Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-394, criminal organization recruitment, which aims to address the important issue of gang recruitment. Combatting organized crime has been a long-standing commitment of this government, and I would like to thank the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale for introducing Bill C-394, a bill that would very much continue to build on these efforts.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has reported this bill back to the House with a minor amendment, specifically relating to consistency between the English and French versions of the Criminal Code, and one additional amendment. Before I go on to address these amendments in more detail, allow me to say that this bill makes a strong statement against the serious problem of organized crime groups in this country.
Bill C-394 aims to ensure that the Criminal Code explicitly prohibits recruiting another person into a criminal organization. It does so by proposing a new indictable offence: actively recruiting, soliciting, encouraging or inviting another person to join a criminal organization for the purpose of enhancing the ability of that criminal organization to facilitate or commit indictable offences. The person doing the recruiting would not need to be a member of the criminal organization to which the individual is being recruited. This offence would be punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum penalty of imprisonment for six months if the individual recruited is under the age of 18.
The committee heard from many witnesses on this issue, and many of them emphasized just how important Bill C-394 would be in the effort to prevent youth from joining criminal organizations in the first place. Organized crime groups often target young people to conduct many of their activities, in part because they know that if a young person is caught, he or she will be treated more leniently by the justice system. For example, we heard testimony about criminal organizations that use 11-year-old children to run drugs. Criminal organizations also target young people who are vulnerable and do not have positive influences in their lives. These young people are often seduced by the promise of a lifestyle of power and money. However, we know that this most often does not turn out to be true and that, in fact, gang life is a dangerous life to choose.
When the Attorney General of Manitoba, Andrew Swan, testified before the committee, he emphasized this:
Gang life closes out family, friends, school, and community. Many young people who get brought into gangs, who are coerced to join gangs, find that there is no financial benefit. There's a cutting off of all the things that the youth have been involved with, and there is no easy way out.
Being involved in a gang increases the risk of violence to an individual and even the risk of death.
The vulnerability of youth in these situations was the primary motivation behind the proposed imposition of a mandatory minimum penalty if the individual recruited is under the age of 18. Attorney General Swan elegantly described this element of the proposed offence as a guaranteed consequence. This element would send a strong message to gangs that Canada's young people are a priority and that we will protect them.
I will be the first to admit that Bill C-394 represents only one of many available responses to a problem that has been recognized by many to require a multi-faceted approach. It is a Criminal Code approach. I do not wish to suggest for one second that this bill alone would prevent all recruitment into a criminal gang. Do I think it is an important response? Yes, I do. Do I think it is a meaningful response? Of course it is. I also recognize that combatting organized crime requires a broad response.
Prevention efforts must also be put in place to provide meaningful alternatives and positive role models so that people who may be thinking about joining a gang have an opportunity to choose otherwise. The government has made significant investments over the past number of years to support programs and youth gang prevention activities. The proposed offence of recruitment by criminal organizations would provide yet another tool for police as they continue to address the growing problem of criminal gangs.
The effort to recruit people into a criminal organization is more than just a problem for the people being recruited. It also represents a significant problem from the perspective of public safety. When people are successfully recruited into a criminal organization to facilitate the organization's ability to commit crime, it enhances the threat posed by these groups in general.
As I mentioned earlier, Bill C-394 has been reported to the House with a few minor technical amendments, which I support. I am also very pleased to report that there was unanimous support for this bill by all our colleagues at committee.
I would like to now briefly comment on an amendment made by the committee.
Bill C-394 was amended to include coercion in the list of prohibitive behaviour. That particular amendment would have the effect of prohibiting the recruitment, solicitation, encouragement, invitation and coercion of someone to join a criminal organization.
Coercion is a term that is generally used in criminal law to refer to conduct that is for the purpose of compelling someone to do or to refrain from doing something. Its inclusion in the bill's proposed new offences therefore makes sense. It is another way in which people can be, and are being, brought into criminal organizations, which in turn increases the capacity of criminal organizations to commit crime.
Bill C-394 is an important piece of legislation, and I want to thank the committee for its work on this bill.
In closing, I would like to again thank the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale for introducing this extremely important bill. The protection of youth is a priority for this government and it should be a priority for all members of this House.
Furthermore, the threat of organized crime continues to be a major concern for Canadians. The thought that youth are being brought in and recruited by such organizations is a very real and troubling issue. It is for this reason that I hope all members will stand in this House and support Bill C-394.