We'll get started. Thank you very much for coming to meeting number 66 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, June 20, 2012, we are discussing Bill .
Ladies and gentlemen, we have an hour's worth of questions and presentations from three different groups, three different witnesses. Then we will suspend for a few minutes while we switch over, and we will do clause-by-clause after that. We have eight amendments. We will talk about those when the time comes.
First of all, we have Minister Andrew Swan, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for the Government of Manitoba.
Thank you very much for coming.
From the Winnipeg Police Association we have George VanMackelbergh.
Thank you very much.
From the Boys and Girls Clubs we have Rachel Gouin and Marlene Deboisbriand.
We'll start in the order that I've introduced you.
Minister Swan, you are first to speak, for 10 minutes, please.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairperson.
On behalf of the people of Manitoba, thank you for the opportunity to present on Bill .
I'm not going to read through my submission word for word. Let me say at the start that we support Bill . I commend MP Parm Gill for bringing this forward. I appreciate Mr. Gill's visit to the Manitoba legislature some time ago to discuss it.
Let me also say at the outset that you're all welcome to come and visit us in Manitoba whenever we're talking about working together to build safer communities.
We do believe that the bill can be made even better and more effective, and this is the time to get it right.
My home province of Manitoba is a great place. It's a place where we celebrate diversity. Also, StatsCan has told us once again that we are the most generous people in all of Canada. Of course, among other things, we're celebrating having NHL hockey back.
But I have to tell the committee that I can't deny the challenges that are posed by crime. Our crime rates and our incarceration rates, like those of other western provinces, are higher than the national average. Along with Saskatchewan, we often experience the highest crime rates of any of the provinces, and it has been that way in Manitoba for many decades.
Our government is meeting those challenges through a balanced approach to building safer communities. In part, of course, that's about making the right laws, both here and in Winnipeg, within our competence as a province. We get there by support for law enforcement, and we get there by preventing crime from happening in the first place. As you'll see from this submission, our government has been very active on all three of these fronts in taking a balanced approach to dealing with public safety issues.
We see every budget that our government brings in as a chance to invest in our young people and a chance to build safer communities. That means greater education, better training, more recreational opportunities, and support for groups such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, which do such good work, and of course it means standing shoulder to shoulder with police and law enforcement in the province of Manitoba.
When it comes to laws, I don't want to brag, but Manitoba has for many years punched above its weight in terms of bringing forward solid proposals, in working with the federal government, whatever political stripe that government may be, and in working with provinces and territories, again without being politically partisan, to try to get better laws to keep our communities safer.
Still, there are challenges in many communities. The area I represent is the west end of Winnipeg. It has always been a place for people to start a new life. It's where my grandfather came to from Scotland almost a century ago. There have been successive waves of immigrants from Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Vietnam, the Philippines, and African countries. It is still a place where people can come as immigrants through our provincial nominee program, sometimes as refugees and sometimes as people moving from northern communities and seeking a better life in Canada.
I prefer to spend all my time talking about the promise and the potential of youth in areas like mine. I spend time at my local high schools, such as Daniel McIntyre and Tec Voc, and I see youth fulfilling their potential in academics, in skilled trades, in sports, and in the arts. But sadly, I have to tell you that in areas like mine there are youth who don't have positive things keeping them on the right side of the law.
There are youth who aren't involved in school, who may not be involved in sports, who may not have a faith community, or who may not have other positive influences to keep them on the right side of the law. These are youth who, let me say very clearly, are at risk of being recruited by gangs and criminal organizations. These are youth who are at risk of being exploited. Certainly, I don't know what's worse: you see youth who may have a developmental delay like FASD or others who are bright with potential who fall under the influence of gangs.
Make no mistake: the gangs know the laws. They recruit those under 18 because they know that the Youth Criminal Justice Act will have a very different set of consequences for youth who are apprehended by the police. Also, tragically, they recruit those under 12, because they know there will be no repercussions if those youth are picked up by the police.
