Okay, thank you; that's helpful.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
Dave Park is our economist emeritus at the Vancouver Board of Trade. He was our chief economist for many years. He has come back out of retirement to assist us with the public safety task force of the Vancouver Board of Trade.
This is a subject we've been pursuing for over 12 years. We have a problem in Canada with crime, and it's only now reaching the attention of the public with the intensity that we think it deserves, so we're delighted to appear before you.
First let me say that we're very supportive of Bill C-14. We think it should go through with all dispatch, and we encourage members of Parliament to ensure that happens as quickly as possible.
Organized crime and violent crime in Canada are related, of course, and related to our chronic offenders. In Vancouver much of our crime has to do with drugs, and of course we know that's controlled and run by organized crime. In Vancouver we are beset with the activities of chronic offenders, ranging the spectrum from beggars and thieves through to B and Es, car break-ins, violent crime and assaults, and now murder, with organized gangs using firearms. It is related in that continuum, and much of it has to do with drugs.
We've written to the Minister of Justice, we've had discussions with Statistics Canada, and the Board of Trade has put together a position. Our policy with respect to crime is a broad one. We think we have to look at root causes. For example, we are champions of early childhood development. We've got a task force with the YWCA, and we think that if we intervene between the ages of zero and six, we stand a good chance of ensuring that young people don't get involved in gangs and crime, and later, organized crime. It's part of that continuum, and we would encourage all parties to support those sorts of initiatives.
We support better treatment for addiction and mental illness for those incarcerated. We have a problem in Canada, and of course in British Columbia, in that most people are sentenced to two years less a day in provincial institutions, where those facilities simply aren't available to any extent. More treatment is available at the federal level, but more has to be done as well.
We're a business association with 6,000 members whose purpose is to ensure that Vancouver in Canada is the best place in the world to live, work, play, invest, and visit. That reputation is threatened because of the problem we have with crime.
There are 2.7 million Canadians who are victims of violent crime every year. That's according to the last Statistics Canada victimization survey. It's a bit dated now. A new one being undertaken as we speak will provide a much better measure of the actual levels of crime in our country, much better than what we see annually from Statistics Canada, which are crimes reported to police. We've been pressing Statistics Canada for well over 10 years to change the method of reporting crime to give a more accurate reflection of the actual levels of crime.
The current measure, crimes reported to police, only captures one-third of all crimes. The victim survey shows that 34% of crimes are reported to police and two-thirds aren't. For example, 88% of sexual assaults are not reported to police at all. We think that's a very bad proxy for crime rates.
In fact, until recently, Statistics Canada defined the national crime rate as crimes reported to police. We got their attention when we wrote an editorial that ended up in the Vancouver Sun and the National Post. It was in response to a headline that said, “Crime rate down based upon crimes reported to police”. We said we hoped that was true, but we won't know if it is until the 2009 victim survey is conducted. After a similar statement was made in 2005 that the crime rate had gone down based upon police-reported crimes, the 2004 victim survey showed that in fact the crime rate had not gone down at all, except in one category, B and E; all the other eight categories had either stayed the same or had gone up.
That provoked a response from Statistics Canada, and we entered into a dialogue with them. Up until that time we had just had an exchange of letters and we weren't making much progress.
We were very pleased with our meeting yesterday with Dr. Sheikh, the Chief Statistician of Canada. We were advised that they're backing away from the traditional definition of crime rates and they will refer to police-reported crimes. It's a valuable study on its own, as long as you know what it is. They will be referring to crimes reported to police.
They will also take pains to point out to readers that there's another study on victims, which gives you a different measure of the crime rate if you use that as a definition. They surveyed eight major categories. They did it as they do the census, with a scientifically tested study of 20,000 Canadians. We don't think that's enough. We asked them to expand on that as well.
They were asked what their recent experiences were. In The Globe and Mail today, a member of Parliament responded that he didn't think it was useful to use crime measures based on perception. Ladies and gentlemen, these are the perceptions of your constituents who have recently had an experience with crime. It's a far better measure than crimes reported to police, which take out of the equation any opportunity to ask probing questions. It's a scientific survey. It has its weaknesses. It doesn't cover all crimes, such as white-collar crimes. But it covers most of the crime in the country, certainly the kinds of violent crimes that your constituents are concerned with and our members are concerned with.
