Bill C-576 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer)
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Earl Dreeshen Conservative
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Committee Report Presented
(This bill did not become law.)
April 22nd, 2013 / 3:55 p.m.
Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB
Further to the comment on denouncing the crimes, I think that's up to all of us as parliamentarians. I think that is the work each and every one of us will be doing if this bill is supported and it goes to the next stage, and then we can convince the Senate to move it on. I think that's something all of us as parliamentarians have a responsibility to do.
The other aspect is that when I took a look at Bill C-36, and we talked about the elder abuse aspect of it, in the discussions we had on Bill C-576, people said to me that this was dealing with something where people are vulnerable. I believe there was support all throughout with that. This is simply another case of assessing vulnerability and moving our legislation so the courts can make those decisions and that determination.
I think it's important. Bill C-36 was a shining example of what we can do when we work together. When we saw this gap that I've described, based on the difference between perceived versus real as far as the authority of abuse of power is concerned, that was something I tried to address.
April 22nd, 2013 / 3:55 p.m.
Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB
I know that when we were discussing Bill C-576, this was something we talked about: how people can get a hold of this type of material. Setting up another series of rules and so on was certainly not something that I looked at, but it was something that people did discuss.
No doubt when the judges talk to people and take a look at how they managed to get hold of this equipment and go from there, that might be something later. But that certainly was not the intent of my bill. It was simply to give the tools to the courts to be able to deal with this.
April 22nd, 2013 / 3:45 p.m.
Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
You spoke briefly about Bill C-576, which I guess died on the order paper in the previous Parliament. It had worked its way almost to adoption. I'm led to believe that the only difference between Bill C-576 and this bill is that this bill is more encompassing. It takes in as an aggravating factor the personation of a peace officer and a public officer.
I know that Mr. Giguère asked you a question about this, but I sensed your answer was that the reason it covered both of these, both of which are defined under section 2 of the Criminal Code at great length, was to make it consistent with section 130, to which this is an appendage. Am I correct in saying that?
April 22nd, 2013 / 3:45 p.m.
Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB
I'll try to respond to that as quickly as I can in the time remaining.
When I first introduced this as Bill C-576, it was just there as “peace officer”, but because “public officer” specifically refers to Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we expanded it. We had discussions with the drafters when I was going back over this. They felt that was probably the best and most inclusive way. Just to remind you, there were many different entities involved, such as customs and excise, immigration, corrections, fisheries, and Canadian Forces pilots in command of aircraft. No doubt you've seen others: wardens, reeves, sheriffs, justices of the peace, and police officers. This was the rationale for putting the two of them together. This way police officers were in both sides of the definition as it was in section 130, but I do recognize what you're suggesting about other specific ones.
I still think that by stating what this is, the courts would also then look at this as something that is relevant if that was the rationale or the trigger that was used in order to commit another offence.
April 22nd, 2013 / 3:40 p.m.
Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB
Indeed the bill before us came about because of discussions I had with the victim in this particular instance.
During the study and the development of information with regard to the bill, I had a chance to go through some of the different cases. We had a stack of maybe 50 news reports that had come out on this type of thing in just the last couple of years. It didn't just happen and it wasn't in any one particular area. It was happening throughout the country. We saw many cases. I remember specific cases happening in Mississauga.
Shortly after Bill C-576 was presented, we also had a case of something very similar in Calgary. Someone said they were a police officer, and a young person was kidnapped. There was some quick response to that, and fortunately that was able to be solved.
We didn't do a study per se, but in the development of this, we certainly spent a lot of time looking at that. When we presented it both times, as Bill C-576 and now as Bill C-444, we found that people were starting to recognize that it occurred in their ridings and communities as well.
Targeting specifically is based on opportunity, whether that involves youth, who are often there...and again there are specific circumstances. If we speak to the concept of sentencing, aggravating circumstances include the offence being against a minor. Our elder abuse bill looks at that for the elderly and for those with perhaps diminished mental capacity. However, this thought is for all people who are involved.
The second part is where this fell apart.
April 22nd, 2013 / 3:30 p.m.
Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Through you, I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to each of my colleagues for this opportunity to address the justice and human rights committee regarding my private member's bill, Bill C-444, on personating a peace officer or a public officer.
I appreciate the support received during second reading, which allowed this bill to be sent to your committee, and the willingness of my colleagues from all parties to carry this discussion forward.
As you are aware, this is the second time that your committee will study this bill. It was Bill C-576 in the previous Parliament. The committee reported the bill back to the House for third reading without amendments, but it died on the order paper when Parliament dissolved. That was two years ago, but the issue is still very much relevant, and this additional sentencing provision is needed in section 130 of the Criminal Code.