Gang life is dangerous. 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 criminal organizations and gangs of course advance their own financial goals. Their greed leads them into the drug trade and into prostitution. It leads them into smuggling guns. This provides violence and intimidation and it wreaks havoc on communities just like the one I represent in Winnipeg.
The changes to the Criminal Code that are suggested in Bill are warranted. They would better define what recruitment is.
This bill would provide guaranteed consequences, which we say 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.
There are existing provisions in the Criminal Code that I'm told by my crown attorneys and that I expect to hear from police are unclear and difficult to prove and that don't adequately reflect the seriousness of the offence, namely recruiting people into a life of crime in a gang or criminal organization.
That being said, we believe the bill can be improved. We have two ideas as to how that can happen.
The first is that the bill should not apply only to criminalized recruitment of youth into gangs. It should also apply to threats and coercion used to keep young people in gangs. I've spoken with many youth and youth providers in Winnipeg and elsewhere in Manitoba, and they tell me that when youth become involved, they discover the violence, the threats, and the lack of a future, and they even find their gang involvement is limiting where they can safely go and whether they can attend school. These youth tell us they fear reprisals against them, their family, and their friends if they try to leave the gang and put that negative life behind. It is how gangs and criminal organizations operate: by intimidating people and by threatening them and their families to try to keep them involved in the criminal organization.
For that reason we believe Bill C-394 could even be expanded, not just to criminalize recruitment but to criminalize the threats and intimidation used to keep young people involved in gangs.
Secondly, 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.
One example of that in Manitoba is our Lighthouses program. The Department of Justice and the Department of Children and Youth Opportunities provide funding to keep some 70 community centres and similar places open in the evenings and on weekends to be a beacon and a safe place for young people to go. If somebody arrives at one of those facilities with the goal of recruiting somebody into their gang or their criminal organization, we believe whether or not the person recruiting is under 18 it should be a criminal offence.
Our goal obviously is to make Canada a place that's inhospitable territory for gangs and for organized crime. We believe, through the collective efforts of governments, we can do more on the prevention side through education, recreation, and opportunities. We can continue to work together to support police, but certainly we want to have the right laws in place. Bill C-394, in Manitoba's view, is the right step to take.
I would ask the members of the committee to consider amending the bill, as I have suggested, because this is our chance to get it right and to protect our country's most valuable resource, our young people.
I'm certainly open to questions the committee may have.
Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity.
By way of introduction, my name is George VanMackelbergh. I am the vice-president of the Winnipeg Police Association. I represent 1,943 women and men of the association. I have 24 years as an experienced police officer working in downtown Winnipeg as well as in the north end. I spent six and a half years working as an organized crime investigator in the full gamut of investigations—multi-jurisdictional, technical investigations—as well as developing informants and pushing them to agents, so I know a little bit about gang activity.
I work in one of the most challenging jurisdictions in the country when it comes to gang activity. For approximately 30 years Winnipeg has experienced a multi-generational gang membership, and for three decades it's had what is considered the current model of street gangs.
At face value, the WPA supports this legislation particularly, as we would support any legislation by the government of the day that attempts to stymie gang or organized crime activity. Bill C-394 contextually speaks to recruitment but doesn't specifically address it, and along with Minister Swan, I believe this is key legislation.
Gang recruitment is targeting younger and younger persons. In Manitoba, in Winnipeg, we have 10-year-olds being actively recruited into gangs, whether it's “standing six” or holding drugs for the older gang members. We currently have 15-year-olds on charge for murder who were driven to this by older gang members, knowing they would face a lesser penalty.
Again, 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.
They suffer severe beatings at the hands of the older, more experienced gang members, who do this to maintain loyalty. The threats are to their family and to their community.
There are neighbourhoods and communities within Manitoba and within Winnipeg itself in which if you are not a member or an associate of a gang, it's understood that just by living in those neighbourhoods you'll support the gang if they knock on your door.
