Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, thank you for having invited me to testify before you in the context of your study of Bill C-14.
I share your deep concern with regard to the fight against organized crime and the search for new means of combatting it.
Allow me to begin by stating clearly that I support Bill C-14 without reservation and that I hope that it will be passed without delay. This bill, though not revolutionary, adds a certain number of tools to our tool box to fight organized crime.
Decreeing that a murder is murder in the first degree when committed in connection with a criminal organization remedies what I always considered to be an oversight in the 1997 anti-gang legislation otherwise known as Bill C-95. Parliament had at that time stated that murder was murder in the first degree when it was committed in association with a criminal organization and involved the use of explosives, thus excluding other homicides committed in association with a criminal organization.
The 1997 provision was useless and was never used for two reasons. Firstly, if a murder is committed with explosives it is clear that premeditation was involved. Secondly, shortly after the death of young Daniel Desrochers in 1995, organized crime in Quebec practically abandoned the use of explosives there and turned to firearms.
It is a good thing that Bill C-14 will apply the rule to all homicides committed in connection with a criminal organization, whatever means are used.
The new Criminal Code section 231, proposed subsection (6.1), as proposed by Bill C-14, will turn an unused section of the Criminal Code into one with a much greater likelihood of real applications. Although many gangland murders are obviously planned and premeditated, others are not. A typical example we have seen on many occasions is this: two or more criminal organizations are present in a city or in a geographical area; the territory is divided up between organizations, each one controlling the rackets on its turf. Bars, taverns, and nightclubs are typically divided up between criminal organizations, and on their own turf they have a monopoly on the drug sales, prostitution, and other criminal activities. Occasionally, someone associated with, or perceived to be associated with, a particular organization shows up in the bar or nightclub controlled by another criminal organization. He is not welcome and is told to leave. He refuses, an argument breaks out and turns into a fight, someone pulls out a knife or a gun, and someone gets killed. No one planned for this to happen, so there is no premeditation. The normal charge would be second-degree murder.
But with the amendment proposed by Bill C-14, we could envisage a conviction for first-degree murder. We had a case just like this in Montreal where a completely innocent person was killed by a gang of thugs in a bar. It was a case of mistaken identity, because the victim in reality had no association at all with the opposing criminal gang, but his murder was nonetheless gang-related and gang-motivated.
As for the new offence of recklessly discharging a firearm, as proposed by Bill C-14, it fills the void presently existing between disturbing the peace by discharging a firearm, which is a summary conviction offence and therefore punishable by only six months maximum, or careless use of a firearm punishable by no more than two years, and discharging a firearm with intent to wound or endanger life, punishable by 14 years and a five-year minimum when committed with a handgun.
In the case of drive-by shootings, it can be very difficult to prove the specific intent to wound or endanger life. This can be even harder to prove if no one is hit by the bullets, yet the conduct is much more dangerous than simply disturbing the peace or carelessly firing bullets into the air. Drive-by shootings can and do kill people, including innocent bystanders. So the new offence of recklessly discharging a firearm as proposed by Bill C-14 would allow us to go for more significant sentences up to 14 years and with important minimums when committed with handguns or for a criminal organization.
The two new offences of assault against peace officers don't appear at first view to change anything, because the maximum sentences are no higher than those for similar assaults against any person. However, when viewed in conjunction with the new proposed section 718.02, one can see the significance of these new offences. Proposed section 718.02 will call upon courts to give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence when sentencing for these offences. This should lead courts to give stiffer sentences and consequently this should lead to greater respect for peace officers. I believe this change is needed, for we're continuously reminded that there's increasingly a lack of respect for police officers and consequently their capacity to keep the peace is impaired.
The new proposed section 718.02 will also call upon courts to give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence when sentencing for intimidation of justice system participants in general. This too should lead to greater respect for all those working in the interests of justice.
The amendments proposed by Bill C-14 for preventive peace bonds under section 810.01 are good ideas, in my opinion, but I have to admit that in Quebec we have never used this section of the code. That is probably because in our efforts to fight organized crime, we have concentrated our energy on gathering enough evidence to lay criminal charges and get criminal convictions. However, I do know that the organized crime recognizance is used in Ontario as part of their guns and gangs strategy, particularly for what they call “small fry”; in Quebec we call that le menu “frettin”. In Quebec we hope to start using these provisions in the future as a part of our own strategy against street gangs.
The Quebec Bar Association has expressed its opposition to a couple of the suggested conditions in the new legislation. The new legislation proposes certain specific conditions for the preventive peace bonds, and the Quebec Bar Association has expressed its opposition to those conditions, particularly the one involving participation in a treatment program and also the wearing of an electronic monitoring device.
