The Conservative government has expanded the list of serious offences included in the Criminal Code, a move it says will give law enforcement more options for probing and prosecuting organized crime.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced Wednesday that 11 offences will now be considered serious crimes under the Criminal Code, including:

  • Keeping a common gaming or betting house
  • Betting, pool-selling and book-making
  • Committing offences in relation to lotteries and games of chance
  • Cheating while playing a game or in holding the stakes for a game or in betting
  • Keeping a common bawdy-house
  • Various Controlled Drugs and Substances Act offences which relate to the trafficking, importing, exporting, or production of certain scheduled drugs

Nicholson said the changes will help close loopholes in existing legislation and will allow authorities to use organized crime legislation for its intended purpose when these crimes are involved. The changes could also see convicted persons serve more severe sentences for such crimes.

"Under the new regulations, police and prosecutors will have the ability to make greater use of the specific, powerful and appropriate Criminal Code offences and procedures available in organized crime investigations and prosecutions," Nicholson said at a news conference in Montreal.

A government backgrounder released to media indicates that when organized crime groups are involved in activities that are not considered to be serious crimes -- that is, offences that carry sentences upon conviction of less than five years -- authorities have fewer options to investigate and prosecute them.

The justice minister cited prostitution and illegal gambling as examples of revenue sources for organized crime groups, saying that "when there is money to be made through these acts, you can bet that organized crime will be involved."

"Organized crime groups often rely upon the proceeds of these acts to equip themselves to commit violent acts and to fund large-scale criminal operations that threaten public safety," Nicholson added.

The new regulations will come into effect by executive decision of the federal cabinet.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland said that the Conservative government too often turns to tough-on-crime initiatives to win voter support.

"You have a government that's entire solution -- its whole tool kit -- is all focused just on locking people up. All the things that we know work, we know save money, save lives . . . they ignore," Holland said in Ottawa.

"This government, any time it gets into trouble, any time there's a situation where the water starts getting very hot for them politically, starts dumping on the table a rash of crime bills and more often than not, they're not thought through.

"There's very little logic or evidence behind them. It's all about changing the channel and talking points. . . What we get is the government writing policy on the back of a napkin and throwing it out, hoping that people will believe they're doing something."

With files from The Canadian Press