07/06/2012 12:29 EDT | Updated 09/05/2012 05:12 EDT

Top court restores organized crime conviction

The Supreme Court of Canada has restored the conviction of a Quebec man under a section of the Criminal Code that makes it illegal to commit a crime "in association with" a criminal organization.

Although the ruling upheld a Quebec appeal court's acquittal of Carmelo Venneri on two drug-related charges involving a criminal organization, it restored his earlier conviction on a third count of commission of an offence for a criminal organization.

The justices are using the 7-0 ruling to give some guidance to lower courts on what constitutes a criminal organization under section 467 of the Criminal Code.

Venneri was arrested following a police investigation called "Operation Piranha" that targeted a drug-trafficking ring in Montreal and seized large quantities of cocaine.

Venneri was arrested later and charged with eight counts related to supplying the operator of the drug ring, referred to as D in the ruling, with cocaine to replace the cocaine lost in the seizure. Three of those charges were filed under a section of the Criminal Code related to criminal organizations.

The appeal court ruled that Venneri was only an associate of D, and therefore not a member of the criminal organization.

But the Supreme Court ruling, written by Justice Morris Fish, found that even though Venneri was not a member of the drug-trafficking ring, "There is ample evidence that [Venneri] knew that D was operating a large drug trafficking organization ― or made himself willfully blind to that obvious fact."

"The phrase 'in association with' captures offences that advance, at least to some degree, the interests of a criminal organization," Justice Fish writes.

Fish notes that Parliament has made it plain that some "structure and degree of continuity" are required to engage the "organized" crime provisions of the Criminal Code, but, he writes "courts must not limit the scope of the provision to the stereotypical model of organized crime."