moved that Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment), be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to have this opportunity at third reading 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 my bill, Bill C-394, is to protect Canadians, especially, our youth, by making the act of criminal organization recruitment, in other words, gang recruitment, a criminal 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 this House, and every Canadian, would agree that today's youth will one day define the course of this country, and that course will be determined by the types of opportunities our youth are provided.
Young Canadians today have a sense of vulnerability about them. There are challenges that all youth face. My three young children constantly remind me of how important it is as a parent to provide for their safety and to protect them from any real or potential danger.
Every single parent in the world wants the best for his or her children. All parents want to provide their children with every opportunity to succeed. To do this, we must strive to create a safe environment in which our children are free to grow and explore their potential. Unfortunately, not every young person gets to experience the life that he or she deserves. Sometimes the pressures to fit in or to join a certain group are just too overwhelming, leaving youth helpless 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 our youth under the age of 12 and as young as eight.
These ruthless gangs pursue our youth for several reasons. They know that those falling within this 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. Innocent Canadians are being manipulated 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 in Regina, Saskatchewan, 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 these gangs. This means that children who should have been playing soccer in a schoolyard are carrying weapons, drugs and money for gangs. In the eyes of the gangs, these youth are dispensable and easily controlled. It is worrisome and heartbreaking that Canada's most wanted criminal organizations actively recruit our youth and teenagers.
How can we, as a nation, sit by and watch while this happens?
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 the 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 street. 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 ethic, 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 he did, he was never really out of the gang. People that he recruited into the gang have experienced the same pain as him. He looked me in the eyes and asked “By recruiting others into the gang, how many lives did I ruin? How many families did I hurt? How many people have experienced pain at my hands?”
As a member of Parliament, I know there is more we can do.
In 2006, CSIS estimated the number of street gang members under the age of 30 was approximately 11,000. The report cautioned that this number would continue to grow rapidly over the coming years.
In the region of Peel, which my family and I call home, the number of gangs has exploded in the past few years. In 2003, there were just 39. Today there are well over 110 street gangs within our neighbourhoods. This means 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 homes or let their children out to play. 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 two-fold.
First and foremost, we are seeking to further protect our youth and our 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, our streets and our 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. This is about protecting our children, our neighbourhoods and our future. Criminal organizations use fear, intimidation and violence to advance their objectives and grow within our communities. This behaviour cannot be tolerated any longer.
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 our great nation in order to discuss this issue. The valuable insights I gained were used in the development of this legislation. We spoke with numerous stakeholders and law enforcement agencies across the country, which praised the bill's direction, scope, focus and resourcefulness.
This legislation was recently studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. During its study, the committee heard witness testimony from a Winnipeg police officer who had spent over six and a half years working in his department's anti-gang unit. In his statement to the committee, this officer testified that gang recruitment was targeting younger and younger Canadian youth. He explained that in his city of Winnipeg, 10-year-olds were being actively recruited into gangs.
Fifteen-year-olds are on charge for murder who were driven to kill by older gang members who knew they would face much lesser penalties. He went on to testify that:
—tackling recruitment and making it illegal is very important, because often when these people are recruited at a young age, they don't understand the life they're getting into. They see it as having rock-star status in the media. Popular culture makes it look like it's something to do. It's not until they're in it and they've been in it for two, three, or four years at age 15 that they realize the road they're going down. There aren't riches, there isn't fame and fortune, and they cannot leave the gang.
Further to this witness testimony, the committee also heard from the minister of justice for Manitoba, the Hon. Andrew Swan. Also supportive of the bill, the minister stated:
This bill would provide guaranteed consequences, which...are needed in order to take on those who would recruit young people into gangs. It also increases the range of penalties that could be imposed by a court if somebody were found guilty of this provision.
We have a front line police officer and a justice official who both support the bill and believe it would benefit police and justice officials in helping to stop the recruitment of young individuals into gangs.
Youth gang membership has grown, and will continue to grow, in our country if we sit back and do nothing. Bill C-394 would allow our justice system to appropriately hold those who recruited individuals into criminal organizations accountable for their devastating actions. By doing so, we would be able to help take these dangerous criminals off our streets.
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 Club of Winnipeg, he told me a story that exemplified the need for this proposed legislation.
At one of its 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 the community currently face.
Education and prevention programs are important, but they are only a part of our response to this going problem. We need to provide our front line police officers and justice officials 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 into gangs. 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 and fight back.
In conclusion, we have an opportunity, not just as members of Parliament but as Canadians, to come together and make a difference, which will protect our youth and our neighbourhoods.
I urge each and every one of my colleagues in the House to view the bill for what it is: an important new tool in our criminal justice system that would benefit families, communities and future generations.
It is time 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 they deserve to live.