(This column was published in the North Shore News on April 11, 2001)

 

New organized crime law misses mark

By Leo Knight

ON Thursday the federal government released its proposed new legislation to combat organized crime in this country.  

 

At first glance, it appears to be, finally, the sort of tools needed by the police to effectively take action against this menace.  

 

At first glance.  

 

In 1997 the Liberals enacted the current anti-gang legislation as Bill C-95. It was a clumsy, knee-jerk reaction to public outrage at the killing of an 11-year-old boy in Montreal, a passer-by when a bomb detonated in a parked Jeep set off by warring biker gangs.  

 

The legislation was, charitably speaking, unwieldy. It required police to prove that someone engaged in organized crime activities must be in a group of five and that each member must know of the other's activities and criminal background. To most police officers it appeared that the legislation was designed for no other reason that the government being able to pat themselves on their political backs and say they had taken action.  

 

The only successful convictions under the act were recently achieved in Montreal against four bikers. That investigation took three years and cost over $5 million. Over 33,000 conversations were intercepted by police and more than 100,000 pages of text outlining the evidence were introduced into court.  

 

But, despite all that, it still took the testimony of former Rock Machine member, Peter Paradis, who cut a self-serving deal with the Crown, to convict the four bikers.  

 

The need to streamline the legislation was patently obvious and presumably that is what led to the announcement by Justice Minister Anne McLellan last week.  

 

The new legislation reduces the number of people required to be an organized criminal operation from five to three. This shows me the government still doesn't get it.  

 

By definition organized crime is two or more people engaging in an ongoing, perpetual criminal conspiracy. While the Hells Angels are an identifiable group, they don't engage in crime for the benefit of the club. On the contrary, they individually engage in criminal activity using the backing and structure of the club to further their personal criminal endeavors.  

 

Equally, the Asian group known as the Big Circle Boys operate independently, often working for or with a number of other groups, be they triads or Eastern European Mafiya. Are they any less organized crime than the bikers?  

 

The press release and the associated "backgrounder" released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) also raises questions. For instance, in the news release, DOJ announces the provision of an additional $200 million "over the next five years to implement legislation and related prosecution and law enforcement strategies.  

 

"This funding will build on the $584 million that the RCMP received in the 2000 budget for organized crime enforcement, improved National Police Services and new communications systems."  

 

In the document entitled "Backgrounder," DOJ says, "The 2000 federal budget provided the RCMP with $584 million over three years (2000-2003) for organized crime enforcement, improved National Police Services and new communications systems."  

 

One document seems to imply that all the money went to the RCMP in the 2000 budget. The other says it is spread over three years. Why the contradiction?  

 

Again, it seems to be little other than political posturing. In reality, the government forced the RCMP to slim itself down throughout the mid to late 1990s in order to meet shrinking budgets. In 2000 they graciously allowed the RCMP to re-stock its dwindling numbers.  

 

On Jan. 1, 2000, the authorized strength of the RCMP was 17,872. By Jan. 1, 2001, that number increased to 19,989, an increase of 2,117 members. Extrapolating their annual salary and benefits equates to an annual additional expenditure of $148,190,000. Add in the training, uniforming and related equipment costs and the number raises to about $200,000 million of the $584 million. Spread over three years, as the "Backgrounder" indicates, and the whole thing is eaten up.  

 

Add in the upgrades in the ROSS computer system, CPIC (the national computer records data base), federal investment in communications upgrades, such as we saw with E-Comm here in Vancouver and one can't help but wonder exactly how much money went "for organized crime enforcement" whether in one year as the press release says or spread over three years as the "Backgrounder" says.  

 

The single biggest omission from the proposed legislation, and it is glaring, is the failure to make membership in organized criminal groups a crime. You see, this is the one thing that all gangsters fear. And the government did not do it. Why not?  

 

The way things stand, it requires the police to prove each and every time, that the gang is an organized criminal enterprise.  

 

It remains to be seen when the actual legislation is passed whether it actually is a great new tool for law enforcement or simply more political grandstanding designed to let the government say they are doing something about the threat but not actually do anything constructive.  

 

Time will tell.

 

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