A Calgary Defence Lawyer's Quick Guide to Gang Laws

If you read a newspaper, or, more likely, spot the headlines online, or pay any attention to the Calgary news whatsoever, you've probably seen a lot of stories in the past few months about an increase in "gang" activity. For many Calgary citizens who remember the gang violence we witnessed a little less than a decade ago, these stories understandably inspire a lot of concern, and even some fear.

No one wants to hear that gangs are taking hold in their city, and no one likes the violence that gangs are associated with.

The problem is, this time around when the Calgary Police and the Calgary media outlets talk about "gangs," they're not really talking about what most people think of when they hear the word "gang." They're talking about gangs according to the legal definition of a gang or "criminal organisation" in Canada, which is actually far more broad than most people realize. It's also a designation that grants law enforcement certain enhanced authorities, and that can lead to additional and harsher penalties for those convicted of gang-related crimes.

Here's a quick guide to the gang laws at work in Calgary, and what they mean about the situation our city is facing.

Q: What constitutes a "gang" under Canadian law?
A: According to Section 467.1 (1) of Canada's Criminal Code, a criminal organization is any group consisting of three or more people who meets more than once for at least the purpose of committing a crime.

If three people arrange to buy and sell drugs, and they meet to do this more than once, they can be considered a criminal organization and charged accordingly.

Q: What additional charges and penalties do accused gang members face?
A: Anyone believed to be part of a gang can be charged with participation in a criminal organization, a crime that carries a penalty of up to fourteen years in jail. Counseling someone to take part in a crime as a member of a gang can also result in a charge.

Calgary Police and other law enforcement also have more discretion to use electronic surveillance to investigate suspected gang members, and Calgary citizens accused of gang-related crimes can be held without bail. Sentences for other crimes can also be made longer if they are determined to have been committed as part of a gang.

Finally, those convicted of gang-related crimes may not be eligible for parole as early as those convicted of the same crime without a gang-related enhancement.

Q: What type of "gangs" is Calgary seeing today?
A: Calgary Police have repeatedly said that today's Calgary "gangs" are not large organizations, but are loose and even temporary associations, often between family members and friends, having to do almost exclusively with the illegal drug trade. IN other words, today's "gangs" are small groups of people who have gathered together more than once to buy and sell drugs.

It may be illegal, but it's nothing that hasn't been going on since the beginning of human history, and it has nothing to do with the gangs of Calgary's recent past.

Gang-Related Charges in Calgary are Still VERY Serious

Just because Calgary's current "gangs" aren't the major organizations seen in past years doesn't mean charges for gang-related offences aren't serious. If you or a family member has been charged with a gang-related crime, it is in your best interest to contact a knowledgeable Calgary defence lawyer right away. For a free initial consultation, please contact my office today.