Mr. Speaker, from the outset, I can say that the NDP will vote in favour of Bill C-394 at second reading, but that does not mean we are signing a blank cheque. We will study Bill C-394 at length in committee with the help of expert witnesses, and we will do a comprehensive clause-by-clause review in committee and make any necessary amendments.
I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment). This private member's bill amends the Criminal Code in order to create a new offence related to organized crime: criminal organization recruitment.
There is currently a set of rules in the Criminal Code that prohibit criminal organizations: participation in activities of a criminal organization, commission of an offence for a criminal organization and instructing a person to commit an offence for a criminal organization. The bill being debated in the House today seeks to add a fourth offence to the Criminal Code: the recruitment of an individual to join a criminal organization, as defined by the Criminal Code, for the purpose of enhancing the criminal organization's ability to facilitate or commit a criminal offence.
With this bill, my hon. colleague hopes to put the brakes on recruitment by gangs. Gangs are criminal organizations that have operated in a number of Canadian provinces for decades. They exist in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. They are flourishing and must be condemned in no uncertain terms.
The configuration of gangs is changing, and more and more young people are joining these criminal groups. Gangs target young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have family problems. Gangs also target girls and have been observed recruiting in prisons. Consequently, the make-up of gangs can vary. Therefore, I congratulate my hon. colleague for introducing this bill, which is a first step in solving the problem of gangs.
Public safety is a priority for the official opposition, and we always take a great interest in analyzing bills that will amend the Criminal Code. However, although I acknowledge the legitimacy of the bill sponsored by my hon. colleague, I must admit that I find the penalty for this new offence to be inappropriate.
The bill sets out a five-year maximum sentence and a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for recruitment of a minor. The very principle of a mandatory minimum is open to criticism from a legal perspective because it deprives the judge of discretionary power, which is a basic tenet of criminal law. The penalty set out in this bill would, once again, encroach on the judge's sentencing powers.
Enhancing the legal arsenal for gang suppression is important, but it is not enough to solve the gang problem and minimize their impact on society. Prevention and suppression always go hand in hand, and we support programs designed to help young people in cities with a gang presence so that our society can enable everyone to develop in a positive way.
I think we should support work done in collaboration with various stakeholders to curb this situation. By way of explanation, I would like to quote Louis Lacroix, the project manager at the Centre of Expertise on Juvenile Crime and Behavioural Disorders and coordinator of the Programme de suivi intensif de Montréal:
Each of us was doing good work in our individual areas of expertise, but no one was successfully addressing the street gang problem. American studies show that coordinated approaches in the community are more successful than when we all work in isolation.
Various projects were therefore created in a number of provinces and the following stakeholders participated: the federal government through the National Crime Prevention Centre, schools, associations, the music industry, foundations, banks, municipalities, the legal community, correctional services and the police. It is important to put forward these initiatives, and it is up to the government to promote them.
It is also essential to be able to give front-line police officers financial and human resources. However, it seems that the current government has failed in this responsibility and has not taken into account the suggestions made by professionals who deal with gangs every day. This time, I would like to cite the comparative report on types of intervention used for youth at risk of joining a street gang, released in 2011.
[A] meeting of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, or the CACP, in 2009 produced the recommendation that a national anti-gang strategy be developed. The national strategy would ensure the “constant allocation of police resources” to deal effectively with the phenomenon....To date, this strategy has yet to be adopted.
One thing this shows is that the present government is refusing to fund municipal front-line officers, and this shows a glaring lack of vision on the part of the government when it comes to public safety.
The Conservatives may be showing the will to combat criminal organizations, including by making it an offence to recruit people into gangs, but they are not completely meeting the needs and expectations of our fellow Canadians.
In January 2011, the Conservatives announced a dramatic cut to the Youth Gang Prevention Fund. At the time, the NDP responded forcefully, pointing out the significant benefits of the prevention programs implemented under that fund. Thanks to the NDP, the Conservative government backpedalled a few months later and announced that the funding allocated to the program would now be permanent.
The Conservatives have also disappointed the provinces in the case of the allocation of funding under what was called the Police Officers Recruitment Fund for the provinces to recruit front-line police officers. The fund was created in 2008 and will end in 2013. Once again, the Conservatives have failed to keep their promise.
Canadians expect the members of this House to take reasonable measures in order to meet their expectations: to be able to live in crime-free, violence-free communities. This bill is one solution to the problem of individuals being recruited by gangs, but it is not the only solution. An approach that strikes a balance between punishment and prevention must always take precedence when it comes to public safety, and aiming for that balance is the way to ensure that Canadian society is more harmonious.