INDEPTH: BIKER GANGS
Canada's anti-gang law
CBC News Online | Updated April 10, 2006
The shooting of Journal de Montreal reporter Michel Auger, seen here on Dec. 6, 2000, put pressure on Ottawa to change Canada's anti-gang law. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)
Quebec's bloody war between the Rock Machine and the Hells Angels in the 1990s – and the attempted murder of a Montreal journalist who reported on the biker wars – put the federal government under intense pressure to toughen up laws governing gang violence.
Bill C-95, passed in 1997, amended the Criminal Code (and other legislation) to acknowledge crimes committed "for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with" a criminal organization. Convictions carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of 14 years.
But then there's Section 11, which reads:
"Every one who …participates in or substantially contributes to the activities of a criminal organization knowing that any or all of the members of the organization engage in or have, within the preceding five years, engaged in the commission of a series of indictable offences …of which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for five years or more …is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years."
In other words, the legislation makes it illegal to be a member of a motorcycle gang or other criminal organization.
But it wasn't until February 2001 that the first convictions under Canada's anti-gang law were won.
Four men, Philippe Côté, Mario Filion, Eric Leclerc and Simon Lambert, were all found guilty of operating a drug ring for the Rock Machine motorcycle gang (which has since merged with the Bandidos). Four others were acquitted of gangsterism charges but were found guilty of lesser crimes, including drug-related offences.
Before this, the only person who had been tried for charges under Bill C-95 was Peter Paradis, an admitted gang member. Paradis eventually became a police informant and was used as the Crown's main witness in the Rock Machine trial.
In September 2004 in Barrie, Ont., two members of the Hells Angels went on trial for extorting money from a businessman. They were also charged under C-95 for allegedly committing the offence "for the benefit or at the direction of a criminal organization." Some lawyers consider the Ontario trial to be the first significant test of the law.
It took almost 10 months, but Judge Michele Fuerst of Ontario Superior Court eventually ruled that the Hells Angels are a criminal organization. She concluded the men had used the gang's reputation for violence and intimidation as a tool because they'd arrived at the businessman's home wearing Hells Angels insignia.
The men "presented themselves not as individuals, but as members of a group with a reputation for violence and intimidation," Fuerst wrote in her ruling.
Critics of Bill C-95 say it goes too far, arguing it infringes on the freedom of association guaranteed by Section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact, the trial for the eight Rock Machine gang members was postponed to allow the defence more time to consider whether to challenge some of the charges on constitutional grounds.
And they're not the only ones who have the Charter on their side.
Bikers in Alberta won a major court victory in 2005 when a judge ruled that police violated their constitutional rights during a roadside check in 1997. And the Charter will no doubt be used against Ontario's proposed Bill 155, which would give police the power to seize the assets of criminal organizations even without a criminal investigation.
Other critics say Bill C-95 is flawed because it means people could be guilty of an offence simply because of their status in a group rather than because of something they themselves did.
Then there are those who say the legislation won't work, that it's only a political move aimed at making gangs less visible to the media and the public. They argue that the members would stop wearing gang colours to avoid being arrested under Bill C-95, but the gangs would go on.
But in its 2004 annual report, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada reported that since 2002, the Bandidos and Outlaws have kept a fairly low profile. The agency says some of the credit for the relative peace should go to the anti-gang legislation.