VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The Canadian government toughened the country’s organized crime laws on Wednesday, giving police and prosecutors more legal clout to battle gangs’ “signature activities” such as drug trafficking or bookmaking.
The regulatory changes classify 11 offenses involving aspects of gambling, prostitution and illicit drug activity. as “serious offenses”, which lengthens the prison sentence a criminal could face.
The changes also allow police greater use of wiretaps and the ability to seize more proceeds of crimes, and bring the penalties more in line with what a criminal might face in the United States, officials said.
“Such crimes are often considered signature activities of organize crime because of its long-standing involvement in and reliance upon these activities,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told a Montreal news conference.
The announcement comes as the Conservative government appears to be trying to move this summer’s political debate to law and order issues and away from other topics such criticism over its planned changes to next year’s census.
The legal regulatory changes, which do not require Parliament’s approval, were made by the federal cabinet last month but not announced until Wednesday.
The Conservatives also took fire on Wednesday over their proposal to spend more than C$10 billion ($9.8 billion) on prison expansion, a move Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said was needed in part because of an increase in unreported crimes.
The opposition Liberal Party accused the government of scrambling to find a reason to build new jails in the face of statistics showing Canada’s crime rate declined 3 percent last year and 17 percent over the past decade.
“Do they propose to lock up people who haven’t been criminally charged?” Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland asked in a press release.
Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson