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Poilievre proposes mandatory prison terms for extortion-related crimes

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SURREY, B.C. -

Pierre Poilievre says a Conservative government will establish mandatory minimum prison sentences for anyone convicted of extortion.

The opposition leader said Friday that extortion-related crime has skyrocketed, with police in multiple provinces dealing with organized crime threats against businesses.

Poilievre's remarks were delivered in a commercial centre in Surrey, B.C., where police say shots were fired at a business in November last year.

He said small businesses in communities like Surrey have faced increasing threats of violence, kidnapping, arson and shootings.

"This is insane and it should not be happening in Canada," he said.

The opposition leader singled out the Liberal government's amendments to the Criminal Code in 2022 that repealed some mandatory minimum penalties for various crimes, including a four-year minimum for extortion with a firearm.

However, there remains a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for first-time extortionists who use a restricted or prohibited firearm, or who use any type of gun on behalf of a criminal organization.

Poilievre said the Conservatives would impose mandatory minimum sentences of three years on anyone convicted of extortion, and five years for someone found to be "acting on behalf of gangs or organized crime."

He said his party's plan would give police and prosecutors another tool to target "ringleaders" of criminal gangs, and restore the four-year mandatory minimum sentence for all extortionists who use a firearm, regardless of the type or circumstances.

Poilievre also said arson would be considered an "aggravating factor" in extortion cases, and there would be a reversal of what he called "catch and release" policing.

His comments come amid a wave of extortion threats, shootings and arson that police in three provinces have said are primarily targeting South Asian-owned businesses.

Poilievre said Canada needs a "stronger crackdown" on gangs that target vulnerable youth "whose families are under incredible strain because their parents can't afford to feed them anymore."

He said cost of living increases had parents working multiple jobs, leaving their kids vulnerable to recruitment from gangs that say "you come join our gang, we can help your family pay the bills."

The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down mandatory minimum penalties in the past for a number of drug and firearm offences, but Poilievre said his "proposals are Charter proof."

"They respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we want laws that respect the rights of all Canadians, including and especially victims of crime," he said.

Poilievre ruled out using the constitution's notwithstanding clause, saying it wouldn't be needed.

"Everything I'm proposing is constitutional," he said.

Police in at least three provinces are investigating extortion schemes targeting business owners in South Asian communities, a tactic investigators say is commonly employed by organized crime groups in the Indian state of Punjab.

In January, police in Edmonton announced a series of arrests related to 18 extortion incidents in the region that they believed were tied to a series of arsons and drive-by shootings.

RCMP in B.C. have said extortionists seeking "protection money" have recently targeted businesses in Surrey, West Vancouver and White Rock.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2024.

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