A young person who has never committed a crime can spend 25 years in jail under the current Anti-Gang bill, says Independent Jennifer Raffoul. She made the comment while contributing to Senate debate on the Anti-Gang bill on Wednesday. She pointed out the offences listed in the bill do not require that the person charged with the offences knew there was criminal activity happening.
“So a person that is young, that may be joining a gang for a sense of belonging or a sense of protection might not have any idea that there is criminal activity happening.” She said the way strict liability is defined in the legislation means a person did not have to have knowledge of criminal activity in order to be accused of being in a gang as the offence was being in a gang and not necessarily having committed criminal activity or having knowledge of it.
“So the risk is that we can have young persons who can be penalised for 25 years maximum in jail for not having committed a crime, not having any knowledge that a crime was being committed.” She said the recommendation for the amendment was to define the offences specifically to make knowledge of a criminal activity of the gang an element of the offence.
Raffoul said the low detection rates had more to do with the ineffectiveness of the Police Service rather than just the existence of gangs. She suggested the national security ministry issue policy directives to the police services including mandating that officers undergo polygraph tests to potentially weed out those who have committed crimes.
She said there are several risks with the bill and they were quite grave including potential for abuse of power by the police in terms of searching and the detention process. She explained the bill puts not only the population but the police at risk as well as there was no pressure to keep proper records and it removed the protection of a judicial officer. She said there was a high risk of cases being dismissed and the potential for discord, animosity and distrust caused by perceived injustice by the state.
Raffoul said the bill introduced more risks than advantages, contained too much subjectivity and she did not believe it will solve crime and gang violence. She added that there was already legislation to deal with criminal matters and there was nothing new in the legislation. She described the legislation as a band aid and a deterrent but not legislation that was needed. She added, however, she would vote based on whether her suggested amendments were included.