I'm especially pleased to have the opportunity to present my bill to your committee this week, it being National Victims of Crime Awareness Week.
I am joined today by two of my constituents, a brave young woman and her mother, a hard-working registered nurse. Like too many families in our country, their family has endured the worst of our society. Victimized by an offender, at the mercy of the criminal justice system, and now facing future parole hearings, they are survivors and fighters. I am humbled by their courage to come to Ottawa and speak with you today, coincidentally during this National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. They have come here in support of my bill, and I am grateful for that.
I understand that committee members have the bill in front of them, so I'd like to cut to the chase by clarifying my intent and addressing some concerns that committee members might have. The very nature of my bill involves two or more charges, so when we're talking about multiple charges it's important to also discuss multiple sentences, concurrent sentencing, and whether or not my amendment would even apply in the case where the crown is unable to obtain a conviction for a second offence.
These are all important issues, and I appreciate the opportunity to have that thorough discussion with the committee, but I ask the committee to understand and remain focused on my intention to recognize the disarming effect that personating an officer has on a victim and the vulnerable situation that it puts them in. To support victims of this crime by strengthening the reparations provided to them, and to preserve the trust that Canadians have in peace officers and public officers, adding an aggravating circumstance to the sentencing provision for section 130 will achieve these goals.
In terms of the horrible crimes that occurred in my riding, we know that there were multiple charges, both aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and many convictions and many sentences, both consecutive and concurrent. It's probably a great case study for a criminal law student, but for the victims here today, it is a nightmare.
I understand that judges have the discretion to consider any factors they feel may have constituted aggression on the part of an offender, but there are also some circumstances that judges are explicitly required to consider when sentencing. They are in the code because we believe they should always be taken into consideration by a judge.
To expand the discussion further, there are aggravating circumstances defined in section 718 that apply to all criminal offences. There are also some special cases of aggravating circumstances attached to specific offences within the code. To be clear, my bill seeks to have a special aggravating circumstance in regard to the specific offence of personating a peace officer or public officer.
When we look at the aggravating circumstances that currently exist in the Criminal Code, we can see there is a common denominator: the vulnerability of victims. Crimes against children, crimes against the elderly, crimes involving firearms, or crimes that abuse a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim are all circumstances that Parliament has required judges to consider when sentencing.
They are legislated because offenders have taken advantage of the vulnerable position the victims are in. When citizens see a police uniform, they naturally trust the authority that comes with it. Personating a police officer is a serious breach of the public's trust and it has the same effect as using a weapon: it forces the victim to submit. This is why it is important for a judge to be required to consider it an aggravating circumstance to personate a peace officer or public officer as a cover for some other criminal activity. It would apply regardless of the age of the victim.
To address the issue of my amendment having any effect on actual time served, I want to stress that my focus is on amending section 130 to add the sentencing provision regardless of the length of sentences received for other convictions and whether or not they would be served concurrently.
We can only speculate on what type of crimes may be committed alongside section 130 violations, how individual cases would be committed, tried, and sentenced, how much evidence the crown may have in any particular case, or all of the mitigating or aggravating factors that may affect an offender's sentences.
Our role as legislators is to ensure that the maximum sentences and sentencing factors prescribed in the Criminal Code for each offence serve the purpose and principles of sentencing. I'm asking Parliament to add a sentencing provision to the crime of personating peace officers and public officers to ensure that future sentences for this crime serve section 718 of the code.
As for the types of crimes that are committed in concert with personation, what aggravating or mitigating factors might apply to an offender, or how an offender's total time served might pan out, these are all hypothetical scenarios. Mr. Chair, I'm not a lawyer, as many of my honourable colleagues at this table are—I was a math teacher—so I suggest that there are numerous permutations along that line.
Could there be a case where my proposal results in a sentence for section 130 offences being the longest of multiple concurrent sentences? I argue that this could be a possibility.
Could there be a case where my proposal results in a lengthier than otherwise sentence for a section 130 offence while the crown is unable to obtain a conviction for a concurrent offence, or the concurrent offence is thwarted and not carried out? I would argue, Mr. Chair, that this is also possible.
Of course, within the parameters of the maximum sentence for personating an officer, the appropriateness of a sentence would still rest with that sentencing court, but it is up to us as legislators to establish sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code. We should recognize that this is a crime that can have varying degrees of harm, and therefore should be penalized accordingly.
We have legislated a new maximum for this particular crime. Now I believe we should give the courts this additional sentencing provision to ensure that the new maximum is exercised in the most serious cases.
