OTTAWA — “Canadians deserve to feel safe where they live. A Conservative government will deal swiftly and firmly with gang crime as part of our overall plan for a safer Canada.”
— Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, news release, Nov. 8, 2018.
Dozens of handguns, bags of deadly drugs and confiscated cash were on display at a news conference after police laid more than 1,000 charges in June against 75 suspected members and associates of a Toronto-based gang.
Since 2013, gang-related homicides in Canada’s largest cities have almost doubled, Public Safety Canada says.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s solution to the scourge of gang crime focuses on strict law enforcement and creating new penalties. He says the Conservatives will put an end to “the revolving door” for gang members by making it easier for police to target them and put them where they belong: behind bars.
Will Scheer’s plan make Canadians safer?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of “a lot of baloney.” Here’s why:
The Conservative proposal
Scheer’s plan includes five elements:
— Ending automatic bail for gang members, to ensure arrested repeat gang offenders remain in custody.
— Identifying gangs in the Criminal Code, much like the existing list of terrorist organizations, to help speed up prosecutions.
— Revoking parole for gang members, sending them back to jail if they associate with other known members.
— Tougher sentences for ordering gang crime, including mandatory sentences in federal prison for directing crimes.
— New sentences for committing and ordering violent gang crime, with mandatory sentences in federal prison.
What the experts say
Criminal-justice experts say elements of the Conservative blueprint either duplicate existing measures or would be struck down as unconstitutional, and ignore the kind of measures shown to be effective in dealing with gang-related crime.
“Overall, it seems to be written by someone who has either little knowledge of the criminal process, or it’s trying to mislead people about the process,” said Kate Puddister, an assistant professor of political science at Ontario’s University of Guelph.
Added Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia: “It is very lamentable that the leader of the Opposition has chosen to engage in a Trumpian style of rhetoric, chastising the government through either deliberate distortion, or a more fundamental ignorance of existing law.”
An analysis of each of Scheer’s proposals:
— Ending automatic bail for gang members.
While bail is not automatic, it is generally allowed as a constitutional right unless public safety would be endangered by releasing the accused. However, for some offences, including those involving a firearm or a gang — known as a “criminal organization” in the Criminal Code — the accused must show why their detention is not justified.
Simply outlawing bail for gang members would result in “a pretty strong constitutional challenge,” Puddister said.
— Identifying gangs in the Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code, while not listing specific groups, defines a criminal organization as a group of three or more people with the purpose of committing serious offences for material benefit.
Experts say prosecutors rightly have the burden of proving gang activity. The question of whether a group of individuals is an organized crime network “is not one that can simply be assumed,” Boyd said.
— Revoking parole for gang members.
Release on parole is never guaranteed, and the Parole Board of Canada must assess an offender’s risk when they become eligible. Offenders on parole must obey the law and follow standard conditions, such as reporting regularly to a parole officer. The parole board can also impose special conditions, and has the power to revoke release if the conditions are breached.
The Conservative proposal “implies that the people working in the system are stupid,” said Irvin Waller, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.
— Tougher sentences for ordering gang crime.
The Criminal Code states that a member of a criminal organization who instructs someone to commit an offence for their benefit is guilty of an indictable offence and could receive a life sentence.
There is considerable academic research that shows mandatory minimum sentences “don’t really work and have disproportionate effects on minority communities and vulnerable people,” Puddister said. “Simply because there’s no minimum doesn’t mean judges won’t apply a restrictive sanction.”
Adds Waller: “Mandatory minimums are not a silver bullet.”
All this aside, many firearm offences already carry mandatory penalties.
— New sentences for violent gang crime.
Penalties in the gang section of the Criminal Code range from as much as five years to life in prison.
“If we want to stop those involved in organized crime, who are not afraid of using deadly force against each other, the answer is not in changing already severe penalties, but in increasing the likelihood of arrest and conviction, and working to prevent involvement in these kinds of activities in the first instance,” Boyd said.
