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Court rulings favour anti-gang legislation Minister

Anti-gang legislation has been drafted for Government and the courts have signalled it could be brought in, according to Minister of National Security Wayne Perinchief.

He gave the update at a public meeting last night, but said concerns over civil liberties were still being addressed, and the whole issue had turned into a “vexing conundrum”.

Mr Perinchief came under fire from the Opposition earlier this month for promoting such legislation when he first came to office, then dropping it, before bringing the idea back to the table again.

Last night at the public forum on gang prevention hosted at St Paul Centennial Hall in Hamilton, he told a 70-strong audience what has happened since he took the helm last April.

He explained various options were researched, including a Canadian law which allows crimes committed within a gang environment to attract extra penalties.

“The problem arose in identifying what a gang was in the Bermudian context,” he said. “In our close-knit families we might have one gang member, let’s say, and just mere association with the family would bring that family under some sort of sanction and there was pushback.

“That was last year. What we are finding now is that gangs are being identified by the police; by name, by region, and the Supreme Court is accepting (evidence) that there are in fact gangs identified by territory, description and certainly association.”

For that reason, he said: “I believe that in time, we will revisit the legislation, the need for it, and the behaviour surrounding gangs and the sanctions to be brought forth not just for membership, but for offences committed within the gang.”

However, he said drafting such a law proved “vexatious” because in Australia, anti biker gang legislation failed the human rights test.

Mr Perinchief revealed: “Recently, Kevin Comeau, a well known lawyer in Bermuda, did assist in drafting some specimen legislation that could actually be adopted in Bermuda but we have to really consider the civil liberties side of that.”

The Minister did not indicate when the draft legislation might be ready for consideration by Parliament.

When former Premier Ewart Brown first mooted anti-gang legislation in 2009, the police signalled that they may not be in favour of the idea. Dr Brown was hoping to mirror Bike Gang laws in Australia, which make being a gang member a criminal offence. However, Assistant Commissioner Paul Wright told this newspaper at the time that there were issues with enforcing laws that make gang membership a crime.

“Anti-gang legislation creates an extra evidential layer. You don’t only have to prove that someone’s committed an offence but done it as a member of a broader group. That can make it more difficult,” he said.

Last night, Mr Perinchief invited Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva to give his views during the public meeting. Mr DeSilva replied that he could not give an official position on legislation that is being considered as “we don’t make the law, we just enforce it.”

However, he noted, there are many reasons why people join gangs and the key to dismantling them could come from addressing three issues; respect, revenge and assets. He suggested that if gang members had other tools to earn respect and settle their differences then they would not want to be in a gang.

Likewise, he said, higher penalties for committing a crime within a gang environment would make membership off-putting. He also highlighted legislation that can strip gang members of their assets.

“If you’re making money as a gang and you get caught you lose everything,” he explained. “If you get caught and everything you have; cash, jewellery, car, girlfriend, watch, everything disappears overnight, that might actually wake people up.

“So I’m not going to endorse any particular piece of legislation but I will endorse the principle that if you can find ways, whether it’s legislative changes, enforcement changes, community changes, if you can take the attractiveness out of gangs they will fall apart overnight because no one will see any value in being in them.”

Mr Perinchief pointed out that legislation has already been brought in allowing the courts to seize cash stemming from criminal conduct. He added that soon, and “probably in this session” of Parliament, there will be further legislation to strip ill-gotten gains in the form of property from gangsters and other criminals.

Commisioner of Poilce Michael DeSilva and Minister of National Security Wayne Perinchief hold up the new Community Action in Gang Prevention rescource guide released last night. (Photo by Mark Tatem)
Booklet reveals gang signs and symbols

A guide to help members of the public spot gangsters has been launched by Government.

The resource booklet is the brainchild of Minister of National Security Wayne Perinchief in conjunction with the Bermuda Police Service.

In the introduction, he states: “The purpose of this booklet is to equip the community with a basic understanding of the gang culture, its signs and symbols and more importantly, how to prevent the spread of this destructive lifestyle.”

The booklet, which is available from Ministry HQ, explains what a gang is, what the gang mentality is, the common traits of gang members and the ways they can be identified. It also advises on how people can be steered away from gang membership.

Police said in 2009 that they know of 17 gangs in Bermuda with at least 350 members. There have been 17 gun murders in Bermuda since May of that year, most of which are believed to be gang-related.

The Minister explained at a public meeting last night: “So much conjecture surrounds the gang culture that I felt it important to produce a comprehensive guide to the issues and spark some discussion around the solutions. We can succeed in this task if we empower each other in a uniform response to the threat of gang culture. Parents must not tolerate or ignore signs of even flirting with the lifestyle.”

The Minister announced plans earlier this month to train teachers on how to recognise gang behaviour in students and intervene if necessary.

The new booklet will be posted on the National Security section of www.gov.bm or hard copies are available from Ministry Headquarters on the first floor of the Government Administration Building, 30 Parliament Street, Hamilton.

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Published February 23, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 23, 2012 at 8:26 am)

Court rulings favour anti-gang legislation Minister

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