I call the meeting to order.
This is meeting number 13 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Today is Wednesday, April 1, 2009.
You have before you the agenda for today. We're continuing our review of Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants).
Please note that we'll take 10 minutes at the end, in camera, to discuss a number of issues related to our travel to Vancouver for the organized crime study.
To assist us with our Bill C-14 review, we have a number of witnesses representing various stakeholders in the justice system.
First of all, we have the Ottawa Police Service, represented by Staff Sergeant Christopher Renwick, who is with the guns and gangs unit of the criminal investigative services branch, and we also have Staff Sergeant Bernie Ladouceur, with the criminal intelligence unit of the criminal investigative services branch. Representing the RCMP, we have Chief Superintendent Todd Shean, who is director general of drugs and organized crime, and we also have Superintendent Michel Aubin, director of immigration and passport.
Appearing from Halifax, by teleconference, we have Chief Frank Beazley, Chief of Police for Halifax. Welcome.
Later on we'll also have Mr. William Trudell, who is the chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, appearing before us.
Gentlemen, as you know, the process is that each of your organizations will have 10 minutes to present, and then after you're finished, we'll have questions from each of our committee members.
We could start with Monsieur Ladouceur or Mr. Renwick.
Mr. Renwick, please.
Thank you all for giving us the opportunity to appear before your committee today to speak on behalf of the Ottawa Police Service's guns and gangs unit.
With me today is Staff Sergeant Bernie Ladouceur, the staff sergeant of our criminal intelligence section, and also with us today is Sergeant Dave Lockhart, also from criminal intelligence, and Ms. Tammy Quinn, our very capable crime analyst. Staff Sergeant Ladouceur will assist in any questions specifically in regard to organized crime.
The Ottawa Police Service's guns and gangs unit grew from the youth intervention section in 2006 to combat the emerging trend of street gangs that were forming in our city to conduct the illegal or illicit crack cocaine trade and the prostituting of young, vulnerable women. The current complement of the guns and gangs section is 11 investigators, who focus their attention in two areas: criminal investigations of known street gang members and their associates, and criminal investigations into the possession, use, and trafficking of crime firearms.
A uniformed direct action response team, or DART, was formed in October 2007 as a supplement to the guns and gangs unit, with a specific mandate of monitoring gang activity while providing a highly visible and active police presence in the affected communities.
I was present at the Ottawa Police Service's headquarters, along with Chief Vern White and British Columbia's Solicitor General and Attorney General when the federal Minister of Justice, Minister Nicholson, introduced Bill C-14. In his remarks following the announcement, Chief White stated that the proposed legislation will be of value, as it raises the level of seriousness of crimes committed on our streets.
Of particular interest to our street gang investigations is the introduction of a five-year minimum sentence for shootings involving restricted or prohibited firearms or for shootings linked to a criminal organization. This, along with the increased firearm penalties brought into law a few years ago, will be an effective and welcome proposed change.
In 2008, the guns and gangs unit and direct action response team seized 66 crime guns off our streets. We are experiencing an increase in the number of criminals carrying handguns in Ottawa for intimidation and enforcement purposes and for the protection of their crack cocaine markets.
Shootings in public places are more frequent. We have had two street shootings within the past weeks, both resulting in persons being shot and both with links to street gangs and the crack cocaine trade. Just this morning we recovered a .45 calibre pistol we believe was used in one of the shootings and we took a known gang member into custody. It is investigations such as this that Bill C-14 addresses.
The automatic first-degree murder designation for homicides and the minimum five-year sentence provisions for shootings both require that the offence was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization. This will place an additional burden on the police investigators to establish the accused has membership in a criminal organization, and I am quite interested in how our courts will address this. I am optimistic that the recent expert witness designations of one of our investigators in a robbery sentencing hearing will help establish this procedure. We have also achieved expert witness status recently in an Immigration and Refugee Board deportation hearing.
We are using the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada's six-point criterion for classifying a person as a gang member. This was developed in 1991 to provide a standardization across the country. The definition of “criminal organization” is stated in subsection 467.1(1). However, the criterion we are currently using is not.
A lesson we learned early on is that an effective anti-gang strategy must be intelligence-led to make the best use of resources the Ottawa Police Service has put into the guns and gangs unit. Investigations are intelligence-driven, with the bulk of the information coming from four sources: Crime Stoppers tips from the community, street checks and occurrence reports from our front-line officers, coded informants developed by the guns and gangs investigators, and of course the sharing of information and intelligence from external partners. This is why we place so much importance on a crime analysis function, and we feel we're in a good position to establish the link to street organized crime that the courts will require to invoke the proposed minimum mandatory sentencing.
