Mr. Speaker, I really feel that today we are experiencing the British parliamentary system at its best, with the opposition co-operating and the government taking action.
You will recall that, in August 1995, a tragic and totally unexpected event-there had been no warning sign-happened in the riding of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve when an 11-year-old boy walking back from the toy library, a very popular place in my community, was killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I must say that since that event, people have been mobilizing, first in my community, and then throughout Quebec and Canada. I am very grateful to the minister; I recognize that when dealing with an issue such as this one, there is no room for partisanship among MPs.
I thank the justice minister and his assistant, David Rodier, as well as Yvan Roy, who bent over backwards to keep the dialogue going on a number of legislative measures we thought had to be looked at in order to come up with concrete solutions to fight organized crime.
Before going any further, I would also like to thank my colleague, the member for Berthier-Montcalm, our justice critic, who has been very active and perceptive in supporting the need for an antigang law.
We must be very clear with our fellow citizens. Nobody in this House claims that Bill C-95 will solve all the problems. None of us believes that passing this piece of legislation will eradicate organized crime. But what we are saying is that today we are sending a very strong message to the community as a whole to the effect that neither the official opposition nor the government will give up on this scourge.
One could ask what is organized crime and how come that phenomenon has grown so much over the past few years. I would like to propose a definition that is commonly used by police forces and to remind viewers that whenever we speak about organized crime, we are referring mainly to four elements.
First, there are the proceeds of crime. Naturally, the purpose of organized crime is to make money. The second element is power, control over a specific territory. Then come fear and intimidation. The fourth and final element is corruption.
You could say that organized crime does not exist in every society and you would be right. Some specific, precise conditions are required for organized crime to thrive in a society. There are at least four conditions which make cities like Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Winnipeg, and the maritimes, good locations for organized crime.
For organized crime to thrive, it needs a wealthy community where it can make money. That is why we talk about corruption in the third world, but in those countries, organized crime is quite different from its usual manifestations in urban environments.
In order for organized crime to take root somewhere, it needs convenient access to major routes. Since it is an import-export trade, organized crime in Canada is concentrated in major centres
across the country. For organized crime to prosper, it needs a free society, a society without dictatorial powers and oppression.
Fourth, and probably the most important, is that, to prosper, organized crime needs a society where there are rights, charters and bureaucracy. We know full well-that is what police officers told me, and probably told the Minister of Justice also-that the greatest ally of organized crime is the charter of rights and freedoms, which has given it some immunity. It has been a powerful tool for organized crime.
Once these conditions are met, organized crime proceeds in phases. Operations of organized crime and its representatives have three different phases. The first one is control of a territory. Control of a territory is gained by intimidation, by generating fear. Such a territory becomes the exclusive turf of a particular group.
After you control a territory, you get into money laundering. I will come back to the importance of money laundering for organized crime. I should mention that money laundering in Canada accounts for about $20 billion, invested in legal or illegal activities.
Once money has been laundered, it can be invested in legal enterprises. In Montreal, to give you an example that I know very well, organized crime has invested mostly in restaurants, bars and the like, although I do not think this is unique to Montreal. I know it is the same in other communities.
So, we welcome the minister's bill. We agree that, as hon. members and as legislators, we cannot give up, that, we must assume our responsibilities and take action on such an important issue.
Of course, we would have preferred to have this debate much earlier, because, as Bloc members, we have been pleading with the Minister of Justice for two years to look into what is going on in Canada's big cities.
Today, we have a bill and we will co-operate. I say to the Minister of Justice that, if I can be of any help, wherever he wants me to speak or whatever he wants me to do, he can count on my full co-operation, because, once again, partisanship has no place in such an issue.
I would like to mention an extremely troubling fact. We have known for three months now that organized crime has changed the way it operates. Criminal organizations must not be underestimated, they are intelligent, well organized, and they have many means at their disposal to carry out their activities.
In the past, these organizations used to limit their operations to 60 days. They were active in counterfeiting and they could detect wire tapping devices, and they were aware that, when their lines were being tapped, the warrant could not go beyond 60 days.
