Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to respond to the minister's statement today on behalf of average Canadians from the official opposition.
In his opening remarks the solicitor general stated that organized crime is big business and it is bad business. I agree.
Gang business is far from simply riding around on loud, outrageous motorcycles. It is about the almighty dollar and finding the most direct way of getting lots of it, whether it is being done legally or illegally. In almost every case the fastest way is the illegal way, drugs, theft, prostitution and business scams.
Earlier this month, the 10 month undercover police sting at Edmonton led to 51 drug trafficking, possession and conspiracy charges against 10 gang members. This is what the police seized: $800,000 worth of property including two homes, one worth $350,000 and the other $300,000, four motorcycles, a Lamborghini sports car, several firearms, not registered I suppose, TVs and a great deal of cash, well into the thousands. This is no small town operation.
The minister is also right when he states that this issue is of great concern to all Canadians. Canadians really fear for their safety. Organized crime affects each and every Canadian. It is not something that is untouched or does not affect the local community. With the continued operation of the notorious biker gangs, each and every one of us sitting in the House is at risk. Our families are at risk.
A couple of weeks ago in Quebec a man who was linked to the Hell's Angels was gunned down in a restaurant. Then a couple of days later a gang sympathizer was discovered dead in the trunk of a car. Gang wars in Quebec are out of control. Edmonton is another city that is starting to feel similar pressures. The violence is absolutely unacceptable. Since 1989 there have been well over 65 gang related homicides in Quebec alone.
I was astounded to learn the number of gang members there are in Canada. According to Staff Sergeant Jean-Pierre Levesque who is with the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada there are about 1,200 gang members in total in Canada formally recognized. However, if we count friends, connections, business associates, the number may be as high as 12,000.
In addition, according to Interpol there are close to 95 chapters of the Hell's Angels operating in 16 different countries around the world. To say they are well connected would definitely be an understatement.
Almost daily there are news stories directly related to gangs. Canadians are concerned. They want solutions and, most important, they want solutions that are going to work.
Today the solicitor general trumpeted the government's record. This government has had over four years to correct the flaws of the justice system but all it did was often tinker with it. I do not think the government should be too proud today. It should perhaps apologize to Canadians for not doing enough. It has had enough time.
The power to implement change was there to use. It had complete majority governments, but all it did was sit on its hands and hope that everything would get better, until the cries could not be stemmed anymore.
In the solicitor general's statement he said that his government listened to the police and passed tough, comprehensive gang legislation: “Anti-gang legislation is being used right now. Arrests and seizures regularly make headlines. We are monitoring its implementation. I will provide a status report in the next year's statement on organized crime”.
I can honestly say that I eagerly await next year's statement. I want the minister to stand up and say how gang violence has dramatically dropped from one date to the next. It is the government's administration and its responsibility. I want the minister to say at that time that his new legislation has not been overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada because it infringed on the charter of rights and freedoms.
On November 2 of this year gang member Ettore Sabastiani was apparently the first person to be convicted using the new law. He was sentenced to five years in prison. The solicitor general may be proud of his headlines, but he cannot be proud of what is in the article. Two of the headlines surrounding this story were: “Gang member first convicted under new law” in the Ottawa Sun ; and “Sabastiani sentence believed to be the first convicted under the new anti-gang legislation” from the Kingston Whig Standard . But here is where the minister's happiness perhaps ends. I want to read two clips, first from the Sun article and the second from the Whig Standard :
But Friday, Sabastiani tried to withdraw his plea to the anti-gang charge. He lawyer, Wayne King, argued that the law violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it is too vague, too broad and contradicts the provisions for freedom of association.
The next quote:
If Sabastiani had not plead guilty, a constitutional challenge would have likely been allowed and may still happen in other cases. The legislation has a good chance of being struck down if it is challenged, said King.
The Kingston Whig Standard had similar words:
Queen's law professor Don Stewart agrees with King. He said in an interview yesterday that it's a bad piece of legislation because it is so loose that it is ripe for misuse and ineffective against organized crime. It was drafted in great haste—to get votes in Quebec where there was concern of the Rock Machine and the Hell's Angels—it's a very bad piece of legislation. The law is likely to be challenged under the charter as too vague, too broad.
Bringing forward legislation should never be done just for short term political purposes. It should be done for the well-being of all Canadians, for the long term vision of a great society.
Reform supported the organized crime bill in the last Parliament because there was need for something to take place. The bill was a start in providing the necessary tools for law enforcement. But the questions we asked then are the same as we are asking today. Is the law constitutionally sound? Ten months ago was the time to make the changes. It may now be too late.
So, like the minister, I want to see an immediate stop to organized crime. I also want to see laws that will withstand the supreme court challenges. When is the government going to understand that a major overhaul of the justice system is needed?
Ministerial statements are fine, but ministerial action is preferred. The longer the government waits to act, the worse our streets will become.
The solicitor general has made his statement. He is directly responsible for the administration of federal prisons. Yet organized crime flourishes in our prisons and he has been unable to respond to it. We hope that on this score he will clean up the backlog of union grievances and fully support his staff to rid us of organized crime in federal jails.
Since the second world war we have had many years of Liberal governments. With that backdrop of a history of administration, the government must more fully accept its responsibility for where we are today in society.
There are broad sociological reasons for the success of organized crime. Some of it has to do with the general legal and economic culture which the government is creating.
When economic prospects are dim, young people are more easily preyed upon to become involved in street level crime supervised by the organized crime bosses. When tax policy kills the spirit, the sinister elements can more easily get a foothold. When governments in the past have erected unreasonably high differentials between the U.S. and Canada, unnecessary economic incentives are created for the perverse to arise. Capacity creates its own demand.
Historically the Liberals have been very soft on crime. We are pleased when we can get the government to move substantively rather than just in a cosmetic fashion. If the government can gather courage and do what is right rather than just what is politically convenient, we will certainly support those efforts. Sadly, how many times in the House has the general debate gone on about some crime measure?
On our side after looking at the bill, we are calling for more substance, a more comprehensive approach, a more thorough job than just tentative measures.
The most recent example was the DNA evidence collection bill. It is good as far as it goes, but here again it stops far short of what is needed.
These are the broad societal reasons for the success of organized crime. The government has to accept a share of the blame for the context of the culture it has created for organized crime to flourish. If it could learn those lessons, then the courses of action would become evident.
Everything that we have brought to this House on the economy was helpful in fighting organized crime. One of the biggest crime prevention strategies is low unemployment.
I applaud the minister for anything he can do on this file. He is now committed to an annual statement. It is hoped that he will be able to measure how the government's rather haphazard administration of public affairs is successfully responding to this challenge which will be measured from year to year.
The vision for the national voyage must be based upon honesty, competence and real leadership. May the legislation that flows from the government statement be honestly presented. May the government administer with the highest of standards guided by real accountability measures. The annual statement may form a bit of an accountability measure.
May the government gather some courage to legislate against crime and to lead, for whatever increases hope will also exalt courage. If the government faints from these principles, the nation knows that we on this side of the House are more than ready.