The creation of the two new offences in regard to assault against police and peace officers is encouraging; however, in our view, it appears to stop short of extending protection against intimidation of officers of the court and justice officials.
We routinely face problems with intimidation and witness fear that prevent the laying of charges or cause the withdrawing of charges against gang members. We are actually seeing gang members attending court proceedings involving fellow gang members, and it certainly is having an effect on our witnesses. We have yet to have in Ottawa an instance of intimidation of a court official, but the potential is always there.
To comment on the last proposed amendment regarding section 810, peace bonds, this again addresses the fear of members of our community by giving a provincial court judge more conditions that he can impose when ordering a defendant to enter into a recognizance. Most of our persons of street gang interest appear in front of a provincial court judge not as defendants in a peace bond hearing, but rather as accused for criminal offences.
If the court sees fit to release them pending trial, the conditions placed on them are by way of an undertaking or a recognizance. These imposed conditions are quite easily enforceable, and this is where our direct action response team comes into play with regular compliance checks to ensure that the conditions are being abided by. If not, they're arrested and brought back to the courts, where we make arguments to keep them inside pending the trial date. It certainly would be of great assistance to our investigators and would minimize witness intimidation if the bail threshold were raised.
Following Justice Minister Nicholson's introduction of Bill C-14 on February 26, Chief White also remarked that it is a good beginning, but it is a beginning, and more is needed in getting criminals off our streets. The key is lawful access reform, lawful access being the term used to describe the legal process by which police can intercept private communication. Police need a replacement of that outdated 1974 legislation, which would provide us with intercept capability for new communications systems that the service providers are now offering the public. We also would like to see better rules and regulations governing our ability to obtain subscriber information. At the investigative level, Staff Sergeant Ladouceur and I are all too familiar with the restrictions placed on ongoing investigations and projects, not to mention the prohibitive costs.
I have talked a lot on enforcement and little on prevention and diversion. The Ottawa Police Service is committed to an anti-gang strategy based on the four pillars of community education, intervention diversion, enforcement, and targeted suppression. However, when dealing with criminal organizations and their involvement in the illicit drug trade and increased willingness to carry and use firearms, a firm hand is necessary.
In my view, Bill C-14 will meet the objectives of denunciation and deterrence to violent crimes committed in connection with organized crime and street gangs.
First let me briefly touch on the financial impact.
While not always visible, the result of financial crimes on Canadians is devastating and can contribute to the erosion of Canada's economic integrity. One example is counterfeit currency. We have all seen the signs in stores advising the public that they no longer accept $100 bills. Ensuring the value and stability of the nation's currency is critical to the vitality of the economy, and counterfeit currency degrades the confidence Canadians have in their bank notes.
Mass-marketing fraud is seen as a high-profit, low-risk crime. In 2008, the loss reported on this type of fraud was $66.4 million. It is important to note that 95% of people who are victims of mass-marketing fraud do not report it. Many crime groups target our most vulnerable demographics, such as our senior citizens.
Counterfeit goods is also seen as a low-risk activity.
Organized crime groups are becoming more and more interested in the potential high profits of counterfeit clothing and accessories, even auto parts, electrical products, pharmaceuticals, batteries, toothpaste and circuit breakers to name a few. Ultimately, counterfeiting results in losses to legitimate business and the economy, but it also poses considerable health and safety risks.
Contraband tobacco is another illicit market contributing to an underground economy worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Traditionally seen as a victimless crime, tobacco trafficking is now regarded as a significant source of income for all levels of organized crime. They reinvest the substantial profits from that to support other criminal activities. The result is a loss of federal and provincial revenues that would have contributed to health care and other social programs.
Last year the RCMP seized more than one million cartons of illicit tobacco. The availability of contraband is at an historical high. Our seizure level has surpassed the 1994 benchmark by 137%, and that was a time when the black market was considered entirely out of control.
The social impact is no less concerning. Organized crime tactics such as corruption, internal conspiracies, and intimidation undermine Canadian confidence in our transportation system, our judicial system, and the security of our entry points. When key sectors of the Canadian economy and institutions are targeted and public officials and employees are corrupted by organized crime, Canadians don't feel safe.
