The court restored a conviction against a cocaine dealer, but upheld two acquittals he won at the Court of Appeal.
The justices used the 7-0 ruling to give lower courts a better idea of how to define a "criminal organization." The Supreme Court hasn't tackled the subject before and different courts have taken different views of just how much structure is required to turn a simple conspiracy into a "criminal organization."
After a major police investigation called Operation Piranha, Carmelo Venneri was convicted of eight offences, including two organized crime counts and possession of cocaine for trafficking.
The Quebec Court of Appeal overturned those three counts. In a split decision the court found that Venneri was not a member of a criminal ring run by Louis-Alain Dauphin. They also ruled that there was no connection between Venneri and a huge cocaine stash found in the homes of two of Dauphin's associates.
The Supreme Court agreed with two of the three cases, but restored a conviction on the third. The justices said Venneri may not have been a formal member of the Dauphin drug ring, but he acted in association with the group.
In the judgment, Justice Morris Fish offered lower courts some points to consider when considering what makes up a "criminal organization."
The Criminal Code defines "criminal organization" as any group of three or more people "however organized" whose main purpose or activity is the commission of serious crimes.
The definition excludes a group that just gets together to commit a single office.
Fish wrote that courts should take a flexible approach in defining what constitutes a criminal organization.
"Care must be taken, however, not to transform the shared attributes of one type of criminal organization into a 'checklist' that needs to be satisfied in every case."
Not every gang has to be as structured as the Mafia or the Hell's Angels.
"Courts must not limit the scope of the provision to the stereotypical model of organized crime — that is, to the highly sophisticated, hierarchical and monopolistic model," he wrote.
But there should be some structure and some longevity.
"Some criminal entities that do not fit the conventional paradigm of organized crime may nonetheless, on account of their cohesiveness and endurance, posed the type of heightened threat contemplated by the legislative scheme."
In the Venneri case, Fish wrote, it was clear that Dauphin ran a major drug organization. But Venneri was independent, a sometime buyer and sometime supplier of cocaine.
He did act "in association" with the gang, however, leading to the reversal of the appeal court acquittal.
"An offender may commit an offence 'in association with' a criminal organization of which the offender is not a member," Fish wrote.