We've asked them to do it annually. We've asked them to expand the survey so that it includes the CMAs, the census metropolitan areas, so that major cities such as Vancouver can actually gauge the situation with crime. Is it getting better? Is it getting worse? Our public policy response can then be more appropriate than in the past, when it was based on crimes reported to police. We were pleased with that. They're all set and ready to go.
I suggested to Dr. Sheikh that it would be a wonderful stimulus measure for the government to announce annual funding for the report. His response was that Stats Canada is shovel-ready. I would like to encourage all parties to put aside your differences and to encourage the government to fund the study. As it's under way for 2009, it would start in 2010 and every year thereafter.
I should as well point out that Dr. Sheikh informed us that all the other OECD countries, or industrialized countries, as he expressed it, either do the reports annually or bi-annually. They do it more frequently than we do. We have not been holding our own with respect to asking our members who are victims and your constituents and citizens what their recent experiences with crime have been.
I want to leave you with one graph. We have a presentation before you that covers our position. On October 7, 1971, the Minister of Justice rose in the House and said that from now on the government is going to focus on “the rehabilitation of individuals rather than protecting” the public. He did not say “as well as” or “in addition to”. He said “rather than protecting” the public.
Ladies and gentlemen, that's what we've been doing for almost 40 years. It's been a very good policy. It's been a wonderful policy for criminals. It's been a very bad policy for victims. At the Vancouver Board of Trade, our view is that we should give victims a chance.
What's happening in Vancouver? This is from a Vancouver police report that was done last year on 379 chronic offenders. These are people who have had multiple convictions, some were minor and some were major, but they're chronic offenders. An average sentence for the first offence is 101 days. The average sentence for the 35th offence is 25 days. This makes no sense to us. In recent polls that were published, our members tell us this is far different from the public expectation of justice that is being administered.
Our plea to the committee and to members of Parliament is to please put aside political differences and personal differences. We certainly have a crisis in our country with organized crime on the west coast and with violent crime and chronic crime. If we do the correct surveys and test those levels of crime properly, you will see that it's unacceptable for 650,000 Canadians to be injured during the commission of violent crimes every year, for there to be 2.7 million violent crimes in the country every year, and for one Canadian in four to be the victim of a crime in the past year.
We don't think it's acceptable and we hope you don't either.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
The organized crime committee seeks to enhance cooperation among law enforcement agencies at home and abroad, promote innovative law enforcement initiatives, and advocate for public policy and legislative change. On behalf of the Canadian law enforcement community, I thank you for providing us with this opportunity today.
This committee has invited me to discuss the current threat of organized crime in Canada and to identify challenges within the law enforcement community for its eradication.
As was reported to you last week, the law enforcement community has identified more than 900 organized crime groups operating in large cities and small towns in Canada. This is a substantial and growing problem. Today I hope to provide you with further information on the issue to allow for a deeper understanding of the challenges, what law enforcement has been doing to address the situation, and the legislative gaps that require our mutual attention.
Organized crime has significantly changed over the last five years in Canada.
While the drug trade remains a focal point of their activities, they have continued to become more sophisticated and diversified in their criminal activities.
Most are involved in more than one type of criminal activity which can range from drug crimes or financial crimes, such as identity theft, mass-market fraud and money laundering, to crimes such as human smuggling, human trafficking, and counterfeiting consumer products and medications.
While there are many factors at play in the acceleration of organized crime activity in Canada, the end result is that today Canada has been identified as a source country for synthetic drugs and a transit country for cocaine en route from North America to Asia. More worrying, and presenting an immediate threat to public safety, organized crime groups have escalated their use of violence in fighting for territory and shares in what have become very lucrative illicit markets. These groups have also come to rely on the corruption of public officials and using violence towards their rivals, potential witnesses, law enforcement, and the judiciary.
Many organizations have become more sophisticated in that they compartmentalize their operations and expand over a number of countries. They are relying on modern technology to communicate and to further insulate themselves from the reach of the law.
While there are many challenges, we have many examples of successful investigations through joint forces operations. These include the biker enforcement units, the Integrated Gang Task Force, and the combined forces special enforcement units, which are composed of law enforcement agencies from all levels, working on integrated investigations to address priority targets.
