Mr. Speaker, as you have already heard from other hon. members, the main intent of witness protection is to offer protection to those who assist the authorities in criminal prosecutions and in particular those prosecutions aimed at organized crime. Given this emphasis on organized crime I think it would be useful to give the House a brief overview of exactly what that term means in the context of the bill.
If we can understand the threat that organized crime poses for our society then we can understand why the bill is so important and why it must be given careful consideration. What is needed is a statutorily based guarantee of protection for people who come forward and are prepared to give evidence against organized criminals.
Police of all jurisdictions deal with organized crime, including the RCMP, provincial and municipal services. Other enforcement authorities also have important roles to play. For example, federal immigration and citizenship authorities work with the police to deal with the smuggling of illegal aliens and illicit trafficking in forged or stolen personal identification documents. In a similar fashion customs and excise authorities work closely with the police in dealing with the movement of drugs, weapons, contraband liquor and tobacco, protected technologies, or other illegally imported or exported goods.
On the judicial side federal and provincial crown attorneys are of course responsible for pursuing prosecutions and obtaining convictions through the court system.
All of those authorities are united in their desire to develop and use the most effective laws and programs possible to combat organized crime. This desire is understandable given the serious threat organized crime poses to Canadian society.
The raison d'être of organized crime is simple: to make as much money as possible and to minimize the risk of getting caught by forming organized groups and networks. In its pursuit of illegal profits organized crime will engage in activities as varied and complex as those engaged in by legitimate multinational corporations.
Consider money laundering for example. The laundering of criminal proceeds through financial institutions and otherwise legitimate businesses by organized criminals subverts the operation of the legitimate economy by introducing unfair and unlawful practices, including tax evasion. Organized crime plays a key role in the maintenance and expansion of the underground economy by fueling the trade in stolen and smuggled goods.
The results are enormous tax losses for government and poorer services to the public. Every honest Canadian pays for the illicit profiteering of organized criminals and not just in terms of dollars and cents.
Many organized crime activities, such as drug trafficking and gaming, can have serious negative effects on our youth and families.
Violence associated with organized crime contributes to public fears and perceptions about personal victimization. In certain instances organized criminals use violence and intimidation in an attempt to dominate community members. In so doing they contribute to the isolation of some groups in our society. As profits from organized crime grow, so does the potential for the corruption of public officials and democratic institutions.
Organized crime groups challenge the legitimacy of government and encourage disrespect for lawful authority and public institutions. In its international variations, organized crime threatens Canadian sovereignty and our ability to control our borders.
Let me set out a brief typology of organized criminal behaviour to further illustrate the depth and seriousness of the organized crime problem.
Organized crime can occur locally. Juvenile prostitution rings operating in urban centres are one particularly sad and cruel example of local organized crime at work. In many cases local criminal operations are loosely or formally linked to other operations across the country.
Interprovincial organized crime is a particular problem because when criminals operate across jurisdictions it is more difficult for authorities to track and to combat their activities.
Then we have transnational crime where Canadians are involved in the movement of commodities into or out of the country. The initiative launched recently by the government to bring the smuggling problem under control shows how serious this variant of organized crime can be. Similarly transnational economic crime and money laundering by Canadians or by foreigners using Canadian or international institutions represent serious threats to the integrity of our financial and economic systems.
Finally, there is the very difficult and growing problem of international organized crime. Here foreign crime networks work with or co-opt Canadian criminals. International trafficking in cocaine and heroin is the best example with extremely well financed, well organized and ruthless cartels manipulating the international drug trade.
Underlying all of these criminal enterprises are two common denominators: violence and intimidation. Violence and intimidation are used to enforce discipline in criminal organizations, to compete for shares of illicit markets and to prevent people victimized by crime from co-operating with the police. This is a crucial point in the context of the bill because violence creates a climate of fear and fear can be a powerful disincentive to co-operation with the police and prosecutors.
To break the conspiratorial silence of organized crime we have to be able to offer protection to people who are willing to assist the authorities in their criminal investigations. There is a clear need for a system that encourages people to come forward to give information or evidence against organized criminals, a need recognized by the bill.
In summary, I would like to make some general observations on what I believe a protection program must do in the context of the organized crime problem.
First, we must ensure that a program would accommodate the needs of all the police and enforcement authorities with responsibilities for dealing with organized crime.
Second, every kind of organized crime is serious. In setting the parameters for a program we would need to ensure that the fullest range possible of offences carried out by organized criminals are addressed.
Finally, I note that the problem of international and transnational organized crime is a growing concern in the context of economic and political globalization. Therefore a protection program would need to take into account the necessity of co-operation between Canadian agencies and their counterparts in other nations.
I believe that this proposed act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses is important in signalling to the Canadian public the need for a statutorily based protection program for people who assist the authorities in criminal investigations and prosecutions. However before that is possible it must be studied further in light of the criteria I have just described.