Bill C-394 amends the Criminal Code to create a new offence in relation to organized crime, namely recruiting a person to join a criminal organization. The NDP supports this bill as part of a response to the problem of gang recruitment, particularly of young people.
Upon reading the text, we find that the bill was amended by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. One amendment adds the concept of coercion to the new offence. The others are designed to ensure consistency between the English and French versions, and in the terminology used in the Criminal Code. The bill was examined for three hours by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
As a member of the committee, I had an opportunity to hear valuable and thought-provoking testimony, and to question witnesses. I also had an opportunity to take part in interesting exchanges with my colleagues on the committee. The phenomenon of recruitment, mainly of young people, by gangs presents a real problem, which calls for a balanced public safety approach, that is an approach combining prevention and enforcement.
In the NDP, we believe that this bill contains part of the answer to the problem, but in committee we pointed out that the creation of a new offence amending the Criminal Code with the addition of section 467.111 is the outcome of a private member’s bill, not a government bill. The government should make changes to its policy to deal with street gangs. Let me pursue this point further.
The street gang phenomenon is so important in our country that the government should adopt a strategy to deal with these criminal organizations. The government should find effective solutions for the problem of recruitment by criminal organizations.
Representatives of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada came to testify before the committee. This Canada-wide organization provides guidance and assistance to young Canadians who are marginalized or in difficulty, work that is essential to social cohesion in our country.
I would like to quote Marlene Deboisbriand, vice-president of that organization, regarding the importance of these clubs in Canada:
Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada is a leading provider of quality programs that support the healthy development of children and youth. Our association of over 100 clubs reaches over 200,000 children, youth, and their families across the country. We are in 500 community locations from coast to coast to coast.
These representatives emphasized the need for funding for prevention programs:
We are not opposed to Bill C-394. Our concerns are mostly related to the need for enhanced prevention efforts....and rehabilitative programs for youth who want to rebuild their lives outside gangs.
The testimony given by Rachel Gouin of Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada was very compelling. She addressed three important points.
First of all, is it very important that public authorities take a comprehensive approach to the complex phenomenon of the recruitment of young people into gangs. Targeted punitive measures like this one, combined with adequate police action to catch people who are recruiting, would be best. However, these measures must be accompanied by programs and social services geared towards housing assistance, mental health support and employment assistance.
Secondly, recruiters are sometimes children or teenagers themselves. As Ms. Gouin said in her testimony, the scope of this bill does not apply to them. Children and youth have their own criminal justice system, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The third point, which is related to the first, is the importance of continuity of funding for prevention programs that target both those likely to do the recruiting and those likely to be recruited.
The Youth Justice Services Funding Program helps the provinces establish rehabilitation services for these people. It is regrettable that budget cuts have affected this program.
The presentation by Manitoba's attorney general was also very important. The NDP paid close attention to what he said. Our only amendment to the bill, presented in committee, came out of this evidence. The attorney general said:
...we believe Bill C-394 could be improved by being applied to anyone recruiting in places where youth are expected to gather, the very places I think all of us want to keep safe, such as schools and schoolyards, community centres, friendship centres, and parks—places where we want it to be safe for young people to go.
The NDP presented an amendment concerning sentencing. It would ensure that the court take into consideration elements of proof establishing the recruitment of someone under 18 into a gang, near a school or community centre, for example, as aggravating factors. Our excellent amendment was hotly debated and the Conservatives unfortunately decided to reject it.
The NDP has always been proactive when it comes to public safety. On the one hand, we want more money for crime prevention programs. On the other, we want police forces to have the resources needed to adequately protect communities across Canada. It is therefore important to continue to collaborate with the provinces, the territories and first nations.
In closing, this bill is a solution to the problem of recruitment by gangs, but it is not the only one.
We support this bill. However, we are asking the government to do more. An approach that strikes a balance between repression and prevention must always prevail when it comes to public safety.