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Perinchief rules out anti-gang laws

Minister of National Security Wayne Perinchief

Anti-gang legislation will not be tabled in Parliament by National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief.He told The Royal Gazette that though he previously backed the idea of criminalising gang membership, it had been scrapped due to a lack of support from others, including the police.“I wished to bring forward anti-gang legislation,” he said. “[But] that’s fallen off the table because it does have some serious ramifications when it comes to civil liberties and freedom of association.“The police and people who are concerned with civil liberties have convinced me that gang-like behaviour should be the driving force [for prosecuting a person]. We already have in place legislation that serves the same purpose. It’s legislation that militates against gang or gang-like behaviour without actually naming it as anti-gang.”Anti-gang legislation for Bermuda was first touted in 2009 by then Premier Ewart Brown, who wanted to mirror tough laws enacted in Australia and elsewhere.Such legislation typically bans gang members from criminally associating with one another, including on the telephone, and prohibits them from going to places or events where they could pose a serious threat to the public.Dr Brown’s proposal was ditched after police said an anti-gang law would bring its own challenges, potentially making it harder to secure convictions because of the need to prove defendants had committed offences as part of a broader group.Gang violence has risen dramatically in the two years since, with 16 men shot dead since May, 2009 and 12 of those murders remaining unsolved.According to Bermuda Police Service, the Island had 19 gangs in late 2010, 11 of them boasting a strong or moderate membership and/or access to guns.Detectives estimated there were about 350 gang members in total, with 272 belonging to the main gangs. Mr Perinchief revived the idea of anti-gang legislation after becoming National Security Minister in April.He revealed on May 2, a day after the murder of 22-year-old Jason Smith, that Cabinet was due to begin discussing the proposal the very next day.But the former Assistant Commissioner of Police told this newspaper the idea had once again failed to take off.He said his Ministry was instead focusing on legislative options to target antisocial and criminal behaviour, rather than gang membership.That includes the consideration of laws permitting the civil forfeiture of the proceeds of crime. “The law they enacted in Australia, that was brought up to stamp out a specific type of biker gang behaviour and really does not fit the model that we want to put forward,” said Mr Perinchief.United Bermuda Party leader Kim Swan said it sounded as though the Minister was “obviously getting some political pressure”.“I hope political decisions don’t interfere with the national interest of public safety,” he said. “We can’t afford to let political interests interfere with public safety.”Mr Swan said he believed the Minister’s anti-gang proposal had support from all political quarters and should not be dropped without further consultation. “The Minister has reversed his position; however, it was a position reached via consensus,” he said. “We were on the same page.“Due to the extraordinary number of murders in Bermuda in a short period of time and the growth of the gang culture there was a consensus for the need for anti-gang legislation in the national interest.“If the Minister has reversed his position, it would be my advice to him to get the same bipartisan ‘reach out’ and encourage the same buy-in.”The UBP MP added that the “unprecedented” nature of the gun violence meant the Island needed to consider “very different” solutions, but any anti-gang legislation should be balanced with social initiatives.Shadow Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley said the One Bermuda Alliance had always been in favour of focusing on the criminal and antisocial behaviour associated with gangs, rather than gang membership.He said Canada has successfully managed to do just that, adding: “That’s where we need to put our direction.”Senator Dunkley said: “I’d be interested in what the next step is now they’ve taken that off the table. How do they expect to address the type of challenges that we face?”He added that Bermuda’s Criminal Code needed to be updated to reflect changing criminal trends.The decision not to proceed with an anti-gang law flies in the face of a recommendation made by the parliamentary joint select committee on violent crime and gun violence.In its July 15 report tabled in the House of Assembly, the committee said: “In Bermuda there is a real urgency to consider and to put anti-gang legislation in place.”It noted a suggestion by one person who gave evidence to the committee to “send the Attorney General or someone from the Attorney General’s Chambers to Canada to consult with the draftsmen and government officials on legislation relating directly with gang violence”.The report also recommended: “Anti-gang legislation should include the banning of tinted visors, which effectively conceal a person’s identity prior to and during acts of violence. There should also be a sustained enforcement of the ban on tinted car windows.”Others have cautioned against such legislation, including Pastor Leroy Bean, from anti-gang initiative CARTEL, who said earlier this year: “My concern is that this will take away the rights of people not involved in gangs at all.”A Ministry of National Security spokesman said last week: “The Minister is considering the recommendations of the report of the joint select committee but, in advance of discussing the matter with the chairman and his Cabinet colleagues, as well as the anticipated [parliamentary] debate on the report, it is premature to indicate how the Ministry will proceed.”