That the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights presented on Wednesday, March 28, 2012, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to present the motion that the report be concurred in. Organized crime in Canada is something that has been studied for a number of years by the justice committee. I was not involved at the commencement of it, but I was there in the session last spring for the preparation of the report and the hearing of the final number of witnesses.
My predecessor as justice critic, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh, now the The Deputy Speaker of the House, was very much involved in the organized crime study. We took great interest in trying to find mechanisms that were going to work to take on organized crime and fix some of the issues within the justice system that made it ineffective and difficult to prosecute.
In fact, we had witnesses before the committee who talked about the issues and the difficulties. A prosecutor from Quebec talked about the difficulties with the prosecution of the Hell's Angels in Quebec and the breakup of the Banditos biker gang. They had to take very significant extraordinary measures in order to be able to carry out the prosecution of this very difficult element of organized crime in the province of Quebec.
It included the creation of specialized police task forces and the participation of a variety of different police agencies working together; lengthy police investigations, which targeted the whole criminal organization at all levels; the use of civil infiltration agents, which can be controversial but nevertheless were necessary; the creation of specialized teams of prosecutors such as the proceeds of crime bureau in 1996 and the organized crime bureau in 2000; and the construction of a particular courthouse, a special judicial services centre, in order to be able to have the kind of security that was needed to carry out these special prosecutions. As well, the renovation of several courtrooms around Quebec allowed for the holding of several megatrials in different places at the same time.
On the issue of megatrials, it is important to know that these create enormous difficulties for the judicial system. We have a system that assumes one is innocent until proven guilty and has myriad provisions for the protection of people who are accused of crime because of the consequences of the loss of liberty. These are important safeguards in our criminal justice system. We have our Charter of Rights and a system of justice that depends on the rule of law and not on the fact that someone decides that someone else is a criminal, so we have to prove these things.
In a significant trial such as the biker gang trials, for want of a better name, we have a large number of defendants, complicated procedures, multiple defence counsels acting at the same time, complicated provisions and the difficulty of the judge handling the case having to manage all of that.
As a result, our party co-operated with your suggestion, Mr. Speaker, that there be special legislation brought forward to deal with megatrials during the course of this study so that, at least, changes would be put in place to allow for a more proper and reasonable way to deal with them that would allow the administration of these trials to take place without compromising the rule of law, the presumption of innocence or the other protections that all citizens are entitled to.
We just cannot jump to conclusions in criminal matters, even if we are prosecuting someone we believe, and have evidence to support that belief, is engaged in a criminal activity or a criminal organization. We still have to provide that proof according to law at a fair trial. The shorthand in criminal law is that we have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a trial that takes place in accordance with law.
Before I get too much into the report, I want to say that we need to have some special rules to deal with criminal organizations in Canada, but we have to be careful about what we are doing here. We must make sure that we are not using the notion of the existence of criminal gangs to frighten Canadians into believing that crime is everywhere and that we require extraordinary measures that ignore the rule of law and basic fundamental rights in our society, which could affect everybody. We have to ensure that all citizens have the right to fair treatment by our legal and judicial systems.
It is important to note that Canadians do feel safe. In 2009, a study done under the Statistics Canada rubric determined that 93% of Canadians felt either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their personal safety. It indicated they felt as safe as they had when the 2004 study was undertaken five years previously. Of the respondents, 90% said they felt safe when walking alone in their neighbourhood at night. When asked about the perception of crime in their communities, 62% of respondents said they believed the crime rate in their community had not changed over the past five years. There is a general feeling of community safety across the country. There is no fear in the land.
In some respects it is ironic that when we look at the news on the television, particularly local television, a great deal of time is taken up with the reporting of court cases and what happens in the courts. Those types of stories always make the headlines in the local newspapers and television shows. They are easy to report and there are visuals of people being brought before the courts. Also, we have the overlay of American television with its extremely high crime rates and large numbers of homicides. Canadians seem to be able to filter through that and understand the difference between what is on TV and what their reality actually is.
I say that because it does belie the mantra we hear from the government on an ongoing basis, day after day, week after week, about how all these crimes are being committed and we need to take extraordinary measures and go into a whole series of extraordinary sentencing provisions, mandatory minimums, that fill up prisons. While the government does not like evidence-based decision making and seems to base most of its decisions on ideological approaches, the evidence is that these approaches will not work in terms of prevention.
On the other hand, with so many people in prison, we are now at the point where double-bunking is becoming the norm and will be, according to certain information recently released or leaked. Taking the general disapproval of double-bunking out of Correctional Services Canada's mandate and manual is an indication that the government considers double-bunking in prisons as something that is standard, natural and to be expected.
There have been a number of articles written on the results of that, and one recently, decrying that the provision is not only expensive but it would increase bad behaviour, illnesses and the brutalization of one inmate to another. As a result of overcrowding, it would cause an increase in crime and costs, a lack of rehabilitation programs, an increase in recidivism, et cetera. Those are some of the negatives of that.
