Pilot study of method to review closed organized crime files

2. Development of the Pilot Test Method

As noted above, a number of key reports, documents and manuals were reviewed prior to the workshop and site visits. Of particular relevance was the Case Complexity Study conducted by the Research and Statistics Division in 1998, as it is the only previous study to identify FPS files linked to organized crime. In an attempt to minimize respondent burden, data from this study were used to identify a sample of electronic files in CASEVIEW (the Department's electronic file management system), as well as hardcopy files, in order to develop a list of key variables or indicators of an organized crime file. This approach was initially taken to determine whether it would be feasible to use CASEVIEW to identify potential organized crime files for further analysis.

This initial review of the Complexity Study, CASEVIEW, and the hard copy files are described below.

1. Analysis of the data gathered for the 1998 Complexity Study.

The Complexity Study involved a review by regional prosecutors of a national random sample of 1,021 FPS prosecution files using a manual coding form. Among the data elements captured were an indication of whether or not the 'accused profile' was somehow related to organized crime, and a number of case characteristics which would seem logically associated with organized crime cases. As part of the pilot study, these characteristics were cross-tabulated with the organized crime variable. A number of case characteristics were identified as likely to be associated with a case being coded as 'organized crime,' including, whether or not the file involved anti-smuggling issues, proceeds of crime issues, mutual legal assistance requests, higher numbers of accused, counts of charges, the presence of Charter applications, large volumes of disclosure, foreign language evidence, wiretap authorizations or calls in evidence, applications for forfeiture, large amounts of time spent or required to process the case, and assignment of senior counsel to prosecute the case.

Given that FPS was not identifying and monitoring organized crime prosecutions when the current study began, the data from the Case Complexity Study played an important role by identifying files in which the accused may have been involved in organized crime. Access to these data enabled us to undertake a preliminary review of a small sample of CASEVIEW records and hardcopy files from Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau and Toronto (described below).

2. Assessment of CASEVIEW

For reasons of efficiency, and in an effort to minimize the burden of data collection on prosecutors, the initial plan for this study anticipated that CASEVIEW, the file management information system used by the FPS, would provide much of the data required to identify organized crime files within the general caseload.

One of the main tasks of Phase 1 was to identify those data routinely present in CASEVIEW records that are associated with an organized crime file. While there was reason to be optimistic that CASEVIEW would serve the purposes of the pilot study, some caveats were also in order. In particular, it could not be assumed that CASEVIEW records would be complete in all cases or that prosecutors in different regions would be consistent in their use of the system. First steps in this phase of the study included:

  • Reviewing available documentation on CASEVIEW.
  • Identifying CASEVIEW variables that might logically be associated with organized crime files.
  • Reviewing CASEVIEW data on a sample of files from the Case Complexity Study. Of these files, 10 were from the Ottawa-Gatineau regional office, 28 were from Toronto and 21 were from Montreal.

The CASEVIEW data entered prior to 2001 did not seem to be particularly useful in screening the historical file caseload for files involving organized crime. Many fields believed to assist with identifying potential organized crime files were found to be blank, different offices had different practices respecting the use of CASEVIEW, and, most importantly, CASEVIEW was not in widespread use during the time period covered by this study. This latter point reflects the fact that the business standards for the use of CASEVIEW were not introduced until 2001 when training was provided nationally.

After this initial review, it was determined that for the purposes of this study, the best use of CASEVIEW may be as a winnowing tool. Perhaps certain files can be readily identified as NOT organized crime in CASEVIEW and the pool of likely cases reduced in that way. The potential for CASEVIEW to contribute in this way to the methodology to identify closed organized crime files in the FPS caseload will be revisited later in this report.

While our assessment of CASEVIEW meant that we would not recommend using it to retrospectively identify organized crime files, further work should be done to determine its potential usefulness in describing the general nature of organized crime files (e.g., number of accused, charges, complexity level, initiative, etc.) in the FPS caseload.

