Unconstitutional Anti-Biker Law

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Unconstitutional Anti-Biker Law

Anti-biker law poses threat to Canadian Civil Liberties


The Padlock Law

Six decades ago, social upheaval in Quebec resulted in the passage of one of the most draconian pieces of legislation ever to appear in Canada. To combat Communism, dictatorial Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis introduced the “Padlock Law”, a brutal statute which gave the provincial government the right to lock up residences where Bolshevism was allegedly being espoused.

Not that Commies were a big problem in Quebec; according to Pierre Burton’s book The Great Depression, there were probably “under a thousand” members of the Communist Party in Quebec at the time. Nonetheless, the Padlock Law allowed the provincial government to close any would-be Red Sanctuaries for up to a year, and also allowed Duplessis to confiscate any literature he deemed supportive of the socialist cause.

“In introducing the Padlock Law,” writes Burton, “the Premier had taken a long stride toward fascism in Quebec, but few members [of the Quebec legislature]seemed alarmed by its implications.”

This was mainly because the Padlock Law was used against groups that weren’t popular with Duplessis’ conservative, Catholic supporters. This didn’t just include Communists either; while few houses or shops were actually locked up, police used the Padlock Law to confiscate literature from the Montreal Jewish Cultural Centre, Protestant missionary groups and non-French ethnic clubs. The Law gave the premier a free hand to suspend civil liberties in Quebec and intimidate any group that had an even vaguely left-wing, or at least anti-Duplessis, agenda.

From Commies to Drugs

Sixty year later, and the perceived public enemy number one in Quebec no longer stands on a soapbox preaching about Karl Marx, but instead rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and deals drugs.

Since 1994, the Hell’s Angels and Rock Machine biker clubs have been locked in a brutal war over control of the drug trade in the province. The war has featured car bombs and an unprecedented level of street violence in Montreal and other Quebec cities. Dozens of people, including children, have been killed in urban warfare reminiscent of Prohibition-era Chicago.

The simplest solution to the biker war would be to destroy the black market that allows bike gangs to make obscene profits trafficking cocaine, heroin, and hydroponic marijuana. Since neither the federal Liberals nor the provincial Parti Quebecois seem in a mood to explore a regulated system of legal drug distribution in Canada, the politicians’ answer to the Quebec biker war has been to create what amounts to a new version of the Padlock Law.

The Criminal Organization Act

Bill C-95, the Criminal Organization Act (COA), is supposed to make it easier for cops to crack down on bike gangs. It is a piece of legislation which is more the result of paranoia than objective legislative analysis ? “the product of precipitous stampede” according to Alan Borovoy, general counsel to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. C-95 was passed by the House of Commons, then given approval by the Senate, in a neck-snapping four day span this April.

On the surface, C-95 doesn’t pose as broad an assault on Canadian civil liberties as the Padlock Law. The latter piece of legislation never defined exactly what the term “Communism” meant; Premier Duplessis reserved the right to decide who was a Red and who wasn’t. The deliberate vagueness of the Padlock Law meant Duplessis could smear whoever he wanted as a Commie, then lock up their homes or confiscate their books.

C-95, on the other hand, defines a criminal organization as any group of five or more people “having as one of its primary activities the commission of an indictable offence… for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for five years or more.” The definition extends to any group which contains members who have committed indictable offences within the past five years.

This definition was established after then Justice Minister Allan Rock rejected a plea from Quebec politicians to simply outlaw all “criminal organizations” and throw both the Rock Machine and the Hell’s Angels into jail. Rock was at least smart enough to recognize that such a move would put the Feds in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantees against arbitrary imprisonment.

Civil Disobedience becomes Organized Crime

Nonetheless, critics are very nervous that C-95, like the Padlock Law, could easily be used against groups that weren’t initially targeted by the legislation.

“The COA is so broad it could condemn any group which performs civil disobedience as a ‘criminal organization’,” states Philippe Duhamel, a Quebec-based social and political activist.

Duhamel cites the case of the Coalition for the Survival of Social Programs, an umbrella group composed of feminists, labour activists and housing and welfare rights organizations. The Coalition performs civil disobedience protests such as sit-ins and occupations of government buildings, as a way to show their opposition to cutbacks to social spending in Canada. Duhamel worries that the groups’ activities might lead the federal government to label the Coalition as a “criminal organization”.

Stephan Corriveau, coordinator of a progressive activist group called Alternatives, with 400 members in Montreal, says police could arrest protesters in social activist organizations even before they committed an offence.