Organized crime groups will attempt to exploit employees at airports, as one example, by corrupting existing employees or by placing criminal associates in the airport workforce.
Project Colisée, an investigation led by the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, uncovered a series of conspiracies to import cocaine to Canada from various countries via Montreal International Airport.
More than 90 people were arrested, and the criminal organization behind the scheme managed to corrupt two officials at the airport; one was bribed to help facilitate the importation of drugs by containers.
Organized crime groups have also escalated their use of violence in fighting for territory and shares of what have become very lucrative illicit markets. As a result, some gang members have started wearing body armour and bullet-proof vests and have modified their vehicles with armour plating. Acts of such extreme violence, and the fact that gang members are preparing for it, are alarming. As these gangs fight it out on Canadian streets, innocent bystanders are victimized. Many have lost their lives.
Organized crime is also becoming efficient at exploiting and victimizing people, subverting legitimate business, and corrupting parts of our political and judicial systems. Groups that have come to rely on the corruption of public officials are also using violence and intimidation tactics towards anyone standing in their way, including potential witnesses, the judiciary, and even law enforcement.
Be it because they fear reprisals or adhere to the unwritten code of criminals, witnesses often refuse to testify when they take the stand, as was the case recently in British Columbia during the trial of two top members of the Independent Soldiers gang. Witnesses were reluctant to provide details of the incident, with one witness advising the crown prosecutor that he would not provide details because he was looking out for himself.
These are some of the realities of organized crime today. We believe that knowledge and foresight are at the heart of any effective strategy to combat organized crime. Criminal intelligence is needed to accurately assess the threats and investigate key groups on a priority basis.
The RCMP recognized this necessity and adopted an intelligence-led approach several years ago. Through strategic and tactical criminal intelligence work, the RCMP, along with other Canadian police services, has been assessing the ever-growing organized crime threats. Enforcement priorities have been established to address the most pressing problems and investigations have been undertaken. However, the threats posed by organized crime in Canada today are clearly complex, widespread, and well entrenched in many communities across the country.
To address the fast-evolving nature of organized crime threats, a number of specific criminal intelligence initiatives have been put in place within the last three years. Undertaken at the local, provincial, national, and international levels, those initiatives are specifically aimed at the fight against organized crime.
Briefly, criminal intelligence probe teams developing tactical intelligence in support of enforcement operations against organized crime groups, including street gangs, have been established in several provinces. The RCMP has partnered with key foreign law enforcement agencies to facilitate the flow of organized crime information and to gain a better understanding of shared crime threats.
In addition, Canadian inter-agency cooperation is further enhanced by a number of national and international law enforcement committees, all of which contribute to a common strategic direction and a goal to disrupt organized crime. These groups include, among others, the National Coordinating Committee on Organized Crime, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Organized Crime Committee, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Law Amendment Committee, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The relatively new Canadian Integrated Response to Organized Crime, or CIROC, is a body that represents all of law enforcement across Canada from both an operational and an intelligence capacity. CIROC focuses on developing operational strategies to leverage our collective efforts.
The RCMP continues to build meaningful partnerships with domestic and international agencies to create joint enforcement teams that have been among the most successful practices in disrupting organized crime groups. For example, combined forces special enforcement units and integrated response to organized crime teams are integrated teams of police officers and government agencies with a mandate to expose, investigate, prosecute, dismantle, and disrupt organized criminal enterprises.
As well, we have joint enforcement teams targeting cross-border criminality, such as integrated border enforcement teams. These are intelligence-based binational groups that share information and collaborate on a daily basis with local, state, and provincial agencies on issues of national security, organized crime, and other cross-border crime.
On the international front, our foreign liaison officers are strategically located around the world to support our organized crime investigations and to serve not only the interests of the RCMP but also those of the entire Canadian police community. A 2006 seizure is an excellent illustration of the globalization of organized crime and the partnerships we have developed nationally and internationally.
Working with the Department of National Defence, the RCMP seized 22.5 tonnes of hashish off the coast of Africa that was destined for Canada. Our success was due in large part to the ability of the RCMP liaison officers stationed in eight different countries who were able to provide the required investigative support in this project.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, for our part, the RCMP is working hard to target the realities of organized crime groups in the 21st century. Is there more to do? Yes. Can we eradicate crime in Canada? No. But we can disrupt activities, target their proceeds, and discourage crime groups from exploiting and threatening Canada's financial integrity and border security.