I liken this to Belfast in the 1970s. Whether you were a Loyalist or a Catholic, many people in Belfast believed that the way to handle those issues was politically. But make no mistake about it, when there was a knock at your door at zero dark thirty, you were expected to support.
I think legislation like this will define what gang recruitment is: it's not complying out of necessity, and I think that's important.
We foresee difficulty meeting the burden of proof in some gang legislation, so I would ask on behalf of the association that the crafting of this come up with a burden of proof that isn't onerous. As we see with some organized crime, probably when this hits the court you're going to have to deal with the question of whether the gang is organized crime. You'll have to prove that in the burden of proof before you even get to the recruiting issue. We've seen in jurisdictions in Canada that doing this can be tremendously difficult. Sometimes proving this exceeds the capabilities of some police agencies, so we'd like to see this legislation be a crafted, workable piece of legislation.
A key part of that will be having support for this legislation. To be successful in prosecuting these charges, crown attorneys across the country will probably have to rely in great part on documentation that's been gathered.
The many shareholders in the criminal justice system have individual silos of information. As it stands now, there's no real conduit to allow these stakeholders the ability to share this information, which will be crucial in these prosecutions. It would be good to see the federal government have a standard or provide a conduit so that this standard of collecting information and disseminating it is unified across the country. That would be a great help to this legislation and would support it.
Gangs continue to exist in Canada. We're starting to see a trend where larger criminal organizations recruit from smaller gangs and organizations who want to align themselves with the big fish. The problem this provides for law enforcement across the country is that it creates insulation from law enforcement, but it also allows the big fish to look at a potential member ten years down the road. They can weed out possible informants or agents, which makes undercover work virtually impossible. Again, we believe this legislation would help law enforcement in trying to chip away at that.
In closing, I would agree with Minister Swan that our country's greatest resource is our youth. I wouldn't say adding more laws is the solution to this, but it certainly is part of the equation.
Thank you for your time.
Let me start by saying that we appreciate MP Parm Gill's efforts to keep children and youth safe from gangs and are happy that the Boys and Girls Clubs were included in consultations on this bill.
We are not opposed to Bill . Our concerns are mostly related to the need for enhanced prevention efforts, which we understand the committee and Mr. Gill also support, and rehabilitative programs for youth who want to rebuild their lives outside gangs.
Most young people are not gang involved, but the small number who are have a disproportionate impact on their communities. Some of our clubs are located in neighbourhoods that are affected by the presence of gangs and are familiar with the violence that accompanies this presence.
The situation at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg has been cited as an example of recruitment tactics that would be addressed by this bill. One of their club locations is in a community that has a high number of newcomers. Gang members stand in a parking lot a mere 100 feet from the club and wait to recruit youth. This poses a challenge to the safety of youth who attend club activities. The club works with local police to address this issue, but it's a recurring one, and we understand that Bill is the kind of law that would help. It would provide police officers with tools to deal with such recruitment.
We also have consulted Boys and Girls Clubs in the Toronto, Regina, and Vancouver areas, which have informed us of more subtle recruitment tactics. We know from these clubs that homelessness is a significant factor in young people's involvement in gangs. Youth are more vulnerable to recruitment and sexual exploitation if they have unstable housing situations that include expectations about doing their part.
These clubs also tell us that youth are born into families that are entrenched in gang life, and for them there is no real decision. They are assumed to be part of the gang. The repercussions are very severe should they deviate from that.
Finally, we heard about entrepreneurial youth whose talents are wasted in a lifestyle that has no promising future.
Recruitment is not always clearly identifiable, as in the Winnipeg case, but the repercussions of being disloyal, as we've already heard, are always severe.
How can we protect our youth from being recruited into gangs? The legal system certainly has a role to play in addressing coercive, intimidating, and violent tactics. As well, should Bill become law, it will also punish those who recruit young people into this lifestyle and who target minors.
Young people don't join gangs out of the blue. The risk factors are well documented. If we can act on these factors early enough, we increase our chances of keeping children and youth safe.