Mr. Chair, during debate in the House, all parties remarked on the lack of credence that is given to this type of public deception. It was only in the preparation of comments that the prevalence of this deceit in the commission of crimes in Canada was brought to a conscious level for members. For victims, it's always at a conscious level.
In section 130, the crime is in the deception of the public about a person's status as a peace officer or public officer, whether or not it is for the specific purpose of facilitating another crime and whether or not another crime is actually attempted or committed. But in cases where the deception is intended to, and in fact does, facilitate the commission of other crimes, these are extremely serious instances of the offence of personating officers, and they therefore deserve appropriately high sentences.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and committee members, for your prompt study of this bill. I would be pleased to answer questions from the members.
Private Members' Business
February 14th, 2013 / 5:45 p.m.
Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC
Mr. Speaker, this is a good bill. I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Red Deer, for tabling this piece of legislation. It is identical to Bill C-576, which he tabled in the 40th Parliament and at that time was supported unanimously at second reading. I will beg his forgiveness if I repeat a lot of the information that was already said, but when we are supporting a good bill, there is nothing wrong with repeating the good points about it.
It is my understanding that the bill is a response to a very tragic incident in Red Deer, where a young girl was sexually assaulted by a man disguised as a police officer. Our society should not have to tolerate this kind of abuse of trust. We need to ensure that our citizens can turn to police officers and other public officials when in need and feel safe in doing so. We see in other countries where criminals disguise themselves as police officers in order to commit crimes, many of them very violent crimes against unsuspecting citizens. We cannot allow this to take place in our country.
Bill C-444 amends section 130 of the Criminal Code to establish that personating a police officer or a public officer for the purpose of committing another offence must be considered by a court to be an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.
This is not a very common offence, but the Criminal Code must be amended all the same. We recognize that this offence is not only an attack on its victims, but it also represents an abuse of the institutions in our society that Canadians must be able to trust. Considering false representation as an aggravating factor instead of proposing a minimum sentence allows us to support this bill, because it respects the victim and judicial independence, and punishes the offender appropriately.
We believe that justice for victims is important and we are pleased to have been able to work with the government on this bill. It is not often that we are able to work with the government so closely, and so I am pleased that we were able to do so on this.
As I already said, this bill comes as a result of an incident that happened in Red Deer when a poor young woman was sexually assaulted by a man who had disguised himself as a police officer and had put fake flashing lights on his car. The assailant is now in prison after being sentenced to 18 years, including an additional six months for impersonating a law enforcement officer. My colleague, the hon. member for Red Deer, described this as the equivalent of committing a crime with a weapon, because the victim is forced to submit to a false authority who is committing a violent act.
This bill says nothing about a minimum sentence. Allowing judges discretionary power is very important.
We will therefore support this bill at all stages, as we planned to do for its predecessor in the previous Parliament. We on this side of the House recognize that this type of crime is not only a horrible attack on the victim, but also an usurpation of the power of the forces of law and order, which is very serious. By pretending to represent institutions that Canadians trust and obey, criminals are attacking society as a whole.
This bill will formally codify this offence and achieve justice for those who have been victims of such crimes.
New Democrats are satisfied with this bill, which will fill a void in the Criminal Code. This bill will ensure justice for victims, respect for judicial independence and suitable punishment for offenders.
We agree with my colleague and his party on this bill. It models a logical and balanced approach to justice, and we are happy to support it. I think this is an excellent example for democracy.
Once again, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Red Deer for his hard work and for introducing this bill again.
Private Members' Business
February 14th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.
Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC
This bill would amend the Criminal Code to establish that personating a peace officer or public officer for the purpose of committing an offence must be considered by a judge to be an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.
This bill is a good, balanced response to this real problem, and I support it at second reading.
It reproduces what was in Bill C-576, which died on the order paper during the 40th Parliament, and it adds the notion of personating a public officer.
The purpose of this bill is to sanction such actions. I commend my hon. colleague from Red Deer who worked on this issue. During previous debates, he mentioned a number of sad stories from across the country in which criminals have used this scheme to commit offences ranging from theft to forcible confinement.
The hon. member for Red Deer also mentioned the fact that Canadians' trust in peace and public officers must be protected. He said in the House:
By supporting the bill, we are also helping to preserve the trust and respect that citizens have for real, bona fide police officers. When citizens see a police uniform, they naturally trust and respect the authority that comes with it. Our laws must reflect this reality.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice clearly explained the importance of this relationship of trust, and the bill seeks to strengthen that relationship between citizens and police officers.
I would also like to comment briefly on the reservations the hon. member for Mount Royal has about this bill.
