Evidence of meeting #32 for Justice and Human Rights in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was amendment.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Brian Murphy

I call this meeting to order. This is meeting number 32 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Today we have on the agenda, pursuant to the order of reference of Friday, October 8, 2010, the consideration of Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (suicide bombings).

The witness and proponent of the bill, fellow MP Kelly Block, is with us today.

We'll go to MP Block for 10 minutes, after which, if needed, we will call upon Glenn Gilmour, counsel in the criminal law policy section of the Department of Justice, to answer questions from members of the House.

I welcome Kelly Block here to present her bill.

You have 10 minutes.

October 28th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I am very pleased to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to speak in support of Bill S-215, which is the same as the former Bill S-205, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (suicide bombings), as passed by the Senate with some amendments on June 10, 2009.

Former Bill S-205 was then debated at second reading in the House of Commons last October and November. It was referred to this committee in November 2009, but it died on the order paper in December.

Mr. Chair, please allow me to provide some background information about this bill for the benefit of all distinguished members.

The bill expressly seeks to include the act of suicide bombing within the context of the Criminal Code definition of terrorist activity.

Suicide bombing is a monstrous way to wreak havoc, because it shows the utmost contempt for human life. The damage from a suicide attack can be tremendous. The September 11 attacks killed nearly 3,000 people.

It is also clear that suicide attacks are becoming an all too common terrorist tactic. The July 7, 2005, London bombings; the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India; the Moscow metro bombings in March of this year; other recent incidents in Dagestan, and many in Afghanistan--all are part of a worldwide trend of terrorizing ordinary people.

Suicide bombing is already covered by the definition of terrorist activity in the Criminal Code, and deservedly so. The definition of terrorist activity is contained in subsection 83.01(1) of the Criminal Code.

Bill S-215 seeks to amend section 83.01 of the code by adding the following after subsection 83.01(1.1):

(1.2) For greater certainty, a suicide bombing is an act that comes within paragraph (a) or (b) of the definition “terrorist activity” in subsection (1) if it satisfies the criteria of that paragraph.

To begin with, the first part of the definition of “terrorist activity” incorporates, in part, criminal conduct as envisaged by the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, one of the United Nations' counterterrorism conventions.

Further, the general definition of terrorist activity found in the second part of the definition includes terrorist activity that intentionally causes death or serious bodily harm, or endangers a person's life. Thus, it could be argued that suicide bombing committed for a terrorist purpose already falls within the definition.

While a general definition of terrorist activity that encompasses suicide bombing would be sufficient for the purposes of prosecution, distinguished Canadian criminal lawyers told the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that explicitly covering suicide bombing in the Criminal Code could help prosecute and punish the organizers, teachers, and sponsors of suicide bombing.

Therefore, Mr. Chair, this bill proposes that a “greater certainty” or definitional clause be added to the definition of terrorist activity. The benefit of this clause is that it provides a clear and forceful education message, not only to the people of Canada but also to the world, that Canada denounces suicide bombing as a tactic of terrorists given its obvious contempt for human life and dignity.

Mr. Chair, this bill is drafted with precision to ensure that this definitional clause is consistent with the definition of terrorist activity currently in the code and does not accidentally enlarge the scope of terrorist activity. The bill expressly states that it is only seeking to include, within the definition, a suicide bombing in circumstances that satisfy the criteria for terrorist activity as stated in the definition of a terrorist activity. In this way, the wording of this provision ensures that any other type of suicide bombing with no connection to terrorist activity is not included in the definition.

Let me provide an example to demonstrate how carefully this definitional clause has been drafted.

On the one hand, I believe we can all agree that a suicide bomber who deliberately targets innocent civilians in order to advance his or her terrorist goals and those who assist him or her in those efforts should be caught by this new definitional clause.

On the other hand, consider the case of a mentally ill man who straps bombs to his body, goes to an empty field, and threatens to blow himself up but no one else. If he does blow himself up, he has engaged in suicide bombing, but there is no intention to intimidate the public for a political, religious, or ideological purpose. Nor is there any intention to harm anyone other than himself. Put simply, in this situation the suicide bomber has no connection at all to terrorism. Such a man was not intended to be caught by the original definition of terrorist activity, nor should he be caught by the new definitional clause.

Proposed subsection 83.01(1.2) of this bill achieves this clarity of result because it makes it clear that a suicide bomber must satisfy the criteria set out in either paragraph (a) or (b) of the definition of terrorist activity. In other words, it must be linked to terrorism.

Mr. Chair, I would also like to briefly note that the bill proposes to come into effect on a day to be fixed by the Governor in Council rather than on the day on which it would receive royal assent. This ensures maximum flexibility for the government to advise provinces of this change before it comes into effect.

As I previously stated, this bill has a lengthy history. It was originally introduced as Bill S-43 on September 28, 2005, reintroduced as Bill S-206 on April 5, 2006, reintroduced yet again as Bill S-210 on October 17, 2007, and reintroduced a fourth time as Bill S-205 on November 20, 2008. By finally passing this bill, Canada would show international leadership by likely being the first nation in the world to adopt this reference in its legislative definition of terrorist activity.

In closing, I support this bill because it promotes the worthy aim of specifically denouncing the despicable act of suicide bombing by terrorists. The changes brought by this bill to the definition of