(This column was published in the North Shore News on Sept. 20, 2000)


Shooting a wake-up call

By Leo Knight

THE brutal attempted execution of Journal de Montreal crime reporter Michel Auger last week, has shocked a nation.  


Perhaps, just perhaps, the shooting has awakened this country from its slumber.  


Auger, shot five times in the back, will survive the cowardly attack. But this is much more than just an attack on a man. It is an attack on democracy. It is an attack on the country itself. And, it is incredibly stupid or arrogant, or quite possibly both.  


For many years there has been an unwritten rule in the world of organized crime. Cops and journalists who covered the crime beat, were off limits. The rule was only allowed to be broken if the target was compromised or corrupt.  


Essentially, this had a lot more to do with the pragmatism of the elements of organized crime rather than their sense of fair play. The "heat" which resulted from such a killing would be bad for business. It was a simple enough formula.  


But that was then and this is now.  


Years of diminished police budgets, complacent courts and cooperative politicians have allowed organized crime to flourish in this country. The result of all this malfeasance lay on the pavement of the parking lot of the Journal de Montreal.  


In the wake of the Auger shooting, the Quebec Public Security Minister, Serge Menard, called for the outlawing of membership in organized crime gangs. Politicians of all stripes were quick to hop on the bandwagon baying for an emergency debate in the House of Commons.  


There in Calgary, nodding like a dashboard puppy was Justice Minister Anne McLellan as the prime minister shed crocodile tears for the assembled media asking for his thoughts on the Auger outrage. Scandalous. Outrageous. What is the government going to do? Why they are going to study the situation.  


What, in the name of all things holy, is there to study?  


McLellan as Justice Minister has been little more than a waste of perfectly good opulent office space on Parliament Hill. She has done nothing in the time she has held the office of the top law enforcement officer in the country. Nothing.  


She should be bloody embarrassed to cash her taxpayer-funded pay cheque every two weeks.  


Where is the much-touted new Young Offenders Act? Where are the laws to help police investigate organized crime? In fact, the only thing she has accomplished is to bring in money laundering requirements forcing the banks to report transactions over $10,000, something the Americans have had for almost 20 years and other Western nations have been screaming for this country to do for about as long. Big deal.  


It seems that all McLellan can do is "study" issues. McLellan and the rest of her government has been told for years that Canada is losing the fight against organized crime.  


It commissioned a study by Price Waterhouse on the fiscal health of the RCMP in 1998. On Sept. 30, 1999, the report was delivered to the government and it stated that years of Liberal budget cuts have left the force financially crippled.  


Price Waterhouse recommended the Liberals immediately increase the force's budget by at least $564.1 million over four years so it would have a "minimally acceptable level of resources." Note the wording. "Minimally acceptable level of resources" hardly means healthy. The report also specifically targeted organized crime saying the budget cuts have put the RCMP's ability to fight organized crime "in peril."  


Last week RCMP veteran, Mike Niebudek, vice president of the Canadian Police Association, said, "We have weak laws, weak budgets, weak technology and little support. Our front-line officers are extremely demoralized. On the other hand, organized criminals have billions of dollars at their disposal and are literally banking on the lack of enforcement resources to track their movements."  


In Toronto in August, at the International Conference on Organized Crime, Antonio Nicasio, an expert on the subject and the author of nine books said, "Canada has always been a welcome wagon for organized crime; a revolving door that lets everyone in regardless of their criminal past.  


"As other countries begin cracking down on organized crime figures, Canada is quickly becoming an easy mark for criminals."  


McLellan must realize by now what the problem is. She cannot possibly suggest it requires more study. Nor do we need to get into the inane debate about outlawing membership in a criminal gang. This is the stuff of knee-jerk reactionism and frustration.  


If the Hells Angels or any other group want to wear colours that denotes them as a single organization so what? That is not their crime. It is the activities by individual members of the organization, which constitutes the crime.  


We already have conspiracy laws sufficient to deal with the crime groups. We have tax laws which should be used to go after their assets. If we need more legislation, let it be similar in scope to the American RICO statute.  


What we do not have in this country is an attitude that encourages the prosecution of the criminal elements. The government cannot continue to cripple the police as they have done since they were first elected in 1993. The federal policing budget is roughly the same as it was in 1991.  


Equally, the courts have to come to some sort of middle ground when they adjudicate constitutional arguments. For example, the Stinchcombe decision of the Supreme Court in 1992 has added over $4 million annually to the operating expenses of the RCMP just in photocopying costs. For no practical purpose. And that's just the RCMP. Add on every municipal police department, other federal, provincial and municipal enforcement agencies and the cost is probably over $100 million per year.  


The Auger shooting has brought the issue to the forefront. And, it's about time. But, it is time for action, not study.






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