Although he agrees with the objective and supports the bill, the hon. member doubts that the bill will have the desired effect, namely, of making it possible to impose longer prison sentences. He also mentioned the efficacy of the deterrent effect of longer prison terms. This is a very interesting debate, and I will have the pleasure of talking to him more about it when this bill is sent to committee.
We must recognize that, for once, a bill that amends the Criminal Code is a good thing.
There is no reference to minimum sentences, the independence of the justice system is not being challenged and respect for victims is being made a priority. These things do not happen often enough in this Parliament, and it is important to point it out.
Too often, the Conservatives do not take a logical approach to justice, and I always criticize bills that are sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that either seriously undermine judicial independence or add standards to the Criminal Code that weaken its legal logic.
I would like to commend the hon. member who worked long and hard on this issue and introduced this bill on September 27. I will vote in favour of it.
I would like to come back to the valid statements made by the hon. member for Mount Royal, who brought up some things to think about as we work to solve this rather uncommon problem of personating a peace officer or public officer.
The hon. member brought up the problem of access to police uniforms and equipment. It is true that that is a concern. Restricting access to this sort of clothing and other equipment could be worth looking into.
My hon. colleague also suggested that there be a campaign to raise awareness about police identity cards. These are two interesting possibilities that in no way diminish the merits of the bill. I would like to talk about another point that the bill sheds light on, the fact that people have lost trust in our police institutions.
The member for Red Deer insisted that this was something he thought about when drafting his bill. Therefore, it is essential that people who are approached by police officers for whatever reason know who they are dealing with.
I will come back to my colleague's comments, which echo the member for Mount Royal's suggestion concerning badges, which could be explored:
This is an opportunity to encourage people to think about why they are being stopped, to make sure they ask to see a badge and look for the number. The police are prepared to do that. When I spoke with police officers they said it was common practice. I know a lot of times we think that if we ask for the number, it will cause more concern, but that certainly was not an issue in my discussions with the members I spoke with.
This quote shows that some people are intimidated by the police and do not dare make this legitimate request. The bill brings this out into the open.
I would also like to congratulate my colleague from Gatineau, who provided a good explanation of how the judge and crown prosecutor determine the sentence when the offence is punishable by indictment or by summary conviction.
In closing, I would like to recognize the work of the member for Red Deer and give him my full support for his bill, because it respects the victim and also the independence of the judiciary, and provides appropriate punishment for the offender. This is a well thought out and balanced approach. If a similar approach is taken again, I would be happy to collaborate.
Private Members' Business
January 30th, 2013 / 7:50 p.m.
Kerry-Lynne Findlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-444, an act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer). The bill was introduced by the member for Red Deer and is virtually identical to former Bill C-576. The only difference is that in Bill C-444 the aggravating factor applies to personation of a public officer as well as a peace officer. Former Bill C-576 was approved by the members of this chamber at second reading and was subsequently also adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights without amendment before dying on the order paper.
Bill C-444 is a simple and straightforward bill with only one provision. It would make it a mandatory aggravating factor on sentencing for the crime of personating a peace officer or a public officer, if the offence was committed for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence. As I will shortly explain, the purpose of personating a peace officer or a public officer in order to facilitate the commission of another crime is not an essential feature of the offence for reasons that will become obvious.
Let me begin with the offence itself. Section 130 makes it a crime to personate a peace officer or a public officer. This offence is punishable by up to five years in prison. A person can commit this offence in one of two ways. The first way is if people falsely represent themselves as peace officers or public officers. The word “falsely” means obviously that people only commit the offence if they do not in fact hold the office they pretend to hold. The offence has been interpreted to require that people intentionally misrepresented themselves to someone as if they did in fact hold such an office. There will have to be some evidence that the person deliberately tried to deceive another person about his or her status as a peace officer or a public officer.
The second way people can commit the offence is when they use a badge or other uniform article or equipment in a manner likely to cause others to believe that they are peace officers or public officers. Once again, of course, a person can only commit the offence in this way if he or she is not a peace officer or a public officer. As well, it is clear that there has to be some evidence that the use of the equipment or badge was likely to deceive the public or a person.
Whichever way the offence is committed, two things are clear. First is the harmful nature of this conduct. The very fact that people who have certain functions wear uniforms and use badges and other identifying equipment is testament to the importance of ensuring that the public is able to identify them as people who have those functions.
Some professions require the use of a uniform for a variety of reasons. The uniform is intended, in part, to provide visual proof that the person wearing it belongs to a particular group. This has several beneficial aspects. When people know they are in the presence of a law enforcement officer, their behaviour may change. Not only does the uniform alert potential criminals that law enforcement is present, but it also alerts law-abiding citizens to the same. When citizens need help, they may scan the area for the distinctive uniform of a police officer. When drivers approach an intersection or roadway that is occupied by a person in a police uniform, they typically submit to that person's hand directions without question or delay.