It is worthwhile saying that, on the whole, Canadians are not buying the notion that we have a major crime wave happening and that we need to be protected by extraordinary provisions and by being tough on criminals, while not necessarily doing what needs to be done to actually prevent the crime.
According to the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, we have approximately between 700 and 900 criminal organizations in Canada. We have to be careful when we say that, because a criminal organization is not the same as a gang. It does not have to be a major organization. For the purpose of the law, any three people who work together with the purpose of committing ongoing criminal activity can be considered a criminal organization.
There was a concern among defence counsel over the years about calling three people who committed a crime together a criminal organization was an extraordinary measure, but that concern has been looked after.
In 2002 the number of people required to constitute a criminal organization was reduced from five down to three. The requirement that at least one of the members be involved in committing crimes for the organization within the past five years was also removed. There was also a broadening of the scope of offences that defined a criminal organization, which was previously limited to indictable offences punishable by five years. The term criminal organization does not mean a group of people who form randomly for the immediate commission of a single offence. Again, that is still on the edge of what ordinary people would consider a criminal organization.
There are three specific offences in relation to criminal organizations. The first has to do with the participation in the activities of a criminal organization, which is punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years. The second one is the commission of an offence for a criminal organization. The third is instructing the commission of an offence for the criminal organization. These offences are aimed at people working together in a criminal organization. Participating in that organization is deemed to be a crime, and it would have to be shown that the organization is engaged in committing crime. These are the basics of having a criminal organization, and the activities and offences that are designed to cut down on the number of criminal offences.
In Canada in terms of the criminal market that takes place with groups, the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada in 2001 reported that financial crime accounted for approximately 11% of that activity. We are talking about things such as payment card fraud, which is the largest part of that market and continues to expand, card thefts, fraudulent card applications, fake deposits and so on. Securities and mortgage fraud is another area of the financial crime market in which organized crime has an interest.
Thirty-two per cent of criminal market activity is taken up with other illicit goods and services including theft, contraband such as alcohol and tobacco, the sex trade and human trafficking. Legislation often mentions foreigners engaged in human trafficking or bringing people into the country. The committee was told that by far the largest amount of human trafficking that takes place in Canada is actually domestic, that is Canadian girls being trafficked within Canada, and it is done through organized crime networks. Street gangs facilitate the recruitment, control, movement and exploitation of Canadian-born females in the domestic sex trade primarily in strip bars in several cities across the country.
We do have an important and crucial role to play in trying to prevent the exploitation and trafficking of young women in particular through criminal activity. We need to take special measures to ensure that the people engaged in that criminal activity can be prosecuted and punished and deterred.
The official opposition provided a supplementary report to the report tabled on March 12 in which we indicated that, while we supported the majority of the recommendations in the report and worked collaboratively with the other parties on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with the objective of recommending new strategies for the government in the fight against criminal activity and criminal organizations, we promoted an effective and balanced approach to combatting organized crime. Some of the measures that are in the report we do not support.
Our approach has involved the emphasis on three pillars: prevention, policing and prosecution. It is founded on the conviction that the fight against organized crime must be taken to its root in the recruitment of youth into street gangs and into this kind of criminal activity.
Obviously, there is a need for some of the measures that have been implemented here. In terms of prosecution and having a proper foundation for megatrials, we worked with the government to pass Bill C-2 in June 2011 in order to do that. We wanted to ensure that the judiciary had the necessary tools to make an effective prosecution when dealing with megatrials. Through this balanced and effective approach, we supported the majority of the recommendations.
Unfortunately, the government fell back to its knee-jerk reaction, to the things that it wants, to paint in one corner, by using mandatory minimum sentences. We have opposed that consistently.
We also found objectionable the first recommendation following paragraph 100 recommending the amendment of the Criminal Code to impose mandatory minimum sentences for criminal organization offences. We do not believe that is necessary. Judges across the land share the concern that all of us have, which is that organized criminal activity is a scourge on communities and that significant sentences are being imposed and will continue to be imposed to provide the kind of deterrence that is necessary to help persuade and ensure that we do not have large numbers of people engaged in criminal activity. In fact, some of the offences, for example, members of criminal organizations who instruct individuals to commit an offence, in other words, carrying out in an organized way and actually telling people to do criminal acts, they are already liable to life imprisonment under section 467.13 of the Criminal Code of Canada. They are already taken extremely seriously by the law and by the judges.
We are concerned about the proposed disclosure model, which could potentially require defence counsel to disclose its plan of defence to the crown. It is not adequate to avoid that. We are concerned about the change recommended here that would allow electronic eavesdropping without proper judicial oversight and the need for warrants in all cases. It is an unnecessary expansion of powers. We have fought against this and will continue to fight against it.
One of the serious problems is that not enough attention is being paid to legal aid, so we end up having people defending themselves, which slows down prosecutions and makes it more difficult to do so.