A Defence Lawyer's Thoughts on the Unjust "Logic" of Calgary's Gang Laws: Part 1
The very word "gang" calls to mind a group of violent thugs looking to create conflict with the rest of their community. There is a sense of otherness, separation, and isolation and if we're honest an idea of "evilness": gangs are full of "bad guys" who oppose everything Calgary stands for, or so the thinking goes.
These sentiments have been stirred up by the inter-gang violence Calgary witnessed in the first decade of this century between the "Fresh Off the Boat" or FOB gang and the "Fresh Off the Boat Killers" or the FK gang that formed when it split from the FOB. Recent headlines proclaiming a resurgence in gang activity and violence have also served to increase fears and rushes to judgement against those who have been labeled "gang members."
A deeper look at the laws defining gangs in Calgary, and at the larger social forces in the Calgary community that might contribute to gang activity, shows that our preconceived notions about gangs are not only misplaced but counterproductive and even downright dangerous.
Understanding "Gangs" in the Eyes of Calgary Law
Section 467.1(1) of the criminal code of Canada defines a gang or "criminal organization" as:
- (a) is composed of three or more persons in or outside Canada; and
- (b) has as one of its main purposes or main activities the facilitation or commission of one or more serious offences that, if committed, would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of a material benefit, including a financial benefit, by the group or by any of the persons who constitute the group.
Any three people who get together and commit any "serious offence" that could result in their material benefit can be considered a gang, and they can be charged with additional crimes and face harsher penalties due to their "gang" status. Three people jaywalking together wouldn't quite fit the bill, but three misguided friends who decide to joyride in a stolen vehicle, for example, could absolutely be charged as gang members if law enforcement and Crown prosecutors decided to proceed in that manner.
This is not to say that stealing cars is OK, but three kids making a dumb mistake and committing a nonviolent crime doesn't really fit our mental picture of a "gang", yet they would be a gang according to the law. This broad definition of "gangs" under the law gives the Calgary Police and Crown prosecutors a lot of leeway in determining when to lay gang-related charges against Calgary citizens, and we'll see in upcoming installments of this article this can lead to a great deal of injustice and even perpetuate gang activity in Calgary.
Speak to a Calgary Defence Lawyer Who Understands Gang Laws
If you or a family member has been accused of a gang-related crime in the Greater Calgary Area and you would like to speak to a dedicated defence lawyer who understands the difficulties you are facing, please contact my office today.