Organized crime is defined in the Criminal Code of Canada as a group of three or more individuals in or outside Canada whose main purpose is to commit or facilitate a serious offence that is likely to result in financial benefit. As such, many illicit activities may be deemed organized crime as long as there is a minimum of three individuals involved. Examples include identity theft, fraud, human trafficking, sex crimes, and selling illegal narcotics.
What is organized crime?
Common Organized Crime Offences
The most common offences committed by organized crime groups in Canada involve the sale, production and trafficking of drugs. The potential or probable sentence depends on the type of controlled substance, the quantity, and whether the Crown prosecution proceeds by way of summary conviction or indictment.
Theft can also be deemed an organized activity where there are three or more individuals seeking to profit, including theft of an automobile. Theft of property under $5,000.00 is treated as a summary conviction offence (where liability is imprisonment of up to 2 years); theft of more than $5,000.00 is an indictable offence (where liability is imprisonment of up to ten years). The actual sentence for each case varies and is contingent upon a prior related criminal record.
Defining Organized Crime under the Criminal Code
There are three specific offences under the Criminal Code that regulate criminal organizations, which your criminal lawyer will be able to identify for you:
- Participation in the activities of a criminal organization. This offence is punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years. It may include individuals who launder money for a criminal organization.
- Commission of an offence for a criminal organization. This offence is punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 14 years. It usually applies to those who commit various criminal offences such as drug importation or exportation, extortion, arson, kidnapping, violence, gaming, and money-laundering from which the organization derives a benefit.
- Instructing the commission of an offence for a criminal organization. This is the most serious of the three offences and is punishable by imprisonment for life.
Any other Criminal Code sentences levied against a member of a criminal organization must be served consecutively with the above-mentioned convictions. Further, there are Criminal Code provisions which can be applied in conjunction, such as conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and counselling a person to commit a crime.
In order to secure a Criminal Code conviction for any offence related to organized crime, the Crown must prove the existence and membership of a “criminal organization” whereby a formal structure and a degree of continuity are established. Accordingly, the courts have given a wide interpretation as to what constitutes as organized.
Further considerations that the courts have taken in determining whether an individual participates in, or actively contributes to, any activity of a criminal organization include whether they use a name, word, symbol, or other representation that identifies the criminal organization; whether they frequently associate with any of the persons who constitute the criminal organization; whether they receive any type of benefit from the criminal organization; and whether they engage in activities at the instruction of any of the persons who constitute the criminal organization.
The Supreme Court of Canada has also interpreted the organized crime provisions of the Criminal Code to determine that a group, rather than individuals, can be considered a criminal organization. In 2005 an Ontario court found the Hells Angels were a “criminal organization” as the term is defined in the Criminal Code. However, the courts have also shown some restraint with regards to interpreting the proper seizure and forfeiture of “offence-related property” as it pertains to organized crime. In a case once again involving Hells Angels, the court found that a club owned property with the Hells Angels insignia did not constitute offence-related property. This was despite the fact that the crown argued the symbols were used to intimate, and thus used in furtherance of their organized crime offences.