Gangs can become rooted in impoverished communities with inadequate resources for youth. Those who face the greatest social and economic disadvantage are most likely to be targeted by recruiters and lured by the promise of belonging, protection, and money, whether or not that promise is fulfilled. These same youth are most vulnerable to being utilized by those who are higher in the ranks to take part in criminal activities, as we've already heard, including recruiting other youth.
Once a person is in a gang or is assumed to be part of the gang because of a family member or a friend, the choices they have are more difficult. They have to choose between the risk of being caught and facing criminal charges or the risk of retaliation by the gang, which is a very real risk. I find the proposal by Minister Swan to criminalize threats to keep people in gangs interesting, because certainly we have heard from our clubs that this is also an issue. Walking out is not easy.
But we can offer young people more options before they get to that point. The Boys and Girls Clubs strongly believe that if we provide vulnerable youth with a genuinely safe place to stay, access to programs that support their well-being, education, employment, and life aspirations, we can divert them from gang membership. Legal measures and policing will help. We also need youth programs in communities and sustained, targeted interventions for those who face known risk factors and who are more vulnerable to being recruited. Also, we need to have mental health and employment supports in place for those who want to leave, those who have been gang involved and want to turn their lives around.
We are pleased to hear from your previous meeting that young offenders would be dealt with under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Providing a restorative justice option for minors who have been charged with recruiting will allow them to see the impact that recruitment has on other youth and on the community and will offer them a way out for themselves. Easily accessible mental health services would also play an important role in these cases, helping youth to heal from the trauma they may have experienced in the gang or at home.
In 2012 reductions were made to the youth justice services funding program, which supports provinces in offering these rehabilitative programs. We hope to see investments in crime prevention to ensure that fewer youth go down that path in the first place.
As was mentioned in our brief, we are pleased to hear the government announce the next phase of the youth gang prevention fund, and feel strongly that, given the seriousness of the situation we're facing, more could be done.
As the committee now considers how Bill can help protect children and youth from being targeted into gangs, we'd encourage you to also recommend complementary measures to help Canada's youth be more resilient. Enhancing funding for the youth justice fund and the youth gang prevention fund would be a good place to start.
Thank you to our witnesses for being with us. Welcome to the committee, minister.
I'm glad to see that the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada support Bill . I think it's important to stress the need for a balanced approach. I'm equally glad that Manitoba's justice minister also favours a multi-faceted strategy, one that isn't based solely on suppression. Unfortunately, however, this bill seems to focus strictly on suppression. But the two are not mutually exclusive. I think we really need to establish clarity around this, because it would be wrong to think that Bill C-394 is going to completely solve the whole problem of street gangs. This issue affects us, the members of Parliament, as well as our communities. Clearly, a balanced approach incorporates prevention, intervention and suppression.
I was pleasantly surprised, minister, at the number of organizations you had consulted with as part of your very extensive reform process in Manitoba. You also have some recommendations. You aren't necessarily of the opinion that Bill goes far enough. You also talked about gang-free zones such as schools and community centres. I'd like to hear more about that element.
Do you not think that the bill's comprehensive coverage applies, by extension, to specific elements? In other words, since the bill applies to all areas, it also applies to school zones. That means it could be an aggravating circumstance, as per the interpretation it already has if we look at the case law. Do you think sentences longer than five years are necessary? I didn't understand everything in your brief, and I didn't quite understand your reason for wanting to target schools and other recruitment zones.
I will answer in English because we don't have enough time.
Certainly the Province of Manitoba does believe that building safer communities requires a balanced approach.
Today we're talking about a bill that is based on suppression and a change to the Criminal Code. We don't take our eye off the ball in terms of what we need to do in terms of supporting police and other organizations—the safer communities act in Manitoba, for example—as well as dealing with the root causes of crime and trying to find positive places for young people to go.
