Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Baloney Meter: Will tougher penalties for gang members make Canada safer?

Since 2013, gang-related homicides in Canada’s largest cities have almost doubled

“Canadians deserve to feel safe where they live. A Conservative government will deal swiftly and firmly with gang crime as part of our overall plan for a safer Canada.”

— Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, news release, Nov. 8, 2018.

Dozens of handguns, bags of deadly drugs and confiscated cash were on display at a news conference after police laid more than 1,000 charges in June against 75 suspected members and associates of a Toronto-based gang.

Since 2013, gang-related homicides in Canada’s largest cities have almost doubled, Public Safety Canada says.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s solution to the scourge of gang crime focuses on strict law enforcement and creating new penalties. He says the Conservatives will put an end to ”the revolving door” for gang members by making it easier for police to target them and put them where they belong: behind bars.

Will Scheer’s plan make Canadians safer?

Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).

This one earns a rating of “a lot of baloney.” Here’s why:

The Conservative proposal

Scheer’s plan includes five elements:

— Ending automatic bail for gang members, to ensure arrested repeat gang offenders remain in custody.

— Identifying gangs in the Criminal Code, much like the existing list of terrorist organizations, to help speed up prosecutions.

— Revoking parole for gang members, sending them back to jail if they associate with other known members.

— Tougher sentences for ordering gang crime, including mandatory sentences in federal prison for directing crimes.

— New sentences for committing and ordering violent gang crime, with mandatory sentences in federal prison.

What the experts say

Criminal-justice experts say elements of the Conservative blueprint either duplicate existing measures or would be struck down as unconstitutional, and ignore the kind of measures shown to be effective in dealing with gang-related crime.

“Overall, it seems to be written by someone who has either little knowledge of the criminal process, or it’s trying to mislead people about the process,” said Kate Puddister, an assistant professor of political science at Ontario’s University of Guelph.

Added Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia: “It is very lamentable that the leader of the Opposition has chosen to engage in a Trumpian style of rhetoric, chastising the government through either deliberate distortion, or a more fundamental ignorance of existing law.”

An analysis of each of Scheer’s proposals:

— Ending automatic bail for gang members.

While bail is not automatic, it is generally allowed as a constitutional right unless public safety would be endangered by releasing the accused. However, for some offences, including those involving a firearm or a gang — known as a “criminal organization” in the Criminal Code — the accused must show why their detention is not justified.

Simply outlawing bail for gang members would result in “a pretty strong constitutional challenge,” Puddister said.

— Identifying gangs in the Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code, while not listing specific groups, defines a criminal organization as a group of three or more people with the purpose of committing serious offences for material benefit.

Experts say prosecutors rightly have the burden of proving gang activity. The question of whether a group of individuals is an organized crime network “is not one that can simply be assumed,” Boyd said.

— Revoking parole for gang members.

Release on parole is never guaranteed, and the Parole Board of Canada must assess an offender’s risk when they become eligible. Offenders on parole must obey the law and follow standard conditions, such as reporting regularly to a parole officer. The parole board can also impose special conditions, and has the power to revoke release if the conditions are breached.

The Conservative proposal “implies that the people working in the system are stupid,” said Irvin Waller, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.

— Tougher sentences for ordering gang crime.

The Criminal Code states that a member of a criminal organization who instructs someone to commit an offence for their benefit is guilty of an indictable offence and could receive a life sentence.

There is considerable academic research that shows mandatory minimum sentences “don’t really work and have disproportionate effects on minority communities and vulnerable people,” Puddister said. “Simply because there’s no minimum doesn’t mean judges won’t apply a restrictive sanction.”

Adds Waller: “Mandatory minimums are not a silver bullet.”

All this aside, many firearm offences already carry mandatory penalties.

— New sentences for violent gang crime.

Penalties in the gang section of the Criminal Code range from as much as five years to life in prison.

“If we want to stop those involved in organized crime, who are not afraid of using deadly force against each other, the answer is not in changing already severe penalties, but in increasing the likelihood of arrest and conviction, and working to prevent involvement in these kinds of activities in the first instance,” Boyd said.

Other approaches

The Conservative plan doesn’t include any of the things that are proven to significantly reduce gang-related violence, Waller said. As an example, he pointed to Glasgow, Scotland, where the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence has seen success by establishing a partnership among police, social services, educators, housing officials and the public.

The initiative makes services and programs available to violent street-gang members who agree to change their lives and devote themselves to constructive work.

The U.S. National Institute of Justice says evaluations of gang-prevention programs show success flows from working with the local community, engaging city leaders, partnering with social service agencies and involving community members who have the respect of local gang leaders and members.

In Canada, about 180 people took part in a national meeting on gun and gang violence convened in March by the Liberal government. Among the recommended measures were initiatives that look beyond the immediate problem to address the roots of violence through a holistic, healthy-communities approach.

The verdict

The Conservative proposals to end gang activity focus on increasing penalties and locking up members for longer periods, based on the notion existing approaches are too soft on offenders.

Criminal-justice experts say existing penalties and parole provisions are stiff enough. In addition, public safety officials in Canada and abroad emphasize the need for a much broader approach to gang-related crime — one that includes direct intervention with gang members and tailored programming.

For these reasons, the Conservative assertion that its plan would make Canadian communities safer is ”a lot of baloney.”

Methodology

The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:

No baloney — the statement is completely accurate.

A little baloney — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required.

Some baloney — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing.

A lot of baloney — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth.

Full of baloney — the statement is completely inaccurate.

Sources

Summit on Gang and Gun Violence: Summary Report https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/2018-smmt-gng-vlnce-smmry/index-en.aspx

Gangs and gang crime, U.S. National Institute of Justice https://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/gangs/Pages/welcome.aspx

Addressing Youth Gang Problems: An Overview of Programs and Practices https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/ddrsng-prblms/index-en.aspx

The violence must stop: Glasgow’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, second year report http://actiononviolence.org/sites/default/files/CIRV_2nd_year_report.pdf

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

File photo
Update: Leduc RCMP request assistance to identify armed robbery suspect

Leduc RCMP are searching for suspect involved in an armed robbery at the Leduc Giant Tiger.

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

If implemented, the regulations would restrict all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, mint and menthol

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

Thousands of protesters make their way through the downtown core during a Black Lives Matter protest in Ottawa, Friday June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Chair of the House public safety committee says it’s time for a reckoning on ‘quasi-military’ structure

A case filled with packages of boneless chicken breasts is shown in a grocery store Sunday, May 10, 2020, in southeast Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski
One million chickens euthanized during labour dispute at Quebec slaughterhouse

Premier says waste amounts to 13 per cent of the province’s chicken production thrown in the garbage

A section of the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies is seen west of Cochrane, Alta., Thursday, June 17, 2021. A joint federal-provincial review has denied an application for an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, saying its impacts on the environment and Indigenous rights aren’t worth the economic benefits it would bring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Panel says Grassy Mountain coal mine in Alberta Rockies not in public interest

Public hearings on the project in southern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass region were held last fall

Most Read