Through the intelligence-led policing concept, and by working closely with key partners in Canada and throughout the world who face similar issues and challenges, we are contributing to safer homes and communities, at home and abroad.
I would like to thank you for inviting me to appear today. We would be pleased to answer any questions following the different presentations.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I apologize for being late. There was a decision being made in Toronto about whether or not the plane was going to take off. It was late. I went up and said, “If I don't go, do I get two for one for my ticket?” They said, “No.” So I came anyway.
The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers is very grateful for the opportunity to come and assist you. We've been coming now for about 17 years. We see our role really not as one to take sides in one way or another, but to look at proposed legislation and offer our assistance as to whether indeed there's a gap that this legislation fills, whether or not we can offer guidance on possible changes, and even in some circumstances suggest that the bill may not be necessary.
In this particular case, our position is simply this. We recognize that there is a problem with organized crime in Canada, as throughout the world, but we want to be very cautious about the labelling of criminal organizations. It's almost in the infancy of the definition that was passed a number of years ago. There's only one really significant case—I think it's Bonner out of Ontario—where a criminal organization is defined in the jurisprudence. So we're really sort of in a developing stage, in our respectful submission, and therefore we would just ask you to be cautious when you add on sections of the Criminal Code that import the criminal organization aspect. What it does, in our respectful submission, is to make the proceedings, the offence, much more complex.
Let me just say this. I would respectfully submit to you and to my colleagues to my right, whom I respect, and to those out in the field doing the work, that to denote murder as first-degree murder in association with a criminal organization does nothing. Murder is murder. First-degree murder is first-degree murder. What it does, however, in our respectful submission, is it contributes to a clogging of really trying to make the criminal justice system work a lot smoother. So is there a gap in the legislation? Does it add anything? We would respectfully urge you to consider whether indeed it does.
Certain comments may be made for political purposes. That's your job. You bring in legislation and that's why you're elected to Parliament to do it. But is there a need? Is something really being proposed that fills a gap? In our respectful submission, this isn't happening with the designation of first-degree murder in association with a criminal organization or for the benefit of. We have deemed first-degree murder with the murder of a police officer, for instance. You don't need to worry about the definition of that. We accept that. That is in the Criminal Code. But when you bring this in, you're now sort of opening up challenges and complexity in terms of this case, and it doesn't benefit the criminal justice system at the end of the day if it's not sort of filling a gap. We would say that in the first instance.
Secondly, another section talks about mandatory minimum sentences for certain new offences. Is there a gap that necessarily needs to be filled by some of the new offences suggested in Bill C-14? We would respectfully submit to you that there isn't. We keep adding on to the Criminal Code when we're trying to figure out what certain sections mean. But the police have the tools, in my respectful submission, to charge people with offences involving firearms. If a statement is going to be made in terms of mandatory minimums, and new offences created, is it filling a gap in the long term, or indeed is it just to give a message? We ask you to consider that.
We, as defence counsel in this country, plead with you to restrict the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences. In my respectful submission, what it does is send the wrong message to the judges. Judges treat these offences seriously. Denunciation is very prominent in our communities when guns and violence are involved, and judges need the discretion, in my respectful submission, to be able to fit the appropriate sentence to the appropriate crime and the offender.
Another section of Bill C-14 relates to increased use of the section 810 peace bond sections and increased recognizance. It was interesting to read the minister's comments when this bill was introduced. He talked about giving judges an opportunity to fashion terms of recognizance so the process wasn't a cookie cutter. Those were his words. In my respectful submission, that's inherently contradictory to having mandatory minimums.
We believe, and we experience it on a daily basis, that the courts in this country treat serious criminal offences seriously, treat crimes of violence seriously. I think that Parliament has done a job, and the police are doing a job, in together trying to bring the message that serious criminal activity will be prosecuted and treated seriously, and that is what's happening.
If you wouldn't mind, I will just analogize for a second.
Our forces are at war in Afghanistan. We're not just at war; we don't just have combat troops there. The whole thrust throughout the world, and the thrust of the Canadian military, is that we have to build and support democratic institutions to give those people the sense that the al-Qaeda way, if I can use that phrase, is not the way they want to live. To take it into combatting criminal activity, what we need to do is not only put this much energy into new offences, but also put considerable energy into policing, into investigation, and into community involvement, because people who associate with gangs, whether they are criminal organizations within the definition or just organizations, don't belong. They're abnormal. They don't fit. They have a different culture.