Inter-agency coordination is further enhanced by groups such as the national coordinating committee on organized crime, the CACP's organized crime committee, which I am here representing, and the CACP's law amendment committee.
A relatively new group that is showing great promise is the Canadian Integrated Response to Organized Crime, or CI-ROC, which was until very recently called or referred to as the Council on Public Safety. CI-ROC was created to enhance operational cooperation between law enforcement agencies across provincial borders with regard to organized crime operations. Coordination of these efforts is necessary to ensure that the use of limited resources and assets are maximized and that emerging threats are identified and addressed to preclude further growth of organized crime. While it is still relatively young, the potential impact of such a body is tremendous.
There are many successes and advances, but given the new realities I mentioned, Canadian law enforcement is challenged in their ability to investigate. As with most complex issues, a multifaceted approach is required. Ongoing, timely, intelligence-sharing facilitates effective and proactive program delivery and provides guidance in effective deployment of resources to tactical operations.
Enhancements to legislation must be explored along with the scrutiny of current judicial processes and outcomes to ensure an effective response to enforcement action. In the face of the challenges posed by organized crime, it is the CACP's position that law enforcement agencies must be given the power and the tools to keep pace.
There are three specific areas I would like to address. The first is the impact current disclosure requirements are having on criminal investigations. In a 1991 case, Regina v. Stinchcombe, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered prosecutors to disclose to the defendant before the trial all relevant information. “Relevant disclosure” is defined as the reasonable possibility that information could be used to meet the crown's case, advance a defence, or make a decision that could affect the conduct of the defence. Disclosure in Canada has become a significant exercise in criminal cases, and issues pertaining to relevant disclosures surface in most major cases today. This can have a significant impact on the cost and progress of investigations and prosecutions.
Courts, crown counsel, defence counsel and police officers across the country have varying interpretations of what “relevant disclosure“ is. Within our judicial system, the concept of relevant has been interpreted to the point where the threshold test for relevant disclosure is extremely low. As the investigation of criminal organizations has become complex, the management for purposes of disclosure has become more and more of a challenge. Consequently, this affects our capacity to investigate other criminal organizations.
A quick example of how expanding disclosure can affect an investigation. A few years ago, during a police investigation in Canada targeting a major organized crime group, 1.7 million pieces of communication were intercepted. Of those, 27,000 were transcribed. In the end, only 200 were deemed sufficiently relevant to the case to be used in court.
Investigations can produce an extraordinary amount of documentation. Significant policing resources are allotted to this duty, effectively removing them from front-line policing.
Further, the reality of the volume of disclosure has affected the capacity of law enforcement and prosecutors to attack organized crime as an offence in and of itself. In many instances, prosecution for substantive offences is preferred over organized crime charges. The legal framework and practices must evolve and embrace the efficiencies that can be provided by new techniques and methods such as those provided by electronic technology. Most importantly, there is a need to establish a well-defined and consistent threshold for relevant disclosure. This could be accomplished through enacting disclosure requirements and procedures.
The second area where we need to progress is the area of lawful access. While communications technology has evolved considerably and criminals are embracing and taking advantage of it, Canadian law has not kept pace with the rapid changes. Increasingly, complex technologies are challenging conventional lawful access methods. Communication carriers are not required to provide access technology. Law enforcement agencies are simply asking that telecommunication carriers build interception capability into existing or new networks and provide access to important customer name and address information.
The third and final issue I would like to address is the need for an increased ability to share information between government agencies, domestically and internationally, to eliminate havens where criminal organizations can flourish. The current environment is one of fear of sharing information, due to either legislative restrictions or human rights concerns. While it is essential to be careful in determining the appropriate information to share and the context within which it is shared or used, this can seriously impede the ability of law enforcement to investigate organized crime.
Organized crime operates from an international perspective. In fact, it can be demonstrated that organized crime is taking advantage of the infrastructure and legislation of certain countries. They are organizing to better insulate themselves. As an example, some criminal organizations have based themselves in India and China to forward precursor chemicals. Other organizations have sought refuge in Caribbean countries, while others are now infiltrating countries of the African continent to use as transshipment points.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, Canadian law enforcement is committed to tackling organized crime, and we need new thinking in the judicial process and new policies and guidelines to support these efforts.