The Boys and Girls Club in Winnipeg gave the example of the positive things happening at the Boys and Girls Clubs, and the fact that young people are coming to the Boys and Girls Clubs for positive programming as then being a beacon, if you will, for gangs to try to find youth at risk and to try to indoctrinate them into a gang.
The idea of considering an amendment to Bill to include the place where something happens means that if somebody shows up at a place like that, it doesn't matter whether they're recruiting a youth or an adult; if they're on or near those places and are carrying on those activities, that in and of itself should be enough to be a criminal act.
We want those places to be safe. Whether it's the Boys and Girls Clubs, whether it's the Spence Neighbourhood Association, or whether it's Magnus Eliason community centre in my end of Winnipeg, we really think those places should be gang-free zones. Young people should be able to be kids, and not be indoctrinated into illegal activities.
We don't think we need to increase the maximum penalty that's set out in the bill, but we do think it could be recrafted to include the places where we think our young people should be safe to go.
I can tell you that public safety does come at a cost. In Manitoba, just like in other provinces that have higher-than-average crime rates, we know that our costs are higher.
But you know, when it comes to providing guaranteed consequences for somebody who chooses to endanger my community, and to put young people at risk, we believe that having appropriate measures in place—as I said, guaranteed consequences—is worth the cost.
Mr. Casey, gangs know the law. They know that if they get young people involved, if they have an 11-year-old running drugs for them, there won't be a consequence.
I'm not suggesting in any way that there should be a consequence for an 11-year-old, but those who bring people into gangs know that if individuals are under 18, there will be a very different regime if the youth is caught.
Again, I'm not suggesting that's incorrect, but gangs know the law. We want gangs to know that this provision exists, that if they're caught recruiting, trying to get youth in, there will be a consequence. I think there's a real value to that in terms of protecting young people and giving the police the tools they need to work with gangs.
Just this morning, Devon Clunis, the new chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, was on the radio in Winnipeg talking about intentions to try to meet with gang leaders, to actually sit down and lay down the law, if you will.
I'd sure like Chief Clunis to have Bill on the books and be able to explain to gang members that if they go out into our communities and try to pursue young people, the police will have the tools they need to deal with them.
How many hours do we have?
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. Andrew Swan: Look, I thank the member for the question, because it does highlight that although today we're talking about changes to the Criminal Code, we know there's more that all levels of government need to do. Certainly we think there are more partnerships we can strike to try to get at the heart of the problems plaguing perhaps your community, as they are mine.
We know that one of the best antidotes we have to young people being involved in gangs is for them to have a strong connection. If people remain in school, if they see that there is a positive outcome, whether it's being involved in a trade or going on to university or college or straight into the workforce, they are far more likely to remain out of criminal activity. Youth who have the opportunity to play sports or to be involved in a cultural or arts organization are far more likely to avoid criminal activity. Youth who have some other positive pull in their lives, positive influence in their lives, are far less likely to be engaged.
Our government has worked with our civic governments, Winnipeg as well as other municipal governments, to try to keep recreation centres open longer, to have things like Lighthouses to provide safe places for people to go. We're partnering a new after-school program, called After School Matters, to try to keep young people engaged after school closes at three or four o'clock until the early evening hours, partnering with local businesses to try to give them mentorships and positive things that they can take with them. We see investment in that front by governments as being a crime prevention strategy.
In terms of additional police officers and additional crown attorneys, we have taken on most of that responsibility ourselves, as a province.
There is the police officers recruitment fund, which was greatly appreciated, although I would note that the money has pretty much run out for that. Municipalities across Canada will now be facing the loss of officers unless either a provincial or municipal government steps up to meet that.
We've also embarked on hiring more crown attorneys. I know that other provinces have made some different decisions.
Again, public safety has a cost. We've been prepared to continue investing in police, in crown attorneys, in our court clerks, and in our legal aid system to continue to help to build stronger communities.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I want to thank our witnesses for appearing before us today.