Why is that? It is because they find it is more attractive to their lifestyle. We're not going to stamp it out. What we need to do is put a lot of energy into trying to demonstrate, trying to integrate, and trying to educate.
I'm not saying pampering. I'm not saying that.
I live in Toronto, and not far from where I live is an area in Toronto that has lots of crime problems. The other night I was driving home with my children and my wife, and we saw three police officers walking down the street in this community. My son said, “That's really cool.” I'm sure it costs a lot of money to have three police officers there, but that presence in the community sends a message.
If I decide I want to be part of a gang, I am not worried about a minimum sentence. I don't stop to think about whether it's mandatory. I don't stop to think about whether or not these acts are going to get me first-degree.... I don't even think in those terms. I am looking for immediate gratification.
There are people who belong to these gangs who find their self-worth there. I'm not saying not to punish these gangs, but if we punish them and give them credibility by targeting them, then I don't think we're solving anything.
These pieces of legislation are being introduced piecemeal. We suggest that piecemeal introduction of criminal legislation is going to blow up the Criminal Code.
We need to look at the entire Criminal Code, but we keep adding on incrementally. If you see, after you study these bills, that there's a need, that there's a gap, that there's something lacking, as opposed to just apparently the immediacy of emotional contagion in the community, then please, you have to pass them. But you have to decide whether there is a gap. You have to decide whether there is a need. And you have to decide what the impact is.
Throughout this country--from the Department of Justice in Ottawa through every province, including police forces, the defence, deputy attorneys, and judges--everyone is looking at a better, more efficient criminal justice system in the front end.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and thank you very much for accommodating my schedule today. It's a pleasure to speak to you today regarding Bill C-14.
As you are aware, in many Canadian cities the concern about violence and youth crime has been rising in the last number of years. Halifax is no exception. Halifax has had a long-standing drug subculture, which has brought with it other criminal behaviour and violence. This problem has been compounded in recent years with the emergence of a street gang culture and related street violence. Halifax is consistently ranked as one of the most violent cities in the last decade.
In 2005 we implemented a crime reduction strategy that focused on targeting high crime areas and chronic offenders. These measures have resulted in the gradual decrease in violent crime. However, we still have much to do to reduce violent crime.
While crime has been trending downward for four consecutive years, it is violent incidents that alarm our citizens, particularly incidents involving firearms. I and my senior officers receive comments almost daily from citizens who say they are fearful of coming to Halifax because of violence. That's something that none of us wants to see in our communities.
Despite the fact that most crimes of violence are being committed against and by people involved in criminal activity, violent offences, particularly those involving guns, create a perception that the city is unsafe.
But it is not simply a matter of perception. In 2008 we saw a more than 10% increase in the number of firearms seized by HRP versus 2007. Last year we seized 135 firearms in the city of Halifax. In the first two months of 2009, there were 18 incidents of violent crime involving a firearm and another 23 involving knives. As we speak today, my units are in an area of the city where another drive-by shooting has just taken place, and we're also now at the scene of another murder.
In August 2008, violence associated with opposing criminal groups began to emerge after a shooting. The violence continued sporadically until early November, when a key criminal figure was released from custody. It appeared that violent incidents were occurring daily. In spite of an unprecedented police response, targeting both of those criminal groups, the violence continued, culminating in two very public shootings. The first was in a parking lot of a local pizza shop, and the second was in a parking lot of the IWK Children's Hospital in Halifax. These shootings shocked the community and only intensified the police response. The significant resource deployment and highly focused effort resulted in the arrest of 14 individuals, the seizure of illegal drugs and weapons, drug charges, and significant Criminal Code charges, including conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder.
Also in August 2008, a series of violent armed robberies in places of business emerged as a serious concern. A group of suspects emerged earlier, and charges were laid, but the robberies have continued. The robberies are well planned, including escape routes to allow the suspects to avoid detection. This criminal group has consumed significant resources and has required specialized skills and equipment to investigate.
These are only a few examples of the shootings in very public places that have become an all too common occurrence in the last few years. In my 39 years of policing, nothing has disturbed me more than the total disregard for the safety of innocent bystanders shown by those responsible for the shootings.
I am pleased that the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code will address the growing problem of indiscriminate and dangerous shootings. Bill C-14 sends the clear message that drive-by shootings, the reckless discharge of firearms in public places, and the use of firearms for intimidation by criminals will not be accepted by our society. It is long overdue.