On behalf of the CACP's organized crime committee, I am confident we can respond to the growing sophistication of criminality and together we can strike the right balance in our legal and legislative structures.
I also wish to compliment this committee on your plans to travel in the near future to several Canadian cities to discuss issues surrounding organized crime. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police strongly supports this initiative, which will allow the committee to get first-hand information from those who are on the front lines in dealing with organized crime. CACP is prepared to fully support the committee in this important work, and we will work closely with the clerk of the committee to facilitate these consultations.
I would again like to thank you for inviting me here today. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have at the conclusion.
Thank you for the question.
Mr. Chairman, when I show this graph, that's the issue on chronic offenders, so if I didn't emphasize that sufficiently, I apologize. The main purpose of our mission is to highlight the issue of chronic offenders, and we're asking for escalating sentences.
We don't have the exact prescription for how you do that. Minimum sentences and so on would be up to folks in Parliament to debate and come up with something that's going to work, based on experience. We'll be happy to look at that, but what we're saying is that if somebody appears before a judge and they have 30 convictions and they're appearing again on similar or even other convictions that might be more serious, or violent convictions, there should be a requirement for those sentences to escalate and a reverse onus put on the criminal to demonstrate why they should not get a higher sentence.
Judges in British Columbia tell us it doesn't do any good. Going back to this 1971 policy, it doesn't do any good to put people in prison because they still come out as thieves and criminals and they assault people, they continue to do that, and it's usually based on having a problem with drugs or a mental illness. Therefore, it's a medical problem, and they refuse to treat it as a legal problem.
The only problem is that a whole bunch of victims are going to be created as a result of that decision. There seems to be a disconnect in terms of accountability between that decision and what's going to happen next, and our members and their families are getting pretty upset with that.
Perhaps Dave could answer with a little bit more detail on how we might do this.
We're aware of some successful measures in Italy and other parts of the world that we can learn from.
In terms of download, we think that with the situation on the west coast—and it has happened in Quebec with gangs and violent offences—emergency funding is required. I think we should treat this like a tsunami, a forest fire, a hurricane, the Winnipeg flood—whatever it is. Let's do what we have to do to fix this thing.
By all means, let's fix it from the top down: let's get the bad guys who are the organized criminals and so on. But we have to attack it from both ends. This is going to call for policies that the present government may not have very much supported in the past, such as early childhood development, education, and literacy in prisons. All of these measures work; there's good evidence for that. But it's not just one measure; we have to do everything. We have to do what we can do first, and do it quickly. That's why we're delighted with the announcement that I heard today that we're going to attack the two-for-one issue. We're fully supportive of that.
Again, please put aside your differences. Let's get this stuff in place to help the police get evidence before judges, give people due process, get the bad guys put away or into treatment, and let the rest of us get on with our lives without being harassed by criminals—B and E artists—and being assaulted.
In Vancouver we have had a situation in which somebody, you'll recall, went into a hospital room and stole a ring from the hand of a 92-year-old woman and then got a minimum sentence for doing it. That's a horrific crime, and the impact was not only upon that woman but upon her whole family and on the sense of safety and security in a hospital. Give us a break; we need a sea change here.
I have four short questions, three for Mr. Cabana and one for Ms. Sutton, whom I still hold in friendly regard. I am not targeting you personally, but we would like you to contribute a little substance to all of this.
Mr. Cabana, first of all, tell us more about CIROC. I would like to understand where its innovation lies in comparison with what already existed, what this will achieve.
Second, I did not understand your second recommendation very well. During the last session, the committee was told about warrants that were good for three months and that they wanted to extend to one year. We were told this would be useful for surveillance investigations. Is that what you are referring to? Tell us clearly what you want.
Third, if we were to add a new offence to the Criminal Code banning the wearing of symbols that link an individual to organizations deemed criminal by the Court under section 467, do you think that could be useful?
After you have answered, I will ask Ms. Sutton if she can tell us whether or nor is true that the Correctional Service of Canada has a policy on street gangs in penitentiaries. What can she tell us about that at this point in time?
Thank you very much for coming, gentlemen.