Some lawyers say these are drastic measures for someone who is not even charged with, let alone convicted of, an offence. However, I believe that since these measures are at the discretion of the provincial court judge, we can trust our judges to use their discretion wisely and impose these conditions only where there are reasonable grounds to believe they are necessary, which will probably be quite rare.
So I support Bill C-14; however, I would like to point out that many of the legislative changes found in Bill C-14, as well as in Bill C-15, are dependent upon a determination by the court of the existence of a criminal organization. If you really want to give us a boost in our fight against organized crime, I would ask you to stop for a moment and consider why Parliament continues to treat criminal organizations so differently from terrorist organizations.
As of 2001, Parliament simply decreed that dozens of organizations set out in a list were terrorist organizations. Prosecutors don't have to prove that they are terrorist organizations; they are declared to be terrorist organizations by the Governor in Council. Most of these groups have never been convicted of terrorism in Canada. In fact, most of these groups do not even exist in Canada, let alone carry on terrorist activities here.
On the other hand, ever since the adoption of the first anti-gang act in 1997, Parliament has required that prosecutors prove that an organization is criminal in each and every case, even if it is the same organization. Consequently, each time we charge someone in the Hells Angels on anti-gang charges, we have to start from scratch and prove that the Hells Angels motorcycle club is a criminal organization.
In the past 12 years, there have been dozens of convictions establishing that the Hells Angels motorcycle club is a criminal organization. In Quebec, there were even full-patch members who admitted that they belonged to a criminal organization. On at least three occasions, courts in Ontario have decided that the Hells Angels motorcycle club is a criminal organization across Canada. These were decisions by the superior court of Ontario.
Yet courts in British Columbia, Ontario, and Manitoba have also decided that because of the present state of our law, those findings apply only to the particular accused in those particular cases. As prosecutors, we haven't complained, and we have gone about our duty diligently and successfully, but this constant requirement that we prove the same thing over and over again is monopolizing valuable resources that could be used elsewhere in the fight against organized crime.
Proving that a group is criminal organization is usually one of the most time-consuming parts of an organized crime prosecution. It can take literally months to make this evidence before the court. I'll give you some examples.
On March 28, 2001, in Quebec, police carried out a massive round-up of Hells Angels, called Operation Springtime 2001. There were 119 members and associates charged by the organized crime prosecutions bureau, in which I work, in three different files. Project Rush alone--which was part of these people being arrested--united 42 accused in one file, of which 36 were arrested, and 35 were denied bail.
A new courthouse had to be built just to allow a trial this big to take place. However, the justices of the superior court decided to break up the co-accused into smaller, more manageable groups. One trial involved 14 accused, lasted eight months before a jury, and heard 73 witnesses before a guilty plea was worked out.
A second group of 17 co-accused began another trial, which lasted three months before one jury and then had to start all over again before a new judge and jury when the first judge quit. The new trial lasted 13 months before a jury, saw 1,383 exhibits filed, and heard 151 witnesses. Some of the accused threw in the towel along the way and pleaded guilty. In the end, the jury rendered verdicts on the nine remaining accused and declared them all guilty.
The third trial, in English, united two accused, took three and a half months before a justice of the superior court, sitting without a jury, and also resulted in convictions. But in that case, it only took three and a half months because they admitted that Hells Angels was a criminal organization.
While the Hells Angels trials were getting under way, Montreal police were completing another investigation, called Amigos, which focused on the Bandidos Motorcycle Club. It culminated in another massive roundup that effectively put an end to the Bandidos club in Quebec. A trial was held for five of the accused in 2004. It lasted eight months before a jury; 68 witnesses were heard, and all of the accused were convicted.
Last week, we broke all our previous records when we charged 156 Hells Angels and their associates in one single file. This is considerably larger than in the spring of 2001. There will almost definitely be more than one trial, and each trial that is held will be very lengthy. We can predict this already. We will have to start all over again and prove that the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a criminal organization. Although we are confident of our capacity to be successful, the fact is that the longer the trial lasts, the greater the danger that something might go wrong along the way. For example, for the trial to abort, all you have to do is have somebody very important get sick. If the judge, the lead prosecutor, or more than two members of the jury get sick along the way and have to quit, it can cause the whole trial to abort, and you have to start all over again. The longer the trial, the more the chances that something will go wrong.
Consequently, I urge you to seriously consider legislation that will declare the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club to be a criminal organization once and for all.
Thank you for your attention.