New gang recruitment crime bill passes Commons

The Conservatives say they are getting tough on criminal gangs with a bill that carries jail time for recruiting new members.

Encouraging someone to join criminal gang could lead to jail time under new law

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Wednesday, May 1. He said the government supports a private member's bill from Conservative MP Parm Gill on gang recruitment. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Conservatives say they are getting tough on criminal gangs with a bill that carries jail time for recruiting new members.

The private member's bill from Conservative MP Parm Gill, that passed the House of Commons Wednesday, proposes a new Criminal Code offence that prohibits recruiting or encouraging a person to join a criminal organization. Anyone convicted could be put in jail for up to five years. The offence would have a mandatory minimum sentence of six months if the person recruited is under the age of 18.

Gill, the MP for Brampton-Springdale, told reporters on Parliament Hill that Bill C-394 will give police and justice officials more tools to fight gang recruitment, which he called a growing problem.

"Gangs across this nation are becoming more aggressive and bolder in ways that they recruit potential members," he said. "Bill C-394 proposes focused, responsible and most importantly necessary measures that address this growing concern head-on."

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was with Gill to vocalize the government's support for the bill and he said it "sends a clear message" that gang recruitment behaviour will not be tolerated. With a Conservative majority in the House of Commons the bill will have no trouble passing its final reading.

Gill said criminal gangs are targeting youth as young as eight years old and that the criminal organizations pose significant safety risks to all Canadians. "Gang members continue to expand in terms of numbers and power through constant recruitment initiatives," he said.

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"By getting tough on gang recruitment Bill C-394 will keep our streets safer, our children out of harm's way and provide law enforcement officers with the tools that they need to take these criminals off our streets for good," said Gill.

Some opposition MPs expressed concerns during the debate on the bill about the mandatory minimum sentences contained in it and some said a new law is unnecessary because encouraging someone to commit a crime is already covered in the Criminal Code.

The NDP voted for the bill and the Liberals voted against it during the last vote. Gill encouraged all MPs to support the bill in its final vote.

This Conservative MP's private member's bill is one of many related to crime that has the backing of the government.

NDP House leader Nathan Cullen recently suggested that the government is misusing private member's bills, because they aren't subject to the same kind of review by the Justice Department as measures brought by the government, the CBC's Chris Hall wrote in an analysis piece last week.

"One important aspect that applies to government legislation is that the minister of justice is obligated … to ensure compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Cullen said. "Private member's business does not have to go through a similar test.''