In that sense, I find the measure the minister is providing in the legislation most appropriate, making it not only easier to get warrants to authorize wire tapping, but also not necessary to prove that it is used as a last resort and the only investigative tool available to the police. It will be a lot simpler and easier to get such a warrant.
However, I must say that the way bombs are made now, the way explosives are handled by both major gangs, and I am referring of course to the Rock Machine or the Hell's Angels, is that these people now put in devices to make sure that the bombs will explode. The police had come to be able to identify which gang the bomb came from by the way it was made, and the way the explosive device was put together, the way the bomb was assembled often gave an indication of which group was responsible for it.
To counter that, criminal organizations began to equip explosive devices with a timer so that no bomb ever misfire.
The reason I am telling you this is obviously not to scare people but to make them understand that organized crime and its various manifestations are not something transitory that will go away and that we will not have to worry about a few weeks down the road. The justice minister is right to put forward such a bill because organized crime is a permanent fixture.
Even though we passed Bill C-61 on the laundering of the proceeds of crime, organized crime has prospered.
I think the measures being proposed here will be relevant and effective in helping police forces conduct investigations more quickly and produce much stronger evidence. Ultimately, attorney generals will be able to dig up evidence and initiate legal proceedings. Criminals will stand trial and we will be able to dismantle or at least shake up the higher echelons of organized crime.
This bill contains 10 specific provisions I would like to explain to the people listening to us.
First of all, the essence of this bill is that it creates the new offence of participation in a criminal organization. The bill provides that any offence for which the punishment is five years in prison or more will be deemed a criminal organization offence. Indeed the minister has cast a wide net. The bill covers drug offences, possession of stolen goods, influence peddling, and all other criminal organization offences.
This is a judicious bill that defines criminal organizations as any group consisting of five or more persons. I tend to agree with this number. I know that Reform members have suggested that this number be reduced to three. But I think that, given the way organized crime works, we will be able to meet the objectives of this bill while maintaining this number at five.
So a new offence has been created. The minister did not agree to the request made by the Quebec government to add a provision on crime by association. Since the beginning of this debate, the minister has been extremely reluctant to create a crime by association. I do respect the legal arguments behind his position.
I think we could have created a crime by association, which would have been in compliance with both section 1 of the Charter and the legal guarantees in sections 7 to 14 of same. What is important however is not to determine if I was right, if the minister was right, or if the Quebec government was right, but to dismantle any known criminal gangs.
So, a new offence is created. New provisions concerning explosives have also been added. That was also something the Government of Quebec had requested. The bill says that any person who possesses, uses, or handles an explosive substance for the benefit, in total or in part, of a criminal organization is guilty of an offence, under aggravating circumstance, and liable to imprisonment for 14 years.
I think it is very important to understand how crucial this provision is, because as we know, explosives are very often used to commit crime, especially by biker gangs.
This will now constitute an aggravating circumstance. This notion of aggravating circumstance is already included in the Criminal Code, since, a few years back, we had section 718.9 modified to add a number of factors that, taken into consideration by the judges, lead to tougher sentencing.
If a criminal offence is committed by an organized gang, this will be considered an aggravating circumstance, especially when explosives are used. I think this is an extremely positive measure.
Judges will also be given the possibility of deferring or postponing parole, or restricting eligibility to parole. It will be possible for them-and this is quite clear in the bill-when an individual is sentenced for gangsterism, to order that 50 per cent of the sentence must be served before the individual can be eligible to parole.
I think this measure is extremely important because it encourages informers. One of the extremely modern ways to fight organized crime is to encourage informers to come forward. Nobody in organized crime will ever confess, agree to testify or co-operate if he or she knows that three, four or five months down the road, the person he or she informed against will be free to make trouble for them.
Measures like postponing parole or aggravating circumstances are very important measures because they favour informers, which is a key weapon, often used, to track down organized crime.
Another extremely important measure I talked about a little earlier is that it will be easier to obtain a warrant for electronic surveillance. Nowadays, electronic surveillance is a last resort measure. One has to demonstrate to the satisfaction of a judge that this is the ultimate way to conduct investigations.