Many parents teach their children to respect and trust a person in a police uniform. The overriding message the uniform sends to law-abiding citizens is that such an individual can be trusted and that is precisely how the problem of police personation arises. It is that natural trust, ordinarily well-founded, that can be exploited and abused by criminals for their own purposes.
Private Members' Business
January 30th, 2013 / 7:30 p.m.
Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to participate in the debate on Bill C-444, which has to do with personating a peace officer or public officer.
This bill is nearly identical to the former Bill C-576, which died on the order paper during the previous Parliament. Bill C-576 made it to second reading and was passed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
The bill has to do with the existing offence of personating a peace officer or public officer. More specifically, it suggests that the fact that an individual personated a peace officer or public officer for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence should be considered an aggravating circumstance during sentencing. The only difference between the two bills is that the current bill also includes the term “public officer”.
Personating a peace officer or public officer is a hybrid offence punishable under indictment by a maximum of five years in prison. Before 2009, this offence was only a summary conviction offence. At the time, it was punishable by a maximum of six months in prison or a maximum fine of $5,000, or both. It was obviously not considered to be a very serious offence.
In 2009, our government changed this offence to a hybrid offence and increased the maximum prison term to five years in the former Bill S-4, the identity theft bill, which came into force on January 10, 2010.
The five-year maximum prison term takes into account the fact that the offence requires only that we establish that the accused personated a peace officer or public officer. There is no requirement that there be malicious intent to specifically do so or that something malicious be accomplished in doing so.
Some individuals may decide to personate a police officer, for example, simply to feel powerful or as a way to do something else that may or may not be serious, such as getting information or gaining access to a location. Personating a peace officer or a public officer so that others believe that one really is such an officer can, in itself, lead to a conviction. No other evidence is required.
In a few instances, personating a police officer or a public officer will be directly associated with other offences. It is a way to enable the commission of other crimes. Since most people in our society have faith in the police and in other public institutions, they may, because of that faith, submit to the authority of an individual they believe to be a peace officer or a public officer.
Cases where people's trust in police and public officers is abused are very troubling. They must be condemned by sentencing courts and by Parliament. Bill C-444 addresses these cases. The bill would require that personating a peace officer or a public officer for the purpose of committing another offence be considered by a court to be an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.
We could think of many situations where someone would voluntarily get into a police officer's vehicle, or let an officer into their home, before realizing that this person actually means them harm. Such cases are rare, fortunately. However, they are extremely serious, which justifies including them specifically in the Criminal Code.
It is also important to recall that in determining a fit sentence, the court must in all cases take into account all relevant aggravating and mitigating factors. Paragraph 718.2(a) of the Criminal Code describes a number of aggravating factors that apply to all offences. These include, for instance, evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim. But in addition to these factors which are specifically listed, the sentencing court always retains discretion to determine if additional circumstances revealed by the evidence are aggravating or mitigating factors that should affect the sentence.
It is already the case that a sentencing judge can take into account the aggravated nature of this form of police or public officer personation. What Bill C-444 does is essentially codify this practice in the text of the law.
Bill C-444 deserves serious consideration in this House because it addresses a truly horrific form of criminality which has so many negative consequences on the public at large, on the ability of police to carry out their functions, and especially on any individuals whose trust in public institutions and authorities was used against them to facilitate their victimization.
While this form of conduct continues to be rare in this country, there have been a number of incidents reported in the media in the last few years. One case involved drivers being stopped by a police impersonator and requested to pay immediately for an alleged speeding offence. Another case involved motorists who were followed after leaving a casino, and then pulled over and robbed of their winnings. There have also been profoundly disturbing cases involving police personation so as to get someone into a car to facilitate their kidnapping.
There was the tragic and devastating incident involving the kidnapping and sexual assault of a teenager in the riding of Red Deer, the riding of the member who is sponsoring this bill. No doubt, this incident is what prompted him to introduce this bill.
All Canadians should be aware that such things can happen and should be encouraged to be vigilant. Citizens should trust the police, but they should also recognize that criminals are not above exploiting that trust. It is a difficult balance to achieve. The exercise of a little bit of caution is a good thing. It is reasonable to ask to see the badge of someone who appears to be a police officer, especially if you are being asked to go with them or to allow them to enter your premises. This kind of verification process must be done respectfully and cautiously.
As Parliamentarians, we can help educate and inform Canadians about these risks. That is exactly what the debate on Bill C-444 is allowing us to do.