A few years ago, Corriveau was involved in an action which saw two busloads of Montreal activists driving to Toronto to perform civil disobedience protests at a G-7 conference.

“Under the new law, I could see the cops making arrests before the protesters even left for Toronto,” states Corriveau. “They could say they were going (to Toronto) to cause mischief and civil disobedience.”

Still, Corriveau doubts that COA will kill off civil disobedience in Canada. He does concede, however, that C-95 “might make the lives of people [doing civil disobedience]tougher,” which is not an unreasonable assumption.

Corriveau and Duhamel have good reason to be nervous about the impact of the COA; while C-95 doesn’t ban actual membership in “criminal organizations” it does make it a serious crime to “participate” in such a group. “Participation” is defined as committing an indictable offence punishable by over five years in jail on behalf of a “criminal organization”.

A brutal one-two punch

While Borovoy and other critics who testified against the COA were primarily concerned with the potential threat it poses for civil disobedience, the new law might also have a huge impact on non-bike gang affiliated drug enthusiasts. In combination with the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), the COA offers a brutal, one-two punch for even minor cannabis offenders.

Say you’ve got four roommates who operate a cannabis grow-room in the basement of your house. Say you agree to drive a load of this homegrown ? maybe three-and-a-half kilos worth ? across town to a friend. You drop off the marijuana, your friend pays you for the supply and you’re arrested immediately by police who’ve been watching your roomies for some time.

Now you’re in deep trouble: by “trafficking” over three kilos of marijuana, you’ve committed an indictable offence under the CDSA, punishable by a maximum of life in jail. By “participating” in an indictable offence at the behest of a “criminal organization” (you, your four buddies and the marijuana operation) you can receive an additional 14 years on top of whatever sentence you got for your first crime.

Guilt by Clairvoyance

The Criminal Organization Act has some other nasty surprises that don’t necessarily entail time served behind bars. The new law allows police to peruse the income-tax forms of “criminal organizations” and to subject the leaders of such groups to extensive electronic monitoring.

The Act even contains a clause that basically amounts to punishment for thought-crime: under C-95, cops can slap “peace bonds” against leaders of “criminal organizations” that drastically limit their freedom of movement. The bonds can be placed against a leader even if they haven’t committed a crime, but are suspected of plotting one. Borovoy calls this “guilt by clairvoyance,” and a major step towards reducing the right to free association under the guise of “fighting crime.”

Canadian Police’s other powers

It remains confusing why the Liberals and the PQ even felt the need to impose an anti-biker law in Canada. It’s not like Canadian police are walking around unarmed like British bobbies, or that bike gangs don’t break enough laws as it is without having to create new ones to put them behind bars.

Regarding the former, Borovoy notes that, “Even without the COA, cops [in Canada]have huge powers.”

Indeed, the new Controlled Drugs and Substances Act lets cops sell drugs in so-called “reverse sting” operations and drastically broadens police powers of search and seizure. Police can now make drug arrests without warrants, as long as they can “prove” that they either couldn’t leave their post to obtain one or somehow stumbled across a major drug deal and lacked a proper warrant to conduct arrests.

Thanks to the increased asset forfeiture powers of the Controlled Drugs and Sub stances Act, the courts can confiscate any property that has been “significantly modified” for the purposes of trafficking drugs. This clause was supposedly introduced to combat “fortified drug houses” ? crack dens, in other words ? but is so vague it could apply to anyone with a marijuana grow room in their closet. Our luckless roommate who transported pot might end up losing his residence on top of receiving two sentences under two different pieces of legislation.

Fighting the effect, Ignoring the cause

Like the Padlock Law, The Criminal Organization Act does nothing to relieve the root cause of the problem it’s supposed to address. High unemployment, not Bolshevik agitation, was behind social unrest in the ’30s, but the Padlock Law served to redirect public attention towards Communism as the cause of all of the province’s ills. Similarly, the COA diverts attention from the fact that street violence is a natural by-product of drug prohibition and places the sole blame for drug warfare in Quebec on the bulky shoulders of outlaw bike gang members.

Although the Padlock Law and the COA have several disturbing parallels with each other, the latter is considerably more awful than Duplessis’ anti-civil liberties legislation. As bad as it was, only people in one province were affected by the Padlock Law. The Criminal Organization Act, on the other hand, threatens the rights of Canadians nation-wide, as politicians once again promote a ruthless brand of law and order in the face of a new public menace coming from Canada’s French-speaking province.

By Nate Hendley finis