Pubdate: Sat, 27 May 2006
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell, Crime Reporter
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Police Champion Federal Legislation

Caution Stressed For Court Cases

Toronto police swoop down on a pocket of the city ravaged by 
violence, making mass arrests and laying criminal organization 
charges against alleged street gang members or associates.

The next stage for these high-profile gang projects -- there have 
been four in Toronto since 2004 -- is the judicial process, turning 
them into test cases for the federal government's anti-gang 
legislation to help determine whether it's the right tool for 
combating street gangs.

Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant believes it is. "This is the 
most effective and efficient way to address matters involving 
multiple defendants," he said this week after delivering a speech 
outlining how the province is tackling organized crime with 
"organized justice."

Also convinced is police Insp. Greg Getty, who oversaw the operations 
side of things on Project XXX, the force's most recent gang takedown 
targeting the west-end Jamestown Crew. Bail hearings continue next 
week in a Finch Ave. W. court.

"When it was utilized in Malvern, violent crime dropped off the face 
of the earth," Getty said yesterday referring to the Scarborough 
community that had been plagued by gang violence until Project Impact 
and Project Pathfinder took out the warring Malvern Crew and Galloway 
Boys in 2004. When peace is restored, a community is more prepared to 
work with police to prevent a resurgence of gang activity, he added.

Traditional policing approaches -- targeting an individual for an 
individual crime -- won't get at the problem, Getty said. "If one 
person is charged with one count of trafficking marijuana on face 
value, it may or may not be perceived as a serious offence." But the 
perspective of the court may change when you can "put it into the 
totality that the person may be trafficking small amounts of 
marijuana to generate funds for the purchase of firearms to maintain 
criminal control over that area."

Successes such as Malvern prompted the province to dedicate more than 
60 Crown attorneys to work alongside guns and gangs investigators 
across Ontario and why it has earmarked $26 million for an operations 
centre where police and lawyers will work together to ensure the 
success of criminal organization prosecutions.

Introduced by Ottawa as a response to biker wars in Quebec, the 
criminal organization law has been used by several provinces in a bid 
to dismantle and prosecute other organized gang activity, with mixed results.

U.S. authorities took the same approach with the RICO Act. The law 
designed to dismantle the mob has been used to prosecute street gangs 
in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Utah over the past decade.

There are challenges to be sure, not the least of which is steering 
cases into court as expeditiously as possible so defendants don't 
walk free because it took too long to get to trial.

The Crown must establish that the gang members are more than a loose 
confederation of violent criminals but part of an established 
organization with structure, hierarchy and leadership. It must also 
prove members are working in concert for the material benefit of the gang.

"A criminal organization must exist for monetary reasons. It must 
benefit the organization; we don't say, 'He's wearing a patch, he's a 
member of a criminal organization,'" said one Crown attorney familiar 
with how the law is being used.

"We don't have those charges and they specifically weren't drafted 
that way because they wouldn't be constitutional and would be thrown 
out of court in a blink."

And, as Bryant noted in his speech this week, there must also be a 
good working relationship between the police who investigate the 
gangs and the provincial and federal Crowns who prosecute the cases. 
While he deflected a question about turf battles hindering gang 
trials, others say there's no question they could scuttle a case.

As well, a consistent vision and strategy is needed to manage these 
complex files that can involve hundreds of thousands of wiretaps, 
multiple defendants and huge amounts of disclosure.

Since this is all new legal ground, the way the cases are being 
handled is bound to evolve, legal observers say. Take Project 
Flicker, the Toronto police investigation last fall that resulted in 
125 arrests and more than 1,250 charges being laid against alleged 
members of the Ardwick Blood Crew.

With preliminary hearings on the horizon next month, those initial 
charges are currently under review and sources say may be whittled 
down to fewer than 200 against 50 accused.

Any decision to redraft and shrink the indictment would likely be 
done to avert the kind of disaster that took place in Edmonton in 
2003 when a big drug-conspiracy trial crumbled after millions of 
dollars was spent and a "super courtroom" built to accommodate three 
dozen people charged with being part of a criminal gang.

And there have been other hiccups, including a B.C. judge striking 
part of the law down as unconstitutional. The federal justice 
department has appealed the ruling.

What's essential, lawyers and police agree, is that the necessary 
infrastructure, resources and co-ordination be in place.

Tackling a criminal organization is a far cry from prosecuting a 
common assault, said James Morton, vice-president of the Ontario Bar 
Association. He believes authorities have no choice but to use the 
criminal organization provisions against street gangs, "as long as 
they are used with care" and don't cast too wide a net when rounding 
up and charging suspects.

"Part of the problem is that we're dealing with criminal 
organizations that really do have 100 or 150 members which is why 
these prosecutions seem so big and unwieldy. It is the nature of the beast."
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