You mentioned on several occasions today, Minister, that gangs, and in particular gang leaders, know the law. Clearly there are laws today that are rather punitive for those participating in criminal acts, and the kinds of acts you would expect the gangs would participate in.
I know during the second reading of this debate the sponsor of this bill, MP Parm Gill, indicated the purpose of his bill is to address specifically the issue of young people being targeted and recruited by gangs, and criminal gangs obviously. When you speak of gangs in this context, it's criminal gangs we're talking about, as we can well appreciate. He noted youth are being recruited by some of Canada's most notorious and violent criminal organizations because of their age and vulnerability.
From the discussion we've heard today, and from some of the questions and answers going back and forth in your presentations, we're really talking about an extra tool in the tool chest for law enforcement here.
Do you think the proposed offences focused on the recruitment of young people, particularly through the imposition of the mandatory minimum penalty, would clearly denounce such conduct? I'm interested to see if you feel this would reflect Parliament's intent to protect children and other vulnerable persons from the threats imposed by organized crime.
As you know, Bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code. It would create an indictable Criminal Code offence of recruiting somebody to join a criminal organization. The offence would be punishable by a five-year maximum of imprisonment. And where the person recruited is a minor, there would be a mandatory minimum penalty of imprisonment of six months.
The act of recruitment would have to be shown to be done for the purpose of enhancing the ability of the criminal organization to facilitate or commit indictable offences. The bill sends a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated and will help the government advance its effort to protect youth from the threats proposed by organized crime.
While the government supports the bill and the creation of a new indictable offence, it recognizes there is a need for some technical amendments. These would not impact the substance of the proposed offence but would be required to ensure legal accuracy and a consistency between the English and the French versions of the bill, and a consistency with the language used elsewhere in the Criminal Code.
A number of the amendments I'm going to discuss, Mr. Chair, deal exactly with that, perhaps with the exception of the one proposed by Mr. Seeback, which is more substantial.
With regard to the first amendment, this deals with clause 13 as well as with clause 2. The first motion would amend the long title of the French version on page 1 of the bill. This motion should be considered together with the motions that propose to amend the French and English versions of clause 2 and the French and English versions of clause 13.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The proposal here, of course, is to remove the mandatory minimum penalty from Bill , as the Liberal Party is opposed to mandatory minimum penalties. We trust our judges and we trust that judges will use their discretion.
I was quite interested to hear the preamble to a question from Mr. Albas earlier today that showed me some glimmer of hope that maybe judges are from time to time required to be trusted as well. I live in hope that we might have a convert to our philosophy on this.
We trust judges to provide sentences that are appropriate in the circumstances and to reflect the gravity of the offence, as well as the conduct of the offender. Mandatory minimum penalties may, in some instances, lead to charter rights infringement, and we have seen courts in Ontario and B.C. strike these types of provisions down in recent cases.
Lastly, all the available evidence, including that from our own Department of Justice, concludes that mandatory minimum penalities do not serve as a deterrent. You will recall that I asked a direct question of Mr. Gill, who couldn't point to a single piece of evidence contrary. Mandatory minimums cause more crime, both in prison and out of prison, contribute to prison overcrowding, which may itself lead to charter violations, all the while in no way contributing to the rehabilitation or reintegration of the offender into society, a reality ignored by a focus on incarceration alone.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
On the topic of mandatory minimum sentencing, various witnesses have appeared on a number of bills and told us that it isn't the most effective approach. They also mentioned the fact that it could lead to court challenges in certain cases.
The committee members no doubt recall what former Supreme Court Justice John Major told us. He said that mandatory minimum sentencing did not necessarily violate the charter. Provided it isn't unreasonable, the sentence can be analyzed and viewed on the basis of its objective. So it will always be subject to that sort of analysis. The Criminal Code already contains various provisions that include minimum sentences.
