moved that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to share with the House the important measures introduced in Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment). The focal point of Bill C-394 is to protect Canadians, especially our youth, by making the act of criminal organization recruitment, or in other words gang recruitment, an offence under Canadian law.
All of us can agree that our youth are our future. This is a statement that holds no partisan or political undertone. Each one of us in the House and every Canadian would agree that our youth will define the trajectory of the country and that trajectory will be determined by the types of opportunities our youth are given.
Young Canadians today have a sense of vulnerability about them. There are challenges that all youth face. My three young children constantly remind me, as a parent, how important it is to provide for their safety and to protect them from any real or imagined dangers. Like every parent, I want the best for my children. I want them to be given every opportunity to succeed. To do this, I strive to create a safe environment in which they are free to grow and explore their potential.
Unfortunately, not all kids or teenagers get to experience the life they deserve. Sometimes the pressures to fit in or join a certain group are just too overwhelming, leaving youth vulnerable to those who might exploit their desire to belong. In a 2008 publication, the RCMP found that street gangs in Canada are increasingly aggressive with their recruitment tactics. In a disturbing trend, these criminal organizations are targeting youth under the age of 12 and as young as 8 years old.
These ruthless gangs pursue our vulnerable youth for several reasons. They know that those falling within this age range cannot be formally charged with a criminal offence. They also know that our youth can be easily pressured to participate in a variety of criminal activities. Our innocent and most vulnerable citizens are being manipulated, coerced and at times forced to embark on a life that no Canadian should ever experience. Gangs exploit our children by forcing them to participate in criminal activities such as drug dealing, robbery, theft and prostitution.
When I had the opportunity to speak with current and ex-gang members who led recruitment initiatives, they told me of a world that knew no boundaries. For instance, gang members will use drug addiction to manipulate potential recruits to take part in criminal activities that support the gang. This means that children, young kids who should have been playing soccer in school yards, are carrying weapons, drugs and money. In the eyes of gangs, these youth are dispensable and easily controlled.
It is worrisome and heartbreaking that Canada's most violent criminal organizations actively recruit youth and teenagers. How can we as a nation sit by and watch this happen?
I remember vividly what the director of the Regina Anti-Gang Services told me as we sat side by side in a small room among hardened gang members seeking to exit that lifestyle. She told me that, once recruited, these innocent children and teenagers were lost to the streets of the city forever. Promising young lives would vanish into the criminal culture forever. What makes this lifestyle so deadly is that leaving a gang is next to impossible.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a chance to speak with several former and current gang members. I sat beside a young man, a mere 19 years old, who had been a gang member for more than seven years. When I looked at him, I saw a kid. However, as we got deeper into a discussion about his past, there was nothing in his life that resembled that of a youth. He was recruited into a gang at a very young age. Instead of school, friends, family and sports, he was robbing drug dealers, attacking rival gang members and selling drugs on the streets.
This was a kid who excelled in a criminal organization because that was the only life he knew. I cannot help but picture his work ethics allowing him to lead an extraordinarily successful law-abiding life. Now he is battling a drug addiction and because he is seeking to exit the gang, he constantly looks over his shoulder fearing for his life. He told me that no matter what one does, one is never really out of the gang.
The people he recruited into the gang have experienced the same thing as he did. He looked me in the eye and asked, “By recruiting others into the gang, how many lives did I ruin? How many families did I hurt? And how many people have experienced pain at my hands?” What type of life is that for a young person?
We see lives being shattered by gangs, families destroyed and our community safety placed in jeopardy. As a father, I fear the presence and power that a gang wields over a community and its most vulnerable citizens. As a member of Parliament, I know there is more that we can do.
In 2006 CSIS estimated that the number of street gang members under the age of 30 was approximately 11,000. The report cautioned that the number would continue to grow rapidly over the coming years.
In the Peel region, which my family and I call home, the number of gangs has exploded in the last few years. In 2003 there were 39. Today there are well over 110 street gangs within our neighbourhoods. This means that more people live in fear, more young people are targeted and more violence is used.
Gang members in Canada have a blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of those around them. For instance, in some communities, families are afraid to leave their home or let their children play outside. Gangs also pose a significant risk for law enforcement officers. The increase in gang recruitment has far-reaching and systemic effects on our country as a whole. Our safety, security and well-being are placed in jeopardy.
The purpose of Bill C-394 is twofold.
First and foremost, we are seeking to further protect our youth and communities by criminalizing the act of gang recruitment. Far too many communities in Canada are facing a gang problem. It is vitally important that we maintain the security and safety of our neighbourhoods, streets and families.
By tackling gang recruitment, we can help reduce the number of innocent and vulnerable citizens who would otherwise be lost in this dead-end lifestyle forever. It is about protecting our children, neighbourhood and future. Criminal organizations use fear, intimidation and violence to advance their objective and grow within a community. This behaviour can no longer be tolerated.
Second, Bill C-394 is designed to provide law enforcement officers with additional tools to address gang recruitment. I had the opportunity to meet with numerous stakeholders across Canada to discuss this issue. The valuable insight we gained was used in the development of the bill. We spoke with several law enforcement officers who praised the bill's direction, scope, focus and resourcefulness.
The 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs, conducted under contract to the Solicitor General of Canada, was the first of its kind in the country. This landmark study identified some startling figures. Of 264 Canadian police services surveyed, 57% believed that the youth gang problem was getting worse. Most concerning was the fact that 44% reported that youth gang members had established a relationship with larger organized crime groups.
The common theme that we witnessed while meeting with law enforcement officers was that the more tools they had to fight what they called the “war on gangs”, the better the outcome could be. Bill C-394 has taken that request and seeks to augment current efforts.
Youth gang membership has and will continue to grow in the country if we sit back and do nothing.
Restorative and preventive approaches complement other justice responses to criminal activity, but they cannot replace them. Bill C-394 is focused on addressing the criminal actions that allow a gang to proliferate, strengthen and grow within our communities. We are tackling the criminal conduct that is destroying our youth's lives and placing others in jeopardy on a daily basis.
With this being said, I am strongly committed to supporting a balanced approach to gang recruitment by advancing preventive and education-based programs across this country. We are focusing on bolstering our law enforcement, legal and justice system to respond to the increasingly aggressive gang recruitment strategies that are ongoing.
Bill C-394 would allow our justice system to appropriately hold those who would recruit individuals into a criminal organization accountable for their devastating actions. By doing so, we will be able to take these dangerous criminals off our streets for good. This not only maintains the safety and security of our communities, but it offers the opportunity to severely inhibit a criminal organization's growth.
When I spoke with the president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, he told me a story that exemplified the need for this proposed legislation. At one of their inner-city club chapters, gang members will wait under the parking garage directly behind the building. Their sole purpose for being there is to engage those leaving the Boys and Girls Club in hopes of recruiting them into their gang, a targeted strategy that is not a coincidence.
This example highlights the reality that our youth in our communities face. Education and prevention programs are only a part of our response. We need to provide our justice system with the ability to respond through legal action.
Imagine for a moment if these children, youth and teenagers were empowered to report those trying to recruit them. Imagine if our community members knew that something could be done about gang recruiters who operated in their neighbourhood. It would empower communities to take action.
Today, we have an opportunity not just as members of Parliament, but as Canadians, to come together and make a difference in our neighbourhoods. I urge each member to view the bill for what it is: an important new tool in our criminal justice system that will benefit families, communities and future generations.
It is time that we take back our streets from criminal organizations that are increasingly tightening their grip on our freedoms, safety and security. It is time we take a stand so every child, teenager and adult can experience the life that they deserve to live.