I guess, with my background, I could give you a whole whack of anecdotal evidence or anecdotal stories or references related to some of the questions I'm going to ask. I'm going to mention a particular judge, because I think he had it right. Unfortunately, in other jurisdictions I think they have it wrong.
Just up the creek here, in Pembroke, Ontario, I had the privilege of working with Judge Russell Merredew, who did a study in his court of the number of charges. The largest number of charges were for breaches of probation. His statement was that the court has only one power, and that's the power of its orders. That's all it has. When people disrespect or don't adhere to the orders of the court, basically you have anarchy. So what he did in his court was that for the second charge of breach of probation, he had a specific number for incarceration, and every defence counsel knew what that number was. A third offence had another number. The fourth offence had another number. And guess what happened to the number of charges for breach of probation? It went down significantly.
In other courts I had the privilege of working in, with the acquiesce of the judiciary, the breaches of probation, under negotiation with the crown and defence, were the first charges to be disposed of. Judge Merredew didn't permit that in his court. I'm using his name. I suspect he's retired now. I just wanted to throw that out.
This graph would disturb any Canadian. Now, I'm no longer in the other field of work, where I could say some things and almost get away with them. I can't say some things here, because my political adversaries would like to haul me out in the court of public view and nail me to the wall. But let me just say this, and then I'm going to ask you for your comment. Obviously, you gentlemen--I'm referring specifically to Mr. Park and Mr. Rezac--did your homework before you came here. You made some presentations to us. This graph indicates something serious.
When we, as a government, tried to begin to bring in people to the judiciary who we thought best represented....
When we first became police officers, during our orientation we were told that the basic model is common law and that the average, common person, the average man and woman out in society, would be able to not only comprehend the law that governs us but comprehend and accept and give acquiescence to the administration of that law in terms of enforcement and the execution of justice.
In your humble opinion, do you believe that Canadians today understand the law as it is and the reasoning of the judges and the judiciary who are paid to represent the common man and render sentences upon people who commit antisocial behaviour? I'm using the touchy-feely words.
Mr. Chairman, there is a disconnect. We've spoken to judges, and I think there's a disconnect between what judges perceive and their rationale for making those decisions. They will go back to the law, and case law, and precedent and so on.
Canadians expect something different. In our understanding, from a recent study that Dave can perhaps talk to, I think 74% of British Columbians—though my numbers might be off by two or three percentage points—do not think the sentences being rendered reflect the views of Canadians. Our own informal, non-scientific poll on our website, www.boardoftrade.com, shows that of the people who have answered that poll, about 77% think that sentences almost never or never reflect the views of average Canadians.
I had a discussion with British Columbia's chief judge, Hugh Stanfield, on The Bill Good Show on CKNW recently, for a couple of minutes. The question I asked him was, why are sentences in British Columbia so much more lenient than in the rest of the country? The second question was, how can you justify decreasing sentences for chronic offenders in the city of Vancouver given that graph—which I just mentioned here? His response was to refer to the recently commissioned provincial report by Doob and Webster, which shows in aggregate that average sentences in British Columbia were about the same as those in the rest of the country. But my feeling is that most Canadians think that sentencing in the country is an issue and a problem. That aside, his response was, well, it's a common misperception that sentences are lesser or more lenient in British Columbia. I asked if he was referring to the Doob and Webster report. He said, yes, and I referred him to page 64—which I believe is in the handout—showing that 21% of drug traffickers in British Columbia get more than six months in jail, whereas the average is 58% in the rest of the country.
So in aggregate our sentences might be the same as the rest of the country, according to Doob and Webster, but for the bad guys, the drug traffickers, we're far more lenient, and this graph demonstrates that.
For him to go on radio and tell the public that in fact we're no different—which is a myth—and then to defend the system and try to defend some of these lenient sentences, we think is offensive, and we think it can be misleading to the public as well. So we challenged him on that. You must have a more fulsome discussion with him on that, as it was only a short clip on the radio.
We're not finished with that. I think that disconnect between judges and the public's expectations is a serious issue in Canada.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to welcome the witnesses and thank them for their comments.
I have a question for Assistant Commissioner Cabana. You have addressed the issue of disclosure and the duty to disclose pursuant to Stinchcombe. The Attorney General of British Columbia told us he shares your opinion on this subject: we must find a way not to restrict, but rather to simplify or expedite, this requirement.