As a rule, the NDP is generally opposed to the idea of determining the sentences that the courts should impose. We still believe, and always will, that the courts are the best authorities to make those decisions. Sometimes minimum sentences constitute the shortest periods that can be imposed. That being said, however, that is our position on Bill C-394. It is sometimes necessary to choose the lesser of two evils. Everyone is familiar with what the committee has heard. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada and all the witnesses we heard agree that, while Bill C-394 is an essential element, a well-balanced policy is also necessary. It can be useful under the circumstances.
I think it's important that we look closely and not reject mandatory minimum sentencing simply on principle. We examine each and every bill individually, with a view to determining whether what it seeks to achieve is necessary under the circumstances. I hope that, if judges read what the politicians and lawmakers have said while studying a bill, they will understand the key message that the members of this committee are trying to send. Criminal organization recruitment is not something we will tolerate.
In that sense, a six-month sentence seems very light to me, but I am not encouraging the Conservatives to lengthen it. We will leave that to the courts. Between six months and five years, there is ample leeway for the courts to decide on a reasonable sentence under the circumstances.
Another important consideration is this. There is no question that the same system will not apply to young offenders under 18 years of age—I believe our Library of Parliament analyst made that point clear. In any case, given everything our witnesses today have told us, I'm not sure I want to see young people being sent off to prison for six months. They turn into hardened criminals schooled in the ways of criminal life. So that's really the borderline.
However, like the Liberal member, we are somewhat allergic to the notion of telling the courts what to do. But, at the same time, I think there is sufficient leeway for the courts to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis.
First of all, as I told the parliamentary secretary a moment ago, I'm not in the habit of introducing amendments at the last minute, and I apologize. It's important to understand, however, the context in which we study certain bills here, in committee. In light of that, this shouldn't be that surprising. Much of the time, we are asked to submit any amendments we may have by such and such a date and time, even though we still have witnesses to hear from. It troubles me every time that happens.
I think it's important to make that point clear to the committee. It complicates things. Seriously, sometimes I have amendment ideas, but they aren't enough to mobilize a number of people to draw them up and so forth. They may be just ideas, and I may have more questions once I've heard the other witnesses.
Sometimes, we have to suffer through an amendment such as this one, a bit on the fly, as you will say. You all have the amendment in front of you. The amendment had actually been drafted initially. I held it back, however, for the simple reason that we had come to the conclusion that subparagraph 718.2(a)(ii.1) of the Criminal Code already provided for an additional penalty or an aggravating element when a crime was committed against a minor. So, then, we could assume it would involve the type of file we have before us, specifically Bill .
That said, I think Minister Swan's comments were quite clear. His brief contains many other elements he would like to see implemented. We will study that carefully and, then, see whether the government decides to introduce other bills or whether other members decide to introduce private member's bills in response to some of his recommendations. Time will tell.
There is an amendment we can definitely make as we speak. We must send a clear message about the arena in which recruitment takes place. The minister put it quite well, for that matter. One of his recommendations was to make recruitment near a school or community centre an aggravating circumstance. He didn't propose making it a separate offence but, rather, an aggravating circumstance that the court would have to consider with respect to sentencing.
I think that fits very nicely into what our colleague Parm Gill was trying to achieve by introducing Bill . It sends an additional message to the courts, which must examine the circumstances and establish the length of the sentence somewhere between six months and five years.
If the evidence shows that the person was indeed caught recruiting near a school or community centre, this sends a clear message that doing so is categorically unacceptable and represents the worst case scenario. As I see it, recruitment of any kind is despicable, but doing it in vulnerable areas where kids hang out, schools and community centres, is even worse.
So that's the gist of the amendment proposed. To my mind, it fits into Bill quite nicely.
After hearing what Mr. Taylor had to say, I'm especially leery about throwing this in. A judge may look at this and say, “Well, Parliament has weighed in, and it's specific to this.” A defence lawyer could easily argue that because Parliament did not include a Boys and Girls Club, because that would not be involved in here.... It doesn't say “club”, from my understanding of reading this—near a school or community centre. We heard from both Mr. Gill as well as from the Boys and Girls Clubs that this could be a potential tool they could use, but we may be limiting it needlessly.
