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.