Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba backs anti-gang bill, wants it stronger

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OTTAWA -- The Manitoba government threw its support Monday behind a federal backbencher's bill to make gang recruitment a separate criminal offence.

But Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan told the House of Commons justice committee bill C-394 doesn't go far enough to keep kids from the "life sentence" of joining a gang.

The bill, introduced by Conservative MP Parm Gill, would make gang recruitment an offence in the Criminal Code, punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison. If the gang recruit is under 18, the minimum sentence would be six months.

Swan wants the bill expanded to include recruitment of gang members near schools, recreation centres and youth facilities and clubs, and to make it an offence to intimidate or threaten someone who tries to leave a gang.

He said Criminal Code sections on gang recruitment aren't clear enough and are difficult to prove, so Gill's bill addresses a need.

MPs on the committee appeared to generally support the bill and Swan's proposals, though some suggested judges might normally take account of recruitment near a school or community centre.

Swan implied he didn't trust judges to do so. "If I was satisfied that would happen, I wouldn't have made the request," he said.

Later Swan backtracked slightly, telling the Free Press it isn't that he doesn't trust judges, just that he thinks these are crimes that should have guaranteed consequences. Judges still would have the discretion to make the sentence longer, depending on the details of the case.

George Van Mackelbergh, vice-president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said Winnipeg has kids as young as 10 being recruited by gang members to commit crimes because the penalties are much less than for adults. He said these kids are often the most vulnerable and impressionable and fit certain profiles, such as lack of family support and disabilities such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2013 A5

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