Harper to Announce Crackdown on Gang Crime, Mandatory Jail Terms for Drug Crimes

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will shift his focus from the economy to law-and-order on Thursday, when he travels to Vancouver — decried by his public safety minister as Canada’s gang capital — to announce measures to crack down on gang-related crime.Prime Minister Stephen Harper will shift his focus from the economy to law-and-order on Thursday, when he travels to Vancouver — decried by his public safety minister as Canada’s gang capital — to announce measures to crack down on gang-related crime.OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper will shift his focus from the economy to law-and-order on Thursday, when he travels to Vancouver — decried by his public safety minister as Canada’s gang capital — to announce measures to crack down on gang-related crime.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office would not confirm the details of Thursday’s announcement.

But Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said this week priority legislation for the government includes imposing mandatory prison terms for certain drug crimes and making all gang-related homicides automatic first-degree murder.

The Conservatives promised both measures in their election platform for last fall’s federal vote.

Van Loan flew to B.C. last week to meet with police, politicians, and the families of two victims of a 2007 gang shooting in Surrey, B.C. that killed six people.

At a press conference during his visit, Van Loan described B.C. as having “the largest number of very sophisticated organized-crime groups, those that are the most proficient at what they do, the most violent at what they do.”

Since early February, there have been seven gang-related killings by gunfire in the province’s lower mainland.

On the same day that Harper makes his announcement in Vancouver, the province’s justice minister, Wally Oppal, and Public Safety Minister John van Dongen are scheduled to meet in Ottawa with federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who is responsible for ushering anti-gang legislation through the House of Commons.

Nicholson’s spokesman, Darren Eke, said Tuesday to “stay tuned” when asked whether there will be legislation to accompany the prime minister’s announcement.

“This government is continuing to move forward on its crime agenda,” said Eke.

The October 2008 election platform promised any killings “committed in a gang-related context” would be automatically deemed first-degree murder.

The government also pledged to revive failed legislation, which died when the election was called, that would impose mandatory jail terms for serious drug crimes “such as trafficking and running large cannabis grow operations or crystal methamphetamine labs.”

A third pledge was to create a new criminal offence for drive-by shootings, which would carry a mandatory prison sentence.

Van Loan told reporters in Ottawa late Monday the top government priority on the anti-crime front is to tackle gang-related crime and he expects Nicholson will respond by introducing mandatory prison sentences for drug crimes.

“The wave of gang killings in British Columbia right now is driven by criminal organizations that all function on the drug trade and it is the drug trade that’s at the core of that violence that’s making those communities unsafe,” Van Loan said.

He also said he expects “some action” on the Conservative promise to make gang-related killings first degree murder because “that’s something that would obviously assist police in the context of these organized crime gangs.”

In B.C., the provincial government has been lobbying Ottawa for legislation that would make it easier for police to tap into online communications, such as e-mails.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Ujjal Dosanjh told Nicholson the streets of Toronto and Vancouver have erupted into “war zones” under the Conservative watch.

“In 2006, these sheriffs rode into town slinging rhetoric and pretending to have a silver bullet for every criminal offence,” said the Vancouver South Liberal MP. “Canadians want these bumbling sheriffs to wake up and smell the gun smoke from the streets of Vancouver to the buses in Toronto.”

Nicolson, in turn, accused the Liberals of being “the gang that could not shoot straight.”

– Article from CanWest News Service.

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