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Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says that new measures give police 'every tool necessary' in their organized crime investigations. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

The federal government announced new regulations on Wednesday that target organized crime in Canada by designating several "signature activities" of criminal groups as serious offences.

The changes already passed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet amend the Criminal Code's definition of serious offences to include 11 specific offences, including illegal gambling, as well as prostitution and drug-related crimes.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the measures give police "every tool necessary" in their organized crime investigations and deprive criminal gangs of wealth.

"When there's money to be made from these acts, you can bet organized crime groups will be involved," Nicholson told reporters in Montreal.

The order-in-council changing the regulations was made on July 13, according to the Canada Gazette, the official publication of the government.

The move gives police more power to conduct wiretaps and other investigative measures, while also lengthening jail terms for acts linked to organized crime.

Currently, those convicted of serious offences can face sentences of five years or more in prison.

The crimes now designated as serious offences include:

  • Keeping a common gaming or betting house.
  • Betting, pool-selling and bookmaking.
  • Committing offences in relation to lotteries and games of chance.
  • Cheating while playing a game or in holding the stakes for a game or in betting.
  • Keeping a common bawdy-house.
  • Various offences in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act relating to the trafficking, importing, exporting or production of certain drugs.

Liberal MP slams Tory 'diversion'

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday ahead of Nicholson's announcement, Liberal MP Mark Holland said the Conservative government is hiding the true costs of its "crime and punishment" agenda and called on the public safety committee to examine the policies.

Holland also urged the government to reverse cuts on crime prevention programs, saying they help keep kids away from the "dark path" of crime in the first place.

"All the things that we know work, we know save money, save lives … they ignore," Holland said in Ottawa.

He also accused the Tories of creating a "diversion" with the announcement to deflect attention from their widely condemned move to scrap the mandatory long-form census.

"This government, any time it gets into trouble … starts dumping on the table a rash of crime bills and more often than not, they're not thought through," Holland said.

"This is about changing the channel."

But Nicholson said Canada's laws need to be continuously updated because of the increasing sophistication of organized criminal groups seeking to exploit holes in the criminal code.

Organized crime groups, the minister said, often rely upon the proceeds of these crimes to equip themselves to commit violent acts and fund large-scale operations that threaten public safety.

"We've got to close these loopholes on organized crime," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press