Pierre Poilievre says the Conservative government will set mandatory minimum prison terms for anyone convicted of extortion.
The opposition leader said on Friday that extortion-related crime had risen sharply, with police in several provinces dealing with organized crime threats to businesses.
Poilievre’s comments were made at a mall in Surrey, B.C., where police reportedly opened fire on the business last November.
Canadian cities are grappling with an alarming rise in extortion cases
He said small businesses in communities like Surrey were facing increasing threats of violence, kidnappings, arson and shootings.
“It’s crazy and it shouldn’t be happening in Canada,” he said.
The Opposition Leader highlighted the Liberal government’s 2022 changes to the Criminal Code, which repealed some mandatory minimum sentences for various offences, including a four-year minimum sentence for extortion with a firearm.
However, the five-year mandatory minimum sentence remains for first-time extortionists who use restricted or prohibited firearms or use any type of gun on behalf of a criminal organization.
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Poilievre said the Conservatives would introduce mandatory minimum sentences of three years for anyone convicted of extortion and five years for someone found to be “acting on behalf of gangs or organized crime”.
RCMP detail extortion investigations in Surrey
He said his party’s plan would give police and prosecutors another tool to target gang “leaders” and restore a mandatory minimum four-year sentence for all extortionists who use firearms, regardless of type or circumstances.
Poilievre also said arson would be considered an “aggravating factor” in extortion cases and would see a reversal of what he called “catch and release” policing.
His comments come amid a wave of extortion threats, shootings and arson attacks that police in the three provinces say are targeting mainly South Asian-owned businesses.
Poilievre said Canada needs a “stronger crackdown” on gangs that target vulnerable youth “whose families are under incredible pressure because their parents can no longer afford to feed them.”
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He said the cost of living has risen due to parents working multiple jobs, leaving their children vulnerable to recruitment from gangs who say, “join our gang, we can help your family pay the bills.”
Extortion threats have rocked South Asian communities in Edmonton, BC, Ontario
Canada’s Supreme Court has struck down mandatory minimum sentences for many drug and firearms offenses in the past, but Poilievre said his “proposals are a testament to the Charter.”
“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 clause regardless of the constitution, saying it wouldn’t be necessary.
“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 used by organized crime gangs in the Indian state of Punjab.
In January, Edmonton police announced a series of arrests in connection with 18 extortion incidents in the region that they believe are linked to a series of arsons and drive-by shootings.
RCMP in BC said extortionists looking for “protection money” have recently targeted businesses in Surrey, West Vancouver and White Rock.
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