Thanks to the provisions of this bill, it will be easier to not only get authorization to proceed with electronic surveillance but also to extend the warrant as much as up to one year. This is extremely important.
Another clause will make it easier and faster to obtain search warrants, for which one needs evidence, of course. The judge will always have to be satisfied. The bill contains an extremely interesting and original provision which provides for the forfeiture not only of the proceeds of crime, but also of vehicles used to commit offences. For example, if a truck is used to commit a crime, it could be confiscated. If a building is used-because the bill also applies to buildings-it could be confiscated.
At present, there are provisions in a number of laws which allow for the forfeiture of property, but it is always done by a court order and it always pertains to property deemed to have been used in laundering of proceeds of crime. We will now be able to confiscate not only property used for the laundering of the proceeds of crime, but also property, such as a vehicle, used to commit a crime.
Another extremely interesting provision is that the judge will be able to issue an order to keep the peace, to refrain from seeing certain persons, from leaving the country, a judicial order against a person if there is sufficient evidence that that person will take part in the commission of a crime by a criminal organization. In other words, it is a preventive measure. The price of not keeping the peace could be an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment.
The final measure the minister referred to concerns information and provides that the solicitor general will table an annual report on organized crime, on what progress has been made, where organized crime is active and, obviously I hope, on suggestions for fighting it.
It is overall an interesting bill. It combines a number of measures called for by police and the Government of Quebec, particularly with respect to explosives.
We must nevertheless realize today that we as parliamentarians have become aware of what is going on in organized crime because people have taken action. Some of them are fellow residents in my riding of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, including the mother of young Daniel Desrochers, Josée-Anne, who circulated a petition and who used every public forum to awaken parliamentarians.
I think that whoever we are and wherever we sit in this House we owe a debt of gratitude to Josée-Anne Desrochers. The police also acted and created CAPLA, the Comité d'action politique pour une loi anti-gangs. There was all sorts of pressure. As well, there was my colleague, the member for Berthier-Montcalm, who took the lead in this matter and very early on spoke to the minister on a number of occasions. He was very stubborn, obsessive and persevering, I would say. It helped, because his efforts were not in vain. The proof is that today we have legislative measures.
Here are a few indications of the scope of organized crime, showing how its effects are felt throughout society, and how important it is for us, as legislators, to be extremely vigilant.
In 1992, the underground economy was estimated at 5.2 percent of the gross national product, some $36 billion. That is in 1992 dollars. In today's dollars, those numbers would be a lot higher.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates that annual losses associated with unrecovered stolen vehicles-which is also one aspect of organized crime-amount to $293 million; $293 million per year for stolen vehicles. A pretty considerable sum.
In 1994, Canadian chartered banks estimated their losses due to fraud at $143 million. Within organized crime, there is a sort of specialization. Some groups have become expert in what we call counterfeiting bank notes and putting them into circulation. I think this is a specialty of Asian groups, who have become quite expert at it. In 1994, the banks reported they had lost $143 million because of fraud.
The most interesting number comes from very knowledgeable people in the field-the police forces-and concerns the income generated by organized crime, which is estimated at $20 billion. The figures for revenues from crime are close to the figures for the Canadian deficit. How much is the Canadian deficit? My colleague for Berthier-Montcalm, who follows these issues closely, could tell me the exact amount, but I believe it is $19 billion. The Canadian deficit is about $19 billion while revenues from crime total $20 billion per year. Is it possible, as legislators, to remain idle when confronted with this fact? I think not.
However, despite all the good things I said concerning the government-and believe me, this is extremely circumstantial-the fact remains that it could have done much more. We made representations to the government. So did other groups, that is police forces and other people involved. We know perfectly well that the next step will certainly be the laundering of money. We know that. The fact that Canada is a money laundering paradise is very well known. Canada is extremely liberal on that matter. This cannot go on.
I must tell you the police community made a very important demand, that is the obligation for the major chartered banks to report any suspicious transaction over $10,000. This is extremely important for those who investigate to be able to trace back the origin of suspicious transactions. Right now, chartered banks must keep a record of all operations that they think are suspicious, but they are under no obligation to report them.
