly became obvious that a new law was needed to help law enforcement in their fight against organized crime. From the start, the Bloc spoke out about this reality in the House and put pressure on the Liberal government of the time. It was former Bloc member Réal Ménard who first introduced anti-gang legislation in the House of Commons in 1995.
The passage of Bill C-59 in 1997 marked a first step in the fight against organized crime. However, the amendments to the Criminal Code were too complex and demanding for effectively securing convictions in the courts. For example, the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had participated in the activities of a gang and been a party to the commission of an indictable offence committed in connection with the criminal organization.
Because those two combined requirements made it difficult to secure convictions, the police quickly called for amendments, and, once again, the Bloc Québécois was the first to act and bring those calls into the political arena.
In 2000, the Bloc Québécois then led the effort to have amendments made to that initial anti-gang law, Bill C-59, and to expand its scope. Our leader at that time, Gilles Duceppe, was even targeted by threats and intimidation from criminal organizations, to deter him from proceeding.
Mr. Duceppe stood up to them and the Bloc demonstrated its determination. As a result, in 2002 our efforts led to the enactment of Bill C-24, which created two new, separate offences to assist in combatting organized crime. Participating in the activities of a criminal organization and committing an indictable offence for the benefit of a criminal organization became two separate offences. It became possible to secure a conviction against members of criminal organizations for gang-related or criminal organization offences. A person charged with committing an offence for the benefit of a criminal organization became liable to life imprisonment.
To better protect the public and the police who are engaged in fighting organized crime, the law also added provisions to combat the intimidation of journalists and of federal, provincial and municipal elected representatives, and also of any person who plays a role in the administration of the penal and criminal justice system.
In 2009, the Bloc Québécois again took up the issue with a motion to have criminal organizations such as criminal biker gangs recognized as illegal. Also in 2009, the Bloc supported Bill C-14 on organized crime, to have any murder committed for the benefit of a criminal organization deemed to be a premeditated murder and liable to a sentence of life imprisonment.
At the same time, and also at the initiative of the Bloc Québécois, the Criminal Code was amended to reverse the burden of proof and force criminal organizations to prove the source of their income. This was an important step forward in the fight against organized crime.
Earlier, following an international conference on money laundering and organized crime held in Montreal in 1998, the Bloc Québécois had persuaded the government to withdraw $1,000 bills from circulation, since, as everyone knows, they are used most of the time only to launder organized crime money.
The Bloc Québécois has always been a thorn in the side of organized crime. We must not forget that gangsters adapt very readily. There seems to have been a resurgence of criminal biker gangs since 2016.
Here again, we have a responsibility to act. Let me remind the House that the biker war from 1994 to 2002 was especially bloody. The eight-year tally was more than 150 murders, including nine innocents, nine disappeared, and 181 attempted murders. Things could very well start up again. Since the summer of 2016, organized crime experts and observers have noted that criminal biker gangs are making a vigorous comeback. Since Operation SharQc in 2009, most of the bikers who were charged have been let go because some of the trials just fizzled out, and many who were convicted have had their sentences reduced.
They have been making their presence increasingly known, and we have been seeing more shows of force too. In recent months, bikers have started gathering again, displaying their patches openly and with impunity. Our criminal justice system combats the criminal mindset at least as much as it does criminal activity itself. Just consider crimes of accessory: conspiracy, attempt, and inciting or counselling.
Only for practical reasons, such as how hard it is to prove, criminal mentality is more rarely punished than criminal acts themselves. The challenge associated with presenting full proof must not discourage punishments for behaviour that should be punished.
At present, the Criminal Code prohibits participation in a criminal organization only to the extent that it can be proven that the individual intended to enhance the ability of the criminal organization to commit or facilitate the commission of an indictable offence. This is difficult to prove, particularly with regard to criminal organizations that are not easily infiltrated by police.
With that in mind, we are proposing, first of all, that a list of criminal organizations be created, similar to the list of terrorist organizations that exists, and second, that patches and emblems associated with the organizations on such a list be prohibited from being worn in public.
The Bloc Québécois has been calling for this for quite some time. In the fall of 2001, on an opposition day, the Bloc moved a motion calling on Parliament to make membership in a criminal organization a criminal offence. The same year, at the committee stage of Bill C-24, the Bloc proposed an amendment at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to prohibit membership in criminal organizations. Our amendment had the support of the criminal investigations branch of the Montreal police service, which at the time was called the Montreal Urban Community Police Department.
Unfortunately, parliamentarians rejected our motion. Then in 2009, the Bloc Québécois managed to get a motion adopted at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights calling on the committee to study the possibility of creating a list of organizations once again following the model of the list of terrorist organizations. I would remind the House that the last biker gang war claimed more than 150 lives in Quebec alone, including that of an 11-year-old child.
Organized crime is very costly in terms of human life, so we cannot sit idly by and do nothing. Witnesses from the Sûreté du Québec, the SPVM, and the RCMP all supported the creation of such a list.
They believe that adding a criminal organization to a list would help crown prosecutors, because they would no longer be required to prove the existence of a criminal organization at each trial. This would be more efficient in terms of the length and cost of proceedings, and it would be more consistent.
A QPP chief inspector had this to say:
The proposal...however, would be a major and important step forward, to avoid having to prove the criminal organization all over again at each trial, for the same organization. It would save us weeks or even months of testimony and preparation to prove aspects that have already been accepted in previous court proceedings, and would therefore be an important avenue to enable us to be even more effective in combatting organized crime on the ground.
We can agree that in the era of the Jordan decision, saving weeks or even months would have been beneficial for our judicial system. That is why we are trying again this year with two new measures.
First, make it possible for the Governor in Council to establish a list of criminal organizations and to place on that list those organizations recommended by the Minister of Public Safety.
Second, make it an offence for a member of a listed criminal organization to wear emblems such as patches.
With respect to establishing a list of criminal organizations, there is no legitimate reason to knowingly be part of a criminal group. Our bill simply prohibits membership in such a group. Currently, the existence of an organization must be proven before someone can be charged with organized crime. We saw what happened with the megatrials, where trials were literally derailed because of the sheer volume of evidence. Rather than serve the cause of justice, the time it takes to process all that evidence serves only the criminals. Obviously, that is not what we want. Establishing a list of criminal organizations will shorten trials and allow justice to take its course within a reasonable period of time and achieve its ends.
People quite rightly believe that nobody should be allowed to belong to a criminal organization. Why do people believe that? Because nobody should be allowed to belong to a criminal organization.
If Parliament passes this bill, it will send a message to the people and to criminals that the government is not sitting on the sidelines. The government is taking action for justice, for the common good, and for everyone's safety.
Members of Parliament will simply not accept something so unacceptable.
The Minister of Public Safety already has the power to establish a list of terrorist groups, a list that, I really want to emphasize, has never been challenged.
In 2005, in R. v. Lindsay, Justice Fuerst of the Ontario Superior Court established that the Hells Angels were a criminal organization across Canada. However, this ruling did not exempt crown prosecutors from having to prove once again that the Hells Angels were a criminal organization in other trials.
I realize that this measure alone would not be enough to put an end to organized crime, and that proving gangsterism is not always easy, but is that not the case anyway when it comes to each and every offence?
As for emblems, the second aspect of our bill, we are proposing that an offence be created prohibiting the wearing of emblems or patches of listed criminal organizations.
Paragraph 467.11(1) of the Criminal Code states the following:
Every person who, for the purpose of enhancing the ability of a criminal organization to facilitate or commit an indictable offence...knowingly...participates in or contributes to any activity of the criminal organization is guilty of an indictable offence...
We believe that—