3. Preliminary review of hardcopy files

A sample of hardcopy files identified by the 1998 Case Complexity Study as 'organized crime files' was reviewed in order to gain an initial understanding of the contents and organization of these files. In an effort to reflect the expected diversity of these files, the samples were drawn from three regional offices: Ottawa-Gatineau, Toronto and Montreal. Both the Toronto and Ottawa-Gatineau offices identified five files. The Montreal office supplied three cases believed to be more characteristic than those identified by the Case Complexity Study. One of these, containing 29 boxes and 52 individual files was so large, that a sample of eight accused (in six files) was randomly selected for review. This review enabled us to identify some key issues to be addressed during the workshop.

4. Preparing for the May 30th Workshop

The activities listed above were instrumental in preparing for the May 30th 2003 Workshop with FPS regional prosecutors. The key objective of the workshop was to develop an operational definition of an organized crime file and list possible indicators of these files for use in the pilot study. Although it was clear that CASEVIEW could not be used reliably to identify potential organized crime files, its possible use as a 'screen' or winnowing tool to narrow the search for potential organized crime files remained on the workshop agenda.

From the review of documents and the experience of completing the preliminary review of hardcopy files, we concluded that existing definitions of criminal organization and criminal organization offence would be helpful in developing an operational definition of an FPS organized crime file for the purposes of the pilot study.

We first examined the Criminal Code of Canada definitions of 'criminal organization offence,' and of a 'criminal organization,' stemming from the 2001 legislation in the Code,

"criminal organization offence" means

  • an offence under section 467.11, 467.12, or 467.13, or a serious offence committed for the benefit of, at the direction, of or in association with, a criminal organization;
  • a conspiracy or an attempt to commit, being an accessory after the fact in relation to, or an counselling in relation to, an offence referred to in paragraph (a).

467.1 (1) The following definitions apply in this Act.

"criminal organization" means a group, however organized, that

  • is composed of three or more persons in or outside Canada; and
  • has as one of its main purposes or main activities the facilitation or commission of one or more serious offences that, if committed, would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of a material benefit, including a financial benefit, by the group or by any of the persons who constitute the group.

It does not include a group of persons that forms randomly for the immediate commission of a single offence.

"Serious offence" means an indictable offence under this or any other Act of Parliament for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for five years or more or another offence that is prescribed by regulation.

As a separate but related initiative, the Department of the Solicitor General of Canada recently (2002) sponsored a Delphi study (an iterative process of written feedback on an issue from a panel of pre-selected experts) aimed at defining organized crime for the purpose of statistical data collection by police agencies. The definition resulting from the Delphi study is as follows:

For data collection purposes, a Criminal Organization:

  1. consists of a static or fluid group of individuals who communicate, cooperate, and conspire within an ongoing collective or network; and
  2. has as one of its main purposes or activities the facilitation or commission of offences undertaken or planned to generate material benefits or financial gain.

A Criminal Organization Offence is any offence under Canada's Criminal Code or under other Acts of Parliament that is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a Criminal Organization.

Like those in the Criminal Code, the definitions above focus on criminal organizations, and offences defined in terms of criminal organizations. Furthermore, they were developed specifically for the purpose of data collection by law enforcement agencies. Consequently, a critical goal of Phase 1 of this project was the development of an operational definition of organized crime files, which is specifically tailored to the task of identifying such files in the FPS caseload.

During the preparation for the workshop, there was discussion of whether the unit of analysis for the pilot study should be a case or a file. A case refers to a set of multiple files with unique file numbers that are linked/associated in some way (e.g. initially part of a police investigation/brief which has been spilt into unique file numbers by the prosecutor). A 'file,' means a paper file or a CASEVIEW record with a unique prefix (region identifier) and single file number. Our preliminary review revealed that a file could refer to:

  • A single accused facing one or more charges, all of which are dealt with in the file.
  • A single accused facing several charges, only some of which are dealt with in the file.
  • More than one accused facing the same or different charges (in that file).
  • No specific accused, but rather background information, such as supporting evidence for wiretaps, police investigative reports or affidavits targeting multiple individuals under a single project heading.

Conversely, an individual accused may generate multiple file numbers for multiple charges.

In order to allow for the use of CASEVIEW to develop a list or sampling frame for Phase 2, the unit of analysis adopted in Phase 1 was a file.

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