The Conservative plan doesn’t include any of the things that are proven to significantly reduce gang-related violence, Waller said. As an example, he pointed to Glasgow, Scotland, where the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence has seen success by establishing a partnership among police, social services, educators, housing officials and the public.
The initiative makes services and programs available to violent street-gang members who agree to change their lives and devote themselves to constructive work.
The U.S. National Institute of Justice says evaluations of gang-prevention programs show success flows from working with the local community, engaging city leaders, partnering with social service agencies and involving community members who have the respect of local gang leaders and members.
In Canada, about 180 people took part in a national meeting on gun and gang violence convened in March by the Liberal government. Among the recommended measures were initiatives that look beyond the immediate problem to address the roots of violence through a holistic, healthy-communities approach.
The Conservative proposals to end gang activity focus on increasing penalties and locking up members for longer periods, based on the notion existing approaches are too soft on offenders.
Criminal-justice experts say existing penalties and parole provisions are stiff enough. In addition, public safety officials in Canada and abroad emphasize the need for a much broader approach to gang-related crime — one that includes direct intervention with gang members and tailored programming.
For these reasons, the Conservative assertion that its plan would make Canadian communities safer is “a lot of baloney.”
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
No baloney — the statement is completely accurate.
A little baloney — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required.
Some baloney — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing.
A lot of baloney — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth.
Full of baloney — the statement is completely inaccurate.
Summit on Gang and Gun Violence: Summary Report https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/2018-smmt-gng-vlnce-smmry/index-en.aspx
Gangs and gang crime, U.S. National Institute of Justice https://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/gangs/Pages/welcome.aspx
Addressing Youth Gang Problems: An Overview of Programs and Practices https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/ddrsng-prblms/index-en.aspx
The violence must stop: Glasgow’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, second year report http://actiononviolence.org/sites/default/files/CIRV_2nd_year_report.pdf
Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press
‘Freedom Convoy’ organizers’ trial on scheduled break until after Thanksgiving
Tamara Lich arrives for her trial at the courthouse in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. Lich and fellow Freedom Convoy organizer Chris Barber are charged with mischief, obstructing police, counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
The trial of “Freedom Convoy” organizers Tamara Lich and Chris Barber has begun a scheduled break that will continue until after Thanksgiving.
The court finished hearing the testimony of Serge Arpin, the chief of staff to Ottawa’s former mayor, on Friday.
He spoke about how the city responded to the protest that overwhelmed the downtown core for three weeks in early 2022.
Arpin also testified about his interactions with convoy organizers while working out a deal with former mayor Jim Watson to move big-rig trucks out of residential neighbourhoods.
The evidence was originally due to be wrapping up by this point in the trial, which had been scheduled to last 16 days, but Arpin is just the fourth witness to finish his testimony.
The trial was expected to hear from 22 witnesses, leaving the court to ponder how much more time will be needed to reach the finish line.
Justice Heather Perkins-McVey, who is overseeing the trial, has identified several dates in October and November.
Lawrence Greenspon, the lawyer representing Lich, said he does not want to set new court dates until the Crown has established a new, more accurate time estimate for its case.
As of Friday, the trial is expected to resume Oct. 11.
Lich and Barber are charged with mischief and counselling others commit offences such as mischief and intimidation for their role in organizing and prolonging the demonstration.
The defence questioned Arpin Friday about how city council and staff attempted to put an end the protest. As the mayor’s chief of staff, Arpin told the court he sat in on every council meeting.
He was grilled about a bylaw change on Feb. 9 last year that banned idling in a vehicle unless the temperature fell at or below -15 C. The bylaw originally allowed idling if the temperature was below 5 C.
“City council … was attempting to freeze out the truckers and their families,” Greenspon told the court.
Arpin said he believed the intention was to bring the demonstration to an end.