I think it would have been worthwhile to include a legal provision specifying that failure to report such operations may be a punishable offence. I am convinced that banks would have co-operated, because the Canadian Bankers Association has taken some internal measures to detect dubious transactions, but all this must become an obligation.
Police officers had also asked that $1,000 bills be taken out of circulation. Is there anyone in this House naive enough to think that ordinary people walk on the street with $1,000 bills in their pockets? Mr. Speaker, if I you were to do a survey in this place, I am sure that very few of us-including yourself, the pages, the members of this House and the people in the gallery-would have a $1,000 bill in their pockets.
We know full well that the $1,000 bill makes it possible for some people to carry large amounts in their pockets and we know for sure that the $1,000 bill is a boon to organized crime. The Canadian Police Association has asked that the $1,000 bill be taken out of circulation, and that is something that will have to be considered.
Here is another extremely important demand: I was telling you earlier about the need to have banks divulge dubious transactions of more than $10,000, and I think that must not be restricted to the banks. Casinos could also be included in that list, as well as travel agencies and all those businesses trading in luxury items that may eventually be infiltrated and help us trace the criminal chain of command.
These are some measures we are suggesting. I think the justice minister will welcome them. I want to remind him that the reality of organized crime is not temporary. It is a huge threat. To this day, organized crime has managed to poison the life of entire communities, and I am thinking of course about the eastern part of Montreal with what happened in the riding of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, but it is not only the eastern part of Montreal that is deeply affected by this reality.
This reality is also a daily concern for the people of Saint-Nicolas, who have mobilized to fight this problem. Is it acceptable that bunkers can be built in urban centres, near residential areas, and that people can openly and publicly make money through illegal means and disturb the peace within our communities? I think not. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to do everything in
our power to stop these people, to hold them accountable, to send them to prison and to launch investigations.
Too often, over the past few years, I heard people say that it was the police's fault, because they did not build good cases. I took part in public debates, open lines and television shows where the easy argument that was used was: "If the police did a better job, it would be easier to fight organized crime".
I think this argument does not withstand scrutiny because each time a police force wants to press charges, there are prosecutors and lawyers who study these cases to see how well the evidence would stand up in court, to determine if it could be challenged or not. It is not just about police resources; it is also about the Criminal Code and giving the courts the interpretation tools they need.
I am not saying that adding police resources is not a good thing. I am thinking of course about the Carcajou squad, in Montreal, and GRICO. It is indeed a good thing. When, in a special squad, you have the means to shadow individuals, the more people you have in your squad, the easier it is not just to build solid cases but to act quickly.
There is something that must never be forgotten. You know how devious the whole field of law is. You know the effect one decision can have on case law and how it can change the course of law. I know that my colleague, the member for Berthier-Montcalm, who is a lawyer, one of the best I would say, but not a criminal lawyer, is aware of the 1992 Stinchcombe ruling. How did this affect case law? It meant that, with respect to disclosure of evidence, the public prosecutor is obliged to file, before the trial, all the elements that contributed to the evidence.
This means that all information regarding a tail, personal notes, videotaped material, everything that contributed to the evidence must be handed over to the defence. This is fraught with consequences, because it forces those building cases to be extremely imaginative, extremely innovative in order to outwit their opponents from one trial or investigation to the next.
On the whole, I think this is a bill that deserves our support. As the opposition, we are going to co-operate. We did so today. We have acted very expeditiously.
I say again to the minister that, whatever we can do, whatever forum he would like to send us to, whatever demonstration we can take part in to ensure that this bill is passed before the imminent election that you know will see us back here as the official opposition, just as we are now, we will co-operate.
If the minister wants us to make representations to the other House to help things along, we are prepared to do so because we have known for several months that partisanship has no place in this issue of organized crime. All my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois agree with me that, when public safety is at stake, when the tranquillity of entire sections of the community are threatened, we have a responsibility to act quickly, not to be complacent.
That is what we have done as the official opposition and that is what we will continue to do in the coming days.