(This column was published in the North Shore News on Feb. 7, 2001)

 

Feds wake up to organized crime threat

By Leo Knight

I'M holding my breath this morning.  

 

While I have been underwhelmed with the performance, or lack thereof, of federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan over the past few years, I'm actually a little heartened that maybe, just maybe, she is finally starting to get it.  

 

McLellan has conducted her office with masterly inactivity since she was appointed to the country's top law enforcement post in 1997.  

 

Yet, defying the odds this week in Ottawa, she announced a new legislative initiative designed to fight organized crime in general and outlaw motorcycle gangs in particular.  

 

Now, before I go on, I should say that nothing is carved in stone with this.  

 

She and Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay are apparently putting together a package designed to give police more powers in investigating and infiltrating organized crime groups while also dealing with the issues of recruitment and membership.  

 

The proposed legislation will also have specific measures aimed at those who would intimidate and threaten those involved in the process and administration of justice. But the package has to be sold at the cabinet table first and to treasury second because of new funding initiatives also being sought.  

 

The shooting of Montreal crime reporter Michel Auger may have sparked the outrage most of the country feels towards organized criminals who perpetually thumb their noses at a civilized society. But, that singular act may have also provided the impetus for McLellan to begin earning her paycheque.  

 

"There are serious consequences if you attempt to intimidate those who are lawfully going about their duties to administer the criminal justice system," she was quoted as saying Monday in the Ottawa Sun.  

 

"And that is true whether you intimidate police, prosecutors, judges, jury members or even legislators. Who better to intimidate than the people who pass the laws?" McLellan asked.  

 

Well, Bravo Minister! What the heck took you so long?  

 

For years this country has been a haven for elements of organized crime.  

 

With our lax laws and lenient sentencing, criminals from all over the world have been coming to Canada to orchestrate their illegal enterprises.  

 

Police in this country have been fighting the war against organized crime with their hands tied behind their back.  

 

Now it appears they might actually get some legislation with teeth.  

 

But, and it's a very big but, they need money to do the job.  

 

And, no, I'm not about to suggest simply throwing money at the problem in the vain hope there will be an effect. And there's the rub.  

 

During the last federal election campaign, the prime minister told the country his government had committed over $500 million to the RCMP to fight organized crime.  

 

That was simply not true.  

 

The extra money committed to the Mounties was merely to re-establish some positions underfunded by the Liberals in previous budgets and to pay for wage and benefit increases finally granted the national police force after seven years of stagnation under a pay freeze.  

 

None of the money went towards the investigation of organized crime.  

 

In point of fact, the bulk of the funding committed to taking on organized crime comes from the enforcement budgets of provincial and municipal governments. Not the feds.  

 

The Liberals will be asked to supply new funding for technology improvements and other hard resources for police.  

 

Given the size of the federal surplus, it would seem entirely reasonable that some of that money be invested in the protection of the public. I don't believe there is actually room for another fountain in the river in Shawinigan.  

 

While it appears the federal government is finally getting around to doing something, it must be noted that the provincial government is going to have to step up to the plate as well.  

 

Considering that Premier Ujjal Dosanjh has already committed almost a billion dollars to a variety of initiatives designed to buy our votes and it now seems the SkyTrain expansion will cost about double the $1.5 billion originally estimated, there is not likely to be much of an increase to the paltry $13.5-million budget of the Organized Crime Agency of B.C.  

 

And that would be a shame.  

 

OCABC was formed out of the ashes of the Coordinated Law Enforcement Unit (CLEU) following the Owen Report. But the Dosanjh government has already proven they are prepared to play politics with the issue of organized crime.  

 

When the agency was formed it had an annual budget of $13.5 million, the same as CLEU in its last years of operation.  

 

There is a huge difference. CLEU's budget paid for operations, primarily. The wages of the police officers who worked there were paid for by their host departments and agencies.  

 

The structure of OCA is entirely different.  

 

The salaries of the investigators are being borne out of the main budget. This leaves precious little for operational needs.  

 

The government told the agency to go out and prove its worth and the budget would be reviewed after their first full year.  

 

In the first few months of operations, Dosanjh trimmed the budget back to $10 million which forced out the first director, Bev Busson, now the commanding officer of the RCMP in British Columbia.  

 

In a classic case of NDP hypocrisy, then-Attorney General Andrew Petter held a news conference to announce an additional $5 million in funding to OCA. In reality, he merely restored the original budget and said "Oh, aren't we wonderful."  

 

In spite of the handcuffs placed upon them by the government of Ujjal Dosanjh, OCA has delivered.  

 

They have seized far more property, drugs, weapons and cash than their operating budget.  

 

They are actually chipping away at the criminal operations of organized crime.  

 

The federal government seems poised to finally do its part.  

 

The NDP seem poised to let the citizens of B.C. down yet again.

 

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