Organized crime's use of violence and intimidation to achieve its criminal objectives is not a new phenomenon, but my experience tells me that the level of gratuitous and indiscriminate violence is new. In my view, the question asked by most citizens should not be whether or not homicides resulting from the activities of criminal organizations should attract the most serious of criminal sanctions, but rather, why these sanctions don't apply now.
We must clearly send the message that gang-related violence will not be tolerated. Specifying that murder is automatically first degree when it is committed in connection with a criminal organization is an important step.
I am also pleased that this bill will create two new offences designed to protect peace officers and other justice officials. Police officers today are being confronted more and more with weapons and violence. We must ensure that our laws address that violence, and these provisions speak to the level of violence and intimidation police face today. Assaults on police officers in Halifax this year over last year have risen in excess of 40%.
I would be remiss if I did not add my voice to those calling for changes to part VI of the Criminal Code, the legal regime under which police officers can intercept private communications.
I have spent a significant part of my career investigating organized crime and conducting wiretap investigations, and I can tell you that without the ability to legally intercept private communications, many very successful investigations would not have happened. That ability has been eroded by technology and the failure of the law to keep pace. The complexity of criminal investigations and the information involved has increased tenfold in the last decade. The tools to combat crime must also keep pace. I know you have heard from others on lawful access, so I will not belabour the point, except to say that the time to act on modernizing part VI of the Criminal Code has passed. We need these tools, and we need them now, to fight the increasingly complex problem of fighting organized crime and violence.
In closing, I am not here today to tell you that this bill, or any bill, will address all the issues of crime or violence. In fact, these issues will only be solved by a broad societal approach that addresses the underlying causes of crime, such as poverty, racism, and other social development concerns. This is not to say, though, that criminal law does not have a role. The proposed bill is a good step in the fight against criminal gangs and violence. It is targeted and it is directed at some of the issues communities face, and I would urge everyone to support this legislation.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and witnesses.
The position of the Liberal Party on this bill is that we're supporting it. Nevertheless, we benefit greatly from hearing from law enforcement officials, and in this case Mr. Trudell as well.
Today, there are a couple of common themes. One is that we are all here attempting to make our society safer. We all recognize that organized crime is organized and is becoming more so. And we all recognize that the Criminal Code is a mishmash of additions and improvements, gaps and irregularities, and that we're doing more of the same here. We all recognize this. Nevertheless, we're all trying, through swift passage of this bill, to add to some of the tools that law enforcement officials have—and doing so without changing, I would add, with due respect to Mr. Trudell, any of the ground rules of our rights and liberties.
I have some very specific questions arising from the comments made. The first deals with some of the testimony you gave, Chief Superintendent Shean, on behalf of the RCMP, with respect to corruption and infiltration and intimidation. That's my first set of questions.
The next set is about the use of wiretaps, or the interception of information, which both Staff Sergeant Renwick and Chief Beazley talked about.
First, on the corruption aspect, it's quite a shocking statement, Chief Superintendent Shean, for you to say that organized crime is “becoming efficient at exploiting and victimizing people”—which I think people understand—and at “subverting legitimate business, and corrupting parts of our political and judicial systems”. You went on to talk about intimidation. We read about intimidation daily, and I think we understand it.
My question is really twofold. What instances of corruption of public officials are we talking about, and at what level? Overall, with respect to corruption and intimidation and infiltration, what more can we do to combat these?
I have three questions to ask you.
First, I've been told a lot about one of the aspects of organized crime which is perhaps not new, but which we're becoming increasingly aware of. And that is the entire question of numbered companies. In recent days, two reports have been broadcast on the construction industry in Quebec. Some of the print media have even named certain specific sectors of that industry, cranes, for example.
What additional information could you give us on the interaction between organized crime and numbered companies? Could you even table documents before this committee?
Second, on my first reading of the bill—which we are going to support; there's no doubt about that—I reacted in somewhat the same way as Mr. Trudell. I said to myself that a person who committed a homicide for a criminal organization ran the risk of being imprisoned for life. I was trying to see what new aspect the bill added. I concluded from the information provided by the minister that, ultimately, there may be certain situations in which people who commit crimes or homicides for organized crime plead guilty to manslaughter, that is to say murder without premeditation.
Do you agree that the question of first degree murder is really a new feature of this bill? What kind of charges will this enable you to lay? I would like to understand how this provides you with a new tool?