I'd like to hear the assistant commissioner tell us how he thinks we could expedite or improve the disclosure requirements but not run afoul of the charter rights given in the Stinchcombe case. Surely you're not suggesting we not disclose to an accused person evidence against him or her. Obviously, you're looking at a way to make it less cumbersome on the administration of justice, occupy less time and fewer resources, which would reduce delays.
Other than providing documents digitally, for example, are there other ways we could streamline disclosure and not, in your opinion, violate the charter rights of the accused?
Also, Mr. Cabana, I'm wondering if a lot of this isn't an issue of a lack of resources in some jurisdictions, rather than standardization. If some jurisdictions want it in paper form, others will accept it digitally. Some may have the technology, others don't. A lot of that can be solved by providing adequate resources, could it not, if the Government of Canada, in partnership with provincial attorneys general, found a way to better share the burden that these decisions impose upon the administration of justice?
Thank you, Mr. LeBlanc, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for your very interesting question. There are actually a number of different approaches that I can think of right now, but of course they would require further examination, and as I'm sure you are aware, there are a lot of people right now across the country at different levels within law enforcement and within the judiciary who are looking at some of those very issues.
I think you touched on some of them, actually—standardizing the approach to disclosure, but also the definition of relevance. We see a significant disparity across the country, depending on the jurisdiction, in what is deemed to be relevant information. If we could come to terms on what should be deemed relevant to the defence and it falls within the Stinchcombe requirement, that in itself would serve to resolve a lot of the issues we're facing right now.
Also, if you go to the Stinchcombe decision, there's a recognition in there that disclosure is an ongoing process. In a majority of the jurisdictions now an expectation has been created that disclosure will be provided upon charges being laid. At the tail end of any investigation this creates a huge crunch in terms of resources to be able to prepare and package everything to make sure nothing is left to the side, that the disclosure is complete. It should be recognized that it is an ongoing process that starts from the moment a person is charged and will go on for a period of time.
As Mr. Comartin mentioned, there are different technologies out there. Most law enforcement agencies across the country are using those technologies. There would be a great benefit in standardizing how that technology is being used. I think that goes to some of the reluctance from the judiciaries that we've seen over the years. As with anything new, when law enforcement and prosecutors started using electronic disclosure, it was not prepared the way it should have been. There's a learning process.
For the most part, over the last ten years we have gone through that learning process, and it would be greatly beneficial to standardize how electronic disclosure should be made and how the judiciaries and the defence should expect disclosure to be received.
This may be perceived as a plea for additional resources, but there has to be a recognition that neither law enforcement nor the crown has ever received additional resources in order to facilitate disclosure. I've been in law enforcement for almost 30 years, and disclosures of 20 years ago were quite different. There have never been additional resources provided in order to facilitate that.
I agree with you, part of the issue is the lack of resources to facilitate this in a timely fashion.
I also think of coming to terms with or defining the role of the crown and the role of police in terms of who is responsible for assuming the cost of disclosure and to what extent. Again, there is some disparity across the country.
First of all, I would like to thank our guests for being here today.
I do not agree with Vancouver's position, though it is a magnificent city. Appointing one person as a judge rather than another because he promises to give harsher sentences makes no sense.
Having said that, have you already carried out a study? I read your study on repeat offenders, but have you already looked at parole services? The problem is not when someone goes into prison but rather when they come out. Have you seen that prisoners are coming out too quickly, that they are not doing their time? It is not right that a prisoner should be freed after 3 months when a judge sentenced them to 22 months.
Stop asking for longer sentences; that is not the problem. Stop asking for direction from judges. Ask the government to change the parole laws. Prisoners are freed too quickly. If you do not admit to that, we are off to a bad start, particularly as far as organized crime is concerned.
White-collar criminals or leaders get out of jail. We never see them. They are not the ones who hit people with baseball bats; they tell someone else to do it for them. When they go into jail, they behave like gentlemen and they are quickly released.
Ms. Sutton, you will certainly come back to the committee. I would like to get more information about parole. What does one-third of the sentence mean? Are there certain things people have to do to get a third, a half, or a quarter of the sentence? It has gotten to the point where we release people after one-sixth of the sentence. I know; I was a criminal lawyer for 30 years. My clients who had been sentenced to 32 months could not care less, because, 4 months later, they were back out on the street. In our jargon, we call a first sentence a "bit", which means that it is not serious.