Given the fact that we have to report back, I believe by mid-April, Mr. Chair—and this is an interesting conversation—I'm against putting these things in and creating inconsistency within the Criminal Code. We had a private member's bill previous to that where the NDP agreed with us that the inconsistencies were an issue. I just don't want to see those kinds of things go in.
That being said, Mr. Chair, I'd much rather see our amendments as presented go back to the House, rather than holding this bill up and then seeing all of our good work today go to waste. If it goes past that time, we don't have any recourse other than to submit them independently.
So, Mr. Chair, I will not be supporting the amendment.
Mr. Taylor, if we said, “shall consider as an aggravating circumstance, among other factors, any evidence establishing that the offence was committed against a person under the age of eighteen years near a school or a community centre”, it wouldn't be limited, but would still serve as an indication.
I would hope that those across the way agree that engaging in criminal organization recruitment near a school or community centre constitutes an aggravating circumstance. I gather that people don't want to limit it and give courts the impression that it wouldn't apply to a Boys and Girls Club, for example. I think people should avoid the temptation to reject the amendment simply because it comes from us. As I see it, the person who introduced the bill did so specifically to set out recruitment as an offence. We're adding a minimum sentence to send a pretty important message in cases where minors are being targeted.
But I think we also need to send a message—and one does not preclude the other—that this form of recruitment constitutes an aggravating factor. That is strictly in response to what the committee was told. Manitoba's justice minister, for one, supports Bill , which was sponsored by a government member, and we respect his opinion. In his view, recruitment is a problem. And the police have said so as well.
Does the expression “among other factors” remove the limiting aspect? From your comments, my understanding is that it isn't inconsistent with what the Criminal Code already says. And, for our colleagues across the way, that's the only thing being considered. We still have time, since it's likely the only amendment left in our study of this bill, which is otherwise moving along swiftly.
In light of that, I don't think we can be opposed to the principle. It would address their concerns.
Are there any other comments on that amendment?
(Amendment agreed to)
(Clause 14 as amended agreed to)
(Clauses 15 to 17 inclusive agreed to)
The Chair: Shall the title, which has been amended by G-7, carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill as amended carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill as amended to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the committee order a reprint of the bill as amended for the use of the House at report stage?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That is the bill for today.
I just want to comment before we break. On Wednesday we're dealing with another private member's bill. We have witnesses. On Bill S-209, we have the mover from the Senate, and he can only be here for half an hour. The mover or supporter from the House is coming for the first half hour. So try to be focused on that. Then we have a witness—and we only have one witness—for a maximum of an hour. Then there's only one clause. It's a long one, but there's only one, so I left a half an hour to deal with that.
Then we're on a two-week break from here, back to our ridings, which I know we will enjoy. Happy Easter to everybody who celebrates Easter.
This is what we will do when we get back. In the first week back we will deal with Bill , which is the impersonating a police officer private member's bill. We'll have the mover, then we'll do witnesses, and then we'll try to do clause-by-clause, if we can, that week.
In the second week I'm hoping we will do the Criminal Code official languages three-year review of section 533.1, which deals with being able to have your court case in both official languages. It's a requirement of this committee to look at how it's gone for the last three years. It's a three-year review. We will be inviting, obviously, the minister's officials to come and talk to us about how it's going. If you have any witnesses for that, it would be great.
If you have any witnesses for next week's bill on impersonating police officers, please give it to the clerk as soon as possible, because it's going to be hard to chase you down when we're back in the ridings. It's much easier when you're here.
Then, for the last two weeks of the four-week section that we're in, I'm hoping we will see whether Bill gets referred to the committee from the House, and we'll deal with that legislation for at least those two weeks is my guess. We have a large witness list already started for Bill C-54, so we'll see what the committee decides in terms of length for that.
At this point, those are the next two weeks when we come back, and you know what's happening on Wednesday.
With that, thank you very much.
The meeting is adjourned.