I'll start by asking you two questions and, if the Chair is indulgent with me, I'll ask my third question after that.
Thank you to the witnesses.
We've had a pretty good and wide-ranging discussion. Thanks for your feedback on the questions so far.
On the approach we're taking now as a government, it's been mentioned that this is a step in the right direction, but it's not the be-all and end-all. That's certainly not what we've held it out to be. Our approach is to take steps in the right direction with each of our pieces of legislation. In the last Parliament, that included mandatory and minimum penalties for gun crimes, reverse onus on bail for gun crimes, the changes regarding house arrest, raising the age of consent, and impaired driving legislation. In this Parliament we've introduced this bill as well as legislation dealing with illicit drugs, credit for time served, and, most recently, ID theft.
So we are taking an approach that looks at a specific problem and tries to move our justice system in the right direction, taking into account the concerns that front-line police officers, victims of crime, and other stakeholders in the justice system have raised.
We have representatives here from Halifax, the RCMP, as well as from Ottawa. Halifax and Ottawa are cities that cover very large geographic areas with urban and rural components. Today we're studying organized crime. I know the perception--and what we see on the news--is that this is often an urban downtown issue. We're also having challenges in rural areas.
Is this a problem just in the urban areas, or should we all be concerned, whether we're urban or rural, as members of Parliament or Canadians?
I throw that open to any of those I mentioned to answer.
Thank you very much. I have five minutes? This will be very brief. Perhaps I'll share the time allotted to me with one of my colleagues, if I don't need five minutes.
The question will be for Mr. Todd or perhaps Mr. Michel Aubin. I'm going to repeat roughly the same terms as Mr. Ménard used earlier in citing an example. Recently, there has been talk about the construction industry, which appears to be infiltrated by organized crime. If members of organized crime infiltrate the construction industry, it's because they want to launder money that comes from prostitution, theft, drugs, cigarettes and so on. So they need a vehicle in order to enter a group and launder their money.
We've also learned that they are infiltrating not only large groups, but also groups that in some cases consist of employers, union officers, sometimes people who contribute to democracy in Canada in various forms. We see organized crime entering very quietly by the back door and moving up. In some cases, that can even cause much more serious problems. As someone said earlier—I don't know if it was the representative of the Ottawa police—there are intimidation problems. Someone may be afraid; even a politician may be afraid. We saw what happened in Italy. Everything started in the construction industry and, following Operation Clean Hands, the affair went as far as a judge of the Italian Supreme Court, who was involved in all kinds of events. He was not the only one; a number of judges were involved.
Bill C-14 provides protection for politicians, police officers and people who will have to take action to combat organized crime, and so on. Do you think this protection is enough today? I have some doubts, even though we are proposing the legislation. In 1975, an investigation was conducted into construction. It was said that would never occur again. Now this is 2009, 33 years later, a generation later, and organized crime is still involved in construction. That's why I'm asking you whether you find the bill we are trying to present to you satisfactory or whether it's just a little part of what can be done.
I don't have all that much time to debate, Mr. Trudell, but we had some statistics the other day about murders: 104 in 2006, 74 of which were first-degree. I guess your argument is that it's going to take a lot of extra resources to go for first-degree when on the basis of the facts the result may be a second-degree conviction. But it is my experience--and the police will probably back this up--that prosecutors and police forces will make that decision based on the difficulty of the case, and it is an extra prize, if you will, that prosecutors and police will I think make the decision on a case-by-case basis.
I want to let the fellow maritimer sitting down there have some time. He's absolutely correct that Halifax has changed in character. I was a university student there, and some of my classmates--not me, of course--would roam the streets late at night without any worry whatsoever, but it's changed. Its complexity has changed. Gang members from North Preston roam the Maritimes.
I guess what I'm asking you from a law enforcement point of view, Chief, is whether you think there are enough tools in your satchel. I'll be specific. Right now you can get permission to have wiretaps for a period of one year at a time. My information is that it doesn't seem to be being used all that often. Prosecutors are reluctant to go for the full year to wiretap and intercept.
The second question I have is along the lines of the evidence given by Staff Sergeant Renwick with respect to the expert witness designation. They've had some success here in various courts, I suppose, in getting the designation. Have members of your force--a member of the RCMP, JFO, or whatever--been designated as experts on a criminal organization, in the courts in Nova Scotia? Is it easy to get? Are those some of your difficulties?