I would like the National Parole Board to provide us with a study on this issue, which would meet the needs of our friends from Vancouver and probably those of our colleagues opposite. What criteria do you use to establish whether or not a person should be freed? For example, if a person has been sentenced to 40 months in jail, how do you assess whether or not they should be freed?
There are actually two ways an individual can leave prison or receive libération conditionelle
First of all, if he is a first-time federal offender, and non-violent, which is defined as not serving an offence under schedule I, which tends to be offences against a person, or who has not been convicted of a serious drug offence, which is schedule II, which again is defined, then he will be considered for parole. Unless the board can determine the likelihood that he or she will commit an offence of violence prior to the end of the sentence, we must direct, so there is little discretion within the law for those cases.
The alternative way applies to someone who has served several sentences, served more than one sentence, or is coming in for a first sentence that is clearly for violence or for a serious drug offence. That person is considered under the regular criteria for parole. The very first element within those criteria is protection of the public.
We look at a number of elements when determining the protection of the public, including the likelihood of reoffending if released. We look at what has brought him into prison, we look at what interventions have taken place, and then we look at what the plan is on release. In terms of the elements that are considered in each of those, the issue of interest here today is organized crime. Organized crime fits in every aspect of that--or gangs, if we want to use that language. Prior to that, we're looking at what evidence has come forward, and it is very clear that the board, as an administrative tribunal, does not need to have a conviction; if there is evidence or information coming forward that identifies that this individual has been involved in some organized activity, we can weigh that into our decision, unlike the court.
While he's incarcerated, we're also looking at information coming forward from Correctional Services or the police for further engagement or continued engagement within that same milieu. Then again, on leaving, who will he be associating with? Where will he be going? Are other associates who have been part of that gang in the same vicinity or the same halfway house, if he's going to a halfway house? It is clear from the evidence-based research that associates are a major consideration when looking at reoffending, and that is a major element within the board's decision-making.
Absolutely. Any effort to try to streamline the process surrounding the application of this piece of legislation, section 467.1, which defines organized crime, would be welcome. There's a reluctance across the country, unfortunately as much from a law enforcement standpoint as a justice standpoint, towards applying or using the provisions found in that legislation.
There are a number of factors, but it's mostly because of the burden of proof, the requirements in the burden of proof that we're held to in order to prove that the organization being investigated does in fact fall within the parameter of a criminal organization. I think there would be a benefit to looking at this.
The review should also consider the possibility of looking at the need to avoid duplication. Presently, if we have a prosecution in a specific area that looks at identifying a specific group as a criminal organization, and there's another prosecution somewhere in the country or even in the same jurisdiction, we have to go through the same mechanism again, even though the group was recognized as a criminal organization. We have to re-initiate the process, which is, in my humble opinion, pure duplication.
First, I'm not using Italy as a model for anything, except that I'm aware that they have a fairly successful program for dealing with people who are addicted to drugs. It's worth looking at. I'm not passing judgment on whether it's good or bad.
With respect to the United States, there's some mythology. Some of the measures used in the United States have worked. In fact, if you read the book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt, a prize-winning economist, you see, in fact, even using police-reported crimes alone, that the crime rate in Vancouver is a multiple of what it is in New York City, Detroit, or Los Angeles.
Violent crime, by some measures, is higher in Canada than it is in the U.S. Their crime rates have been going down. They do a victim study every year. Their crime rates have been going down dramatically over the last 10 years. The “three strikes and you're out” works. It's harsh justice and we're not advocating that, but in fact taking people who commit multiple crimes off the streets reduces your crime rate. Having more police works.
There's some common mythology that we've had, going back to the 1971 philosophy, that putting people in jail doesn't work. Well, you know what, folks? It works for victims. It may not work for the criminals, who might still be criminals when they come out, but it sure works for the victims. When people are locked up, they can't steal our cars, break into our homes, and shoot each other. They can't do that. That's what we're calling for.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the witnesses as well. I enjoyed your testimony today.
Mr. Rezac has mentioned victims a couple of times, and I appreciate that. So often over the years the victims have been the forgotten voices in the equation when we've talked about the criminal justice system. You mentioned victims a couple of times, and people in communities being victimized.
One of the primary concerns we're hearing about is recidivists, repeat offenders, and we're talking about that today in the context of organized crime. In the last Parliament we introduced measures designed to disrupt criminal enterprise. They included mandatory penalties for the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence--that would be escalating. So if someone committed a crime with a gun, there would be a minimum sentence imposed. If they got out and did it again and were arrested or convicted again, there would be a greater minimum penalty imposed. I think to a lot of Canadians that makes a lot of sense, not only as a way of protecting Canadians from the individual perpetrators, but also in disrupting criminal enterprise.
As you know, we've introduced two pieces of legislation, one dealing with gang violence and the other dealing with drug crimes. As the Minister of Justice has said, we don't hold them out as the be-all and end-all; we look at them as steps in the right direction. When we accomplish these steps, we want to move on with new measures.
There are two points I'd like comments on from Mr. Rezac and then Mr. Cabana. One is on resolve, because last year this was not the issue it has been this year. Last year when we had criminal justice legislation it was very difficult to get it through this House in any measure. I mentioned mandatory minimum penalties for gun crimes. The other was conditional sentences for serious crimes, where someone commits a serious crime but ends up serving their sentence from the comfort of their own home.
You're right that if you did a poll in Vancouver now this would be right at the top of people's minds. But how important is it for us as lawmakers that we maintain a resolve, when hopefully this isn't in the spotlight every week? How important is it, not just for the individual perpetrator but for breaking up criminal enterprises?
This is perhaps a question for Mr. Cabana. I will lead up to my question and then I would like to hear your opinion. You have already discussed this and gone over the problem by answering the questions from my various colleagues, including those of the opposition.
I come from Quebec. In the last two years, there have been a lot of problems linked to drugs coming in through our national ports and airports, which come under federal jurisdiction because our agents are supposed to be there. I understood, from reading certain newspapers, that in Montreal, which is a hub for drugs, the business grosses something in the order of $2 billion per year.
I agree with Mr. Rezac on the issue of statistics, and you yourself talked about them earlier on during your testimony. Statistics always show what we are able to see. We are like St. Thomas: if we saw it, we put it into the statistics. Drugs with a value of $2 billion came into the country, but we did not see offences worth $2 billion being committed across the country. So our statistics do not necessarily show us what has is happening.
However, people like Mr. Rezac, a civilian from Vancouver, you, a police officer, and this lady who looks after police relations, have come to see us. That means that there are fears. If Mr. Rezac took the trouble to come from Vancouver to see us, it means that there are fears. Even if we do not agree with his entire message, we sense his emotion and concern. I have also sensed this fear in my own riding, expressed by elderly people.
Mr. Cabana, there is one question I wanted to ask you above all. I read your document in which you speak about the corruption of public officials, on page 4, and I quote: "These groups have also come to rely on the corruption of public officials ..."
We have a good bill that will protect good police officers, good judges and good witnesses. What are you referring to when you talk about the corruption of public officials? This intrigues me.
I'll keep my comments to two points and I'll try to be as brief as possible.
First of all, I want to reiterate the importance of the lawful access perspective. There is misunderstanding on the part of the public, based on some of the media articles I've seen over the course of the past few years. Law enforcement and intelligence officers, right now, merely want to be able to do in 2009 what Parliament intended that we be able to do back in 1974 when the original legislation was enacted. We need to bring legislation to today's standards to be able to benefit from or facilitate the use of today's technology. That's my first comment.
The second comment, which really hasn't surfaced in my responses when I was talking about the multi-faceted approach, is to deal with the importance for us of ensuring the enforcement community's ability to share information and intelligence between agencies, both domestically and internationally—there is an issue domestically as well. We need to realize that good intelligence will allow us to have early warning of what is coming down the road and will put us in a position to prevent some of the actions of criminal organizations.
In the legislative reviews, aside from lawful access there's also a need to look at some of the legislation put in place, sometimes several decades ago, governing the exchange of information—including the Privacy Act—to make sure that federal agencies can share the intelligence, among themselves and with the provincial and municipal agencies and vice versa. A gap exists now that is actually putting Canadians at risk.