Gang insignia bill questioned

By Issac Davidson, Kiri Gillespie


A proposed law to ban gang patches in schools, police stations and Work and Income offices has been rubbished by a Tauranga community leader and spokesman from New Zealand's Law Society.

A select committee heard submissions yesterday on National MP Todd McClay's bill, which would make it a criminal offence to wear gang insignia in government-owned premises.

The bill related not only to gang patches but coloured clothing associated with gangs.

It had since been criticised for being too broad and could accidently capture people innocently wearing gang colours.

Graham Cameron, services manager of the Merivale Community Centre, said the proposed bill was a waste of time and resources.

"It's a law change trying to find problems that don't exist," he said.

"Most parents in gangs or people in gangs wouldn't wear their patch to school or those kind of places like Winz because they know why they are there - they are there to pick up their kids or get support."

Mr Cameron questioned how the law would be enforced when police were already busy enough with other crimes. "What are people going to do? Say, 'take your patch off or I'll call the police'?

"What it doesn't deal with is why people are in gangs in the first place, which is about poverty, looking for some form of connection and power in the community."

Law Society human rights and privacy spokesman Robert Hesketh said insignia was too widely defined in the legislation and would capture clothing that was not intended to be intimidating. The society felt the bill should not progress beyond the select committee stage but, if it did, it needed to be amended to tighten the definition.

Mr Hesketh noted that the bill clashed with the Bill of Rights Act because it was inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression.

"One is reminded of that time-honoured mantra that one may not agree with what another person expresses, but certainly the right to have and convey that expression is guaranteed by our Bill of Rights Act," he said.

Mr McClay, the MP for Rotorua, told the committee that the bill was not a "silver bullet" but would reduce the influence of gangs.

"This bill is drafted to reduce intimidation, offer greater protection to victims and law-abiding citizens, and ... is to focus on the harm and significant misery that gangs cause throughout all communities in all parts of New Zealand."

He said the proposed law change was influenced by the community marches against gangs in Murupara, which occurred after the murder of a youth, who was killed because his school uniform was the colour of a rival gang in the region.

Mr McClay cited a submission by Whitireia Community Law Centre, which spoke of the stranglehold the Mongrel Mob gang had on an area of Porirua.

Two of the law centre's clients had been murdered by Mongrel Mob members, and staff had worked with a 12-year-old girl who had been pack-raped by a gang.

The centre's submission said gang patches were a "conduit" in fuelling fear in the community.

The Police Association supported of the bill, saying it was part of a suite of changes needed to undermine gangs.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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