Arpin was also involved in the deal between Watson, Lich and other organizers to move trucks out of residential neighbourhoods and onto Wellington Street, in front of Parliament Hill.
He texted back and forth with the convoy organizers’ lawyer Keith Wilson on Feb. 14 and 15 in an exchange that was filed as evidence in the trial.
The texts suggest city staff did not give protest organizers or their lawyers a heads-up about plans to file a court injunction against demonstrators who violated city bylaws.
“Just so you know, it is highly irregular for the city’s lawyers to have done this without providing us lawyers here with notice,” Wilson wrote to Arpin on Feb. 15.
“This could change everything.”
Arpin told Wilson he was under the impression they knew about the court filing, but said in court that he never informed them himself until after the injunction was granted by a judge.
Lawyers representing the convoy organizers were not given an opportunity to oppose the application in court at the time.
The deal between Lich and the mayor fell apart later that day when police would no longer allow trucks to move closer to Parliament.
Arpin confirmed the police service underwent a change in command that day as a result of the police chief’s resignation.
He apologized to Wilson at the time, the text messages show.
“Our goal has always been de-escalation and I know you share this goal,” he texted to Wilson on the 16th.
The Crown hopes to pick up its case in October with eight local witnesses from Ottawa who lived or worked downtown during the Freedom Convoy protest.
Lich and Barber have already admitted that there was mischief taking place in the protest zone.
Greenspon has argued that the testimony of those witnesses would be akin to victim impact statements, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to be heard during the trial.
B.C. premier suspects Ottawa holding back information about foreign interference
A flock of birds flies past as Moninder Singh, front right, a spokesperson for the British Columbia Gurdwaras Council (BCGC), waits to speak to reporters outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, September 18, 2023, where temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was gunned down in his vehicle while leaving the temple parking lot in June. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
British Columbia Premier David Eby said he “strongly” suspects that the federal government is holding back information that could help the province protect its residents who have connections to India from foreign interference.
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc has reached out, saying Ottawa wants to make sure the provincial government has the details it needs to keep B.C. residents safe, “but there has not been good information sharing,” the premier said Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed in Parliament on Monday that Canadian intelligence services were investigating “a potential link” between the Indian government and the fatal shooting of Sikh advocate Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, B.C., last June.
In response to the killing, Eby said on Friday that the priority should be protecting the criminal prosecution process so people can be held accountable for the killing.
But on the broader issue of ensuring community safety, he said there’s “a long way to go to share that information.”
Eby said people in B.C. have been “feeling pressure from India,” and he believes Ottawa has information through agencies including the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that could help respond to foreign interference.
The premier’s initial statement in response to Trudeau’s announcement called on Ottawa to “share all relevant information” related not only to foreign interference, but also to “transnational organized crime threats” in the province.
He said Friday that the prime minister had reached out before telling Parliament about the probe based on “credible” information about the potential link between India and Nijjar’s killing.
Eby accepted Trudeau’s offer for a briefing by CSIS, but everything the premier knows about the situation is “in the public realm,” he said.
“I expressed my frustration in the meeting with the CSIS director about our inability to get more concrete information,” Eby said.
He made the remarks during a media question-and-answer session after addressing local politicians at the Union of BC Municipalities conference.
Eby said he understands there may need to be reform around the law governing CSIS in order for the agency to share the kind of information he’s looking for.
“If that’s what’s required, let’s make it happen, because the only way that we’re going to make traction on this is by the federal government trusting the provincial government with information and being able to act on it in our local communities,” he said.
Nijjar was a prominent supporter of the Khalistan separatism movement that advocates for a Sikh homeland in India’s Punjab province. He had been working to organize an unofficial referendum among the Sikh diaspora on independence from India at the time of his killing.
India designated Nijjar as a terrorist in 2020, an accusation he had denied.
Canada and India expelled each other’s diplomats in the fallout of Trudeau’s announcement, and India has halted visa services in Canada.
India’s government has denied the accusation as “absurd and motivated.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.
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