I am obviously in favour of such a proposal and urge all members to support its passage into law.
The issue of gang recruitment is a serious one, and it requires a multi-faceted response. Neither I nor my colleagues are naive enough to think that this bill, by itself, will solve the problem of gang recruitment. However, we believe that a criminal justice system plays an extremely important role in the overall strategy to respond to organized crime.
It is also obvious that prevention efforts must be put in place so that those newly involved in organized crime, or those who are thinking about joining a gang, are meaningfully deterred from these opportunities. This is particularly true when those efforts are targeting young people who have not yet gone down the path to a life of serious crime.
As has already been said, this government has, through budget 2011, invested $10 million to support youth gang prevention activities. It is also important to recall that the government, in 2009, amended the Criminal Code to strengthen the gang peace bond provisions. As members may know, peace bonds require an individual to agree to specific conditions to keep the peace. They can be issued when it is feared, on reasonable grounds, that persons will join a criminal organization and commit a criminal organization offence.
I am told that these provisions of the Criminal Code are frequently relied upon by police in cities such as Winnipeg and Toronto and are an important prevention tool in the fight against organized crime. The government recognizes the value of prevention, but we must do more.
There is, however, a need to recognize the limits of prevention. Many of those involved in organized crime are hardened criminals who will not be dissuaded by prevention activities. Frankly speaking, many of these same individuals are not dissuaded by the possibility of jail time. They see that such a possibility is part of the cost of doing business.
In such cases, the criminal law must respond clearly to behaviours society has deemed unacceptable. In this respect, the proposal to create a stand-alone offence to target gang recruitment is appropriate. In doing so, we ensure that there is a full spectrum of responses to recruitment practices. We also make clear our disapproval and our belief that such conduct must be denounced, deterred, and punished, given the increased threats to society posed by larger criminal organizations.
In looking at the proposed offence, it is important to be clear that it is not targeting the mere association of individuals. Rather, the focus of the offence is recruitment done for the purposes of enhancing the ability of criminal organizations to facilitate or commit an indictable offence.
The proposed offence's focus is consistent with the purpose of the existing participation offence found at section 467.11 of the Criminal Code and is now well understood by the courts in Canada. In this respect, the jurisprudence under this existing participation offence will likely be helpful in informing the correct interpretation of the proposed offence as it is used by police and prosecutors.
For example, the concept of facilitation has been interpreted on many occasions to mean “to make easier”. Accordingly, I expect that this new offence will be quickly relied upon and will be familiar to many in the criminal justice system.
I would also like to take a moment to address the concerns expressed by some that the new offence is not required, as the existing participation offence already addresses recruitment. As my colleague from Delta—Richmond previously stated, laws must not only be clear, but must be clearly understood. This is an important principle and one that I will strongly support. Our laws must be accessible to all Canadians, police, prosecutors, and the courts. Clearly written and clearly understood laws make the identification of relevant evidence easier for police and make the job of the prosecutor easier.
Clear laws benefit accused individuals as they help to ensure that they properly understand what is and is not legal. And of course, clear laws help the courts in determining guilt or innocence.
This is particularly important in the area of organized crime. I am aware that a common concern expressed by police and prosecutors, in investigating this type of crime, is that the laws are complex. While the proposed amendments will not address all of the complexities, they will certainly assist in making obvious to all that the act of recruiting someone to join a criminal organization is a form of participation and is therefore liable to sanction.
I would also note in passing that terrorism offences, which are modelled on the organized crime offences, also deal with the issue of recruitment. For example, the participation in activity of terrorist group offences found at 83.18 of the Criminal Code makes explicit that participating in the activities of a terrorist group include recruitment. While this is all included in one single offence, in my opinion, there is nothing different, from a policy perspective, in making this explicit in a single offence, as is done in terrorism, or in two offences, as is proposed through Bill C-394. The result is the same.
In addition to establishing a new offence, this private member's bill, Bill C-394, makes a number of other consequential amendments to ensure that the new offence is subject to the same special rules in the area of criminal procedure, evidence and sentencing as are the existing organized crime offences. This makes perfect sense and I support these proposals.
Let me close by noting the following as stated in the recently released seventh report, of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, entitled “The State of Organized Crime”:
Organized crime poses a serious long-term threat to Canada’s institutions, society, economy, and to our individual quality of life.
We must take all steps possible to ensure that our responses to these threats constantly evolve, so that our children are safe to grow and play in their communities, our businesses thrive, and our quality of life is preserved.
I urge all members to support Bill C-394.