P.E.I. outlaw gang legislation may not hold up, says criminologist

The P.E.I. government's plan to try to limit outlaw motorcycle gang activity through legislation may meet with legal challenges, says Halifax criminologist Stephen Schneider.

Province proposing new legislation to limit gang activity on P.E.I.

Police say a Hells Angels chapter is setting up in Charlottetown. (Radio-Canada)

The P.E.I. government's plan to try to limit outlaw motorcycle gang activity through legislation may meet with legal challenges, says Halifax criminologist Stephen Schneider.

The province recently announced it was considering several measures to make outlaw motorcycle gang activity more difficult.

Saint Mary's University criminologist Stephen Schneider told CBC News the use of provincial legislation to control gangs has become quite common in recent years.

"The point about civil law is it places the onus on the defendant to prove that he or she is actually not committing crime," said Schneider.

"It's less burden of proof compared to the criminal court."

Prairie provinces challenged

Examples of civil law aimed at biker gangs include a ban on colours in bars in Saskatchewan, and an Alberta law allowing police to expel gang members from bars.

"This legislation gives them the right to expel anyone that they feel, or they have intelligence information, that that they are the member of a gang," said Schneider.

But the Alberta legislation is being challenged in the courts, in a case for which Schneider has provided expert testimony for the government. That case was ordered to go to full trial by the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta at the end of November.

The Saskatchewan law was struck down in provincial court in 2009. The province amended the legislation, but it was never proclaimed.

The challenges are based on two principles: the right of freedom of association, and the exclusive right of the federal government to enact criminal law, says Schneider.

Freedom of association is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and lawyers argue the province is using civil law in lieu of criminal law.

Bikers say they will fight discrimination

A group called the Atlantic Confederation of Clubs and Independents met in Charlottetown recently to discuss the province's plans.

The group's Facebook page says its mission is to fight discrimination against bikers. The group also released a statement saying it "Vehemently opposes the government's attempts to erode the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

The province responded saying it did not intend to introduce legislation that would infringe anyone's Charter rights.

With files from Island Morning