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January 22, 2001

New legislation to allow police to break laws

Battling organized crime: Justice Minister to introduce new measures soon

Janice Tibbetts
Southam News
National Post

Michael Lea, The Kingston Whig-Standard
A member of the Hells Angels allows his photograph to be taken by a police officer in Kingston. New anti-gang legislation to be introduced this winter will give the police more power in their battle with organized crime, says Anne McLellan, the Minister of Justice.

OTTAWA - Canadian police will be allowed to break the law while pursuing mobsters and there will be new measures to combat the intimidation of jurors, police and prosecutors in anti-gang legislation to be introduced this winter.

Anne McLellan, the Minister of Justice, and Lawrence MacAulay, the Solicitor-General, are ready to take the comprehensive package to fight organized crime to the federal Cabinet for approval before tabling legislation in the upcoming sitting of Parliament, Ms. McLellan said in an interview.

Although she would not divulge details of the proposed initiative, sources confirmed key elements will include strengthened police immunity, new protections for players in the justice system and stiffer sentencing provisions for gang members in the Criminal Code.

The proposals will go before Cabinet very soon, said Ms. McLellan.

The legislation will be based, in part, on recommendations of a Commons subcommittee on organized crime, which held hearings behind closed doors last year to protect participants.

Before Parliament dissolved for the November election, the Liberals were under intense pressure to strengthen their 1997 anti-gang laws following the shooting of Michel Auger, a Montreal crime reporter who covers Quebec's bloody biker wars.

Opposition critics complained the current legislation, which does not ban membership in a gang but allows judges to factor membership into account when sentencing, is gutless because it has never led to the conviction of a gang member.

One of the new proposals suggests a further sentencing crackdown but still does not go as far as outlawing gang membership, a prospect officials fear could be successfully challenged in court.

A main provision of the proposed anti-gang measures would allow undercover police officers to break the law in the course of investigating such crimes as drug smuggling and money laundering.

The limited immunity would expand on current provisions that give police officers the right to buy and sell narcotics during sting operations. But the police are not protected from prosecution when they break other criminal laws.

The police have maintained that such breaches of the law as buying counterfeit money are often necessary to gain the confidence of suspects and to infiltrate crime rings.

The proposal to broaden their powers is based on a Supreme Court of Canada ruling two years ago that said it is up to Parliament to define the circumstances in which it is acceptable to use sting operations and other undercover techniques that temporarily put them on the wrong side of the law.

The justice reforms will also tackle a long-standing problem of intimidation of jurors, judges, prosecutors and police officers by mobsters and their associates.

In a 1999 consultation paper, the Department of Justice Canada cited instances of bulletproof vests being issued to Toronto prosecutors, witnesses in Nova Scotia who refused to testify and members of the Edmonton police service who were outfitted with home alarms and panic-button systems because of threats to them and their families.

Proposals raised by a Department of Justice Canada study about the problem included such measures as specific new penalties, measures to shield the identity of witnesses, and limits on the disclosure of personal information about jurors, such as their addresses.

Police have complained intimidation by organized criminals and their associates is a countrywide problem that has made citizens afraid to sit on juries.

Another potential element in the new justice package is it might be harder for organized criminals to get early parole.

The plan to strengthen anti-gang laws comes during a high-security trial involving bikers that deals with a long-standing battle to control the illicit drug trade in Grand-Mère, Que. The 13 accused face 162 charges including kidnapping, assault and illegal possession of firearms.

The proposed reforms are in keeping with a Liberal election promise to strengthen anti-gang laws and protect players in the justice system from intimidation.

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