Mr. Speaker, if I took all 18 minutes, I am still not sure it would be enough. I get so excited when I talk about this subject.
Before the break I was talking about how difficult the challenges are when gangs get into fights with each other and the resulting human loss. The impact goes beyond the criminal subculture. In recent years there have been too many incidents where innocent Canadians have been killed as a result of gang activity. We have come to know their stories very well. For the most part, these victims lived and worked in our major cities, in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. These tragedies remind us that the threats we face are very real.
During my visit to Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, I met with law enforcement agencies. They were very supportive of this organized crime legislation, as well as its companion piece, Bill C-15, the mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug offences. However, the officials did ask me to continue to do more. I have heard their requests. As a response, I have indicated to them that once we get these pieces of legislation passed, we have more. Indeed, today I introduced amendments to the Anti-terrorism Act to give law enforcement agencies the tools they have demanded over the years to combat terrorism in this country.
We must remain vigilant to ensure our citizens are protected from the full range of activities engaged in by organized crime. We take these threats seriously and view ensuring the safety and security of our people as one of the highest responsibilities of our government. Canadians are rightly concerned and they want action. In a 2007 survey on this issue, Canadians indicated that they believed organized crime is as serious a threat to Canada as terrorism. Nearly half of those surveyed indicated that they felt they were personally affected by organized crime. Approximately 89% of those surveyed know that organized crime is linked to drug trafficking. Just over half indicated that the new legislation was required to more effectively address organized crime.
Canadians are also voicing their concerns with their actions and their pens. Very recently, concerned citizens in British Columbia came together to publicly express their outrage with the gang violence that is impacting their lives. In short, they said that enough is enough. So, too, have the residents of the Hobbema reserve in Alberta. I have received letters from concerned residents there urging me and our government to take decisive action to address the threats that gangs are posing to their communities.
This government agrees that enough is enough and believes it is time to strengthen the criminal justice system so that offenders are properly held to account. Broadly speaking, this bill focuses on four areas: making gang murders automatically first degree; creating a new offence to target drive-by and other reckless shootings; fortifying the scheme for responding to assaults against police and other peace and public officers; and strengthening the gang peace bond provisions.
Taken together, these improvements to our criminal law will provide powerful new tools for law enforcement to respond to the destructive impacts that organized crime has on our communities. How will they do this? With respect to murders that can be linked to organized crime, we are proposing amendments that would automatically treat these cases as first degree murder regardless of whether they were planned and deliberate. These are, in my opinion, extremely important amendments.
I have already spoken of some of the innocent victims of gang violence, but I also want to provide some additional context on the seriousness of the issue. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, in 2007 there were 117 gang-related homicides in Canada. In fact, gang-related homicides now account for approximately 20% of all murders in Canada. In British Columbia, I was told that that number is approximately 40%. This is to be contrasted with the fact that, for the most part, the homicide rate is decreasing in Canada. This troubling trend of gang-related homicides demands immediate attention.
Our proposed amendments provide two separate tests to address murders that are connected to organized crime.
First, if it can be established that the murder itself was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, then it will be classified as first degree murder even in the absence of planning or deliberation.
Second, if it can be established that the murder occurred while the person was committing or attempting to commit another indictable offence for the benefit of, or at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, then it will be classified as first degree murder. The person would have to be guilty of murder, of course, in the circumstances. I want to emphasize we are not talking about some form of constructive murder or raising manslaughter to murder in these circumstances. Rather, the effect of the provision would be to make any murder committed in the course of another criminal organization offence first degree rather than second degree.
A person found guilty of first degree murder is sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for 25 years.
These amendments to section 231 of our Criminal Code mean that police officers and prosecutors have another set of tools to treat gang murders as the extremely serious cases that they are.
We also are proposing that a new offence be added to the Criminal Code which would target drive-by and other intentional shootings involving reckless disregard for the life or safety of others.
I believe this new offence will be of immense benefit to those on the front line investigating and prosecuting many of these public shooting cases.
Currently offences available to prosecute these kinds of cases include careless use of a firearm or discharge of a firearm with intent to cause bodily harm. The negligence based offences do not appropriately capture the severity of a drive-by scenario which involves consciously reckless conduct.
Section 244 on the other hand requires proof that the firearm was discharged at a particular person with a specific intent to cause bodily harm, and this is not good enough. While more appropriate if the shooter does have a particular target, it can sometimes be difficult to prove a drive-by shooting scenario where the intent is to intimidate a rival gang, or in many cases the shooter may just be firing wildly without any particular target.
Our proposed offence will fill a gap in the Criminal Code and provide a tailored response to this behaviour. This new offence requires proof that the accused specifically turned his or her mind to the fact that discharging his or her firearm would jeopardize the life or safety of another person, and appreciating this fact, the accused still went ahead. Quite simply, these individuals just do not care.
Canadians should rightly feel outrage at the wanton disregard that is shown for their safety when members of organized criminal groups, such as street gangs, carry out drive-by or other reckless shootings. This kind of criminal behaviour is deserving of more serious penalties and we are prepared to accommodate that.
The proposed penalty scheme mirrors that of similar serious offences involving the use of firearms, such as section 244. This offence would be punishable by a mandatory prison term of four years, up to a maximum of fourteen years. The mandatory sentence would increase to five years if the offence was committed for the benefit of, or at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, or involved the use of a prohibited or restricted firearm, such as a handgun or automatic firearm.
In addition, repeat offenders in these circumstances would be subject to a higher mandatory penalty of seven years' imprisonment. It sends the message: five years the first time, but understanding that some people do not always get the message the first time, they get seven years in the hope that this will impress upon them the seriousness of their actions.
As is already the case in the Criminal Code, there is a listed class of serious offences involving the use of firearms. Under our legislation these serious offences would qualify as a previous offence for the purposes of the increased mandatory jail term. As is clear, this new offence would provide a powerful new tool to target not only drive-by shootings but any shooting which involves consciously reckless behaviour.
The third area of reform relates to assaults committed against police, peace and public officers and those who are entrusted with maintaining law and order and preserving public peace.
The Criminal Code currently treats some acts of violence committed against peace officers separately from the same acts committed against the general public. For example, section 270 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to assault a police officer in the execution of his or her duties.
At the other end of the spectrum, section 231 of the Criminal Code automatically classifies the murder of a peace officer acting in the course of his or her duties as first degree murder, regardless of whether it was planned and deliberate. However, there are no offences covering the middle range of behaviour, which are assaults that involve weapons or cause bodily harm or aggravated assaults directed at these individuals. We are proposing to fill that gap in the Criminal Code's treatment of violent acts committed against police and peace officers by creating these two new offences. It is time that these changes be made.
The first offence would prohibit the assault of a peace officer involving a weapon or which causes bodily harm. This would be a hybrid offence punishable by a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment on indictment. The second offence would prohibit the aggravated assault of a peace officer. This would be a straight indictable offence punishable by a maximum of 14 years.
Taken together, these two offences along with the existing offences would create a complete and separate scheme within the Criminal Code to respond to violence committed against peace officers carrying out their duties. These amendments will address assaults not only on police officers, but on prison guards, wardens, border and coast guards to name just a few.
These amendments send out a clear message: assaults committed against law enforcement officers will not be tolerated. These attacks not only put the lives or safety of the individual officers at risk, they also attack and undermine the justice system more broadly.
In order to ensure that these offences are adequately punished, we have proposed amendments that would require a court, when sentencing an offender for any of the specific offences targeting assaults against police officers, to give primary consideration to the principles of denunciation and deterrence.
The same principle would also apply to cases involving the intimidation of justice system participants, including judges, prosecutors, jurors, and many others who play an important role in the criminal justice system. This conduct is expressly designed to undermine the rule of law and the justice system more broadly and must be strongly denounced and punished.
The fourth issue that is being addressed in this bill relates to the use of the recognizance order that is specifically aimed at preventing the commission of an organized crime offence, terrorist offence or intimidation of a justice system participant offence. Section 810.01 was first added to the Criminal Code in 1998 and its purpose, as with other recognizance orders, is the prevention of future harm.
Ten years later, in 2008, our government's Tackling Violent Crime Act was passed. Among other things, that legislation made changes to strengthen the recognizance provisions that address serious personal injury offences and certain sexual offences against children.
We are now proposing similar amendments to the gang peace bond provisions. Specifically, we are making changes to clarify that when imposing conditions as part of the order, a judge has very broad discretion to order any reasonable conditions that are desirable in order to secure the good conduct of the person before the court. This flexibility is extremely important because it provides those dealing with these persons with the framework they need to craft the most appropriate response to address the particular facts and circumstances of the case at hand. This helps avoid a cookie cutter approach and will result in more effective conditions being ordered. Any breaches of the conditions imposed will make the person subject to prosecution for the breach.
The second significant change we are proposing in this area relates to the length of the peace bond. Like the Tackling Violent Crime Act, we are proposing that the duration of the peace bonds be up to two years when it is established that the defendant has been previously convicted of an organized crime offence, a terrorism offence, or an intimidation of a justice system participant offence.
In the case of repeat offenders, 12 months was often not enough time and this would necessitate a prosecutor having to go back to court to seek a new order. This change will assist in that regard and thereby ease some of the burdens faced by those responsible for the administration of justice.
This bill includes a number of other supporting provisions that I will briefly highlight.
We are proposing to add the offences created by this bill and existing offence to section 183 of the Criminal Code in order to give police officers the ability to seek a wiretap authorization when investigating these crimes.
The bill would apply this to the two new peace officer assault offences, the new offence targeting drive-by and other reckless shootings, and the existing offence of discharging a firearm with intent to cause bodily harm. This will be welcome by police agencies across this country.
In addition, we are proposing to add new offences to the list of offences that are considered to be primary designated offences for the purposes of the DNA data bank.
I would be remiss in discussing these proposals if I did not acknowledge the tremendous level of co-operation between myself, my provincial and territorial counterparts, and the members of my own caucus. I have to say that the dialogue that I have had with them, the support that I have received from them and the encouragement they have received from their constituents to get behind these pieces of legislation has been very edifying and gratifying for me. A number of organizations, such as the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, have supported a number of the recommendations.
Again, this is exactly what this country needs. These are steps in the right direction. As I indicated during question period and in the brief time I had prior to question period, this is just one of a number of measures that we are taking as a government. We also have the bill, which I call a companion piece to this, on drugs that sends out the right message to people who want to get involved with the drug trade. This is an important component of it.
When people ask me about this and about that, I always tell them that we have a lot more to do in this area and we are just the group of individuals who are prepared to do that.