[h2]Targets organized crime Police, prosecutors welcome new rules, but critics warn measures are overkill[/h2]
Prosecutors and police will have enhanced powers to tackle prostitution, illegal gambling and drug trafficking by organized crime under new measures announced yesterday by the Conservative government.
The new rules expand the list of what constitutes a serious crime in the Criminal Code -meaning offences punishable by five or more years in prison -to such activities as keeping a common bawdy house, keeping a gaming or betting house, and exporting, importing or producing illegal drugs.
Although police organizations welcomed the new rules, opposition MPs said the government should have subjected the proposed changes to parliamentary scrutiny.
Defence lawyers described them as overkill, and said the government should carefully monitor their implementation.
"They are using a very blunt object, painting with a very broad brush," said David Anber, a criminal lawyer in Ottawa, arguing that a lot of nickel-and-dime crooks with no links to organized crime could wind up being branded as serious offenders.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who unveiled the changes at a news conference in Montreal, said the crimes being targeted are often "signature activities" of organized crime rings.
The new rules, quietly approved by cabinet last month, will allow police and prosecutors to use tools like wiretaps more easily while investigating those crimes, the Justice Department said in a statement. They will also be able to seek stiffer sentences, block bail and parole eligibility and seize assets that are the proceeds of crime, it said.
The Criminal Code defines "criminal organization" as three or more people acting together in criminal ventures.
The federal government estimates 750 organized crime groups are operating across the country.
James Morton, a criminal lawyer in Toronto, said the new rules spread the net "way too wide" and their implementation must be closely monitored. "This is a case of overkill," he said.
Morton said, for example, three prostitutes living and receiving their clients in a shared apartment or three or more people playing poker for money could, if convicted, be branded "serious offenders" and sentenced to five years in prison.
New Democratic MP Joe Comartin, the party's justice critic, said he also fears the new rules will be applied too broadly, turning low-level criminals into serious offenders while failing to snag the top guns in crime groups.
"It does mean the government, Justice Department and Public Safety are going to have to be monitoring its use," he said, "because if it starts being used excessively, we're going to have to go back in and tailor it more specifically so it's used only against organized crime."
Liberal MP Mark Holland, the party's public safety critic, slammed the government's go-it-alone approach to writing new regulations.
"It's legislation by talking points," he said in an interview.
By NORMA GREENAWAY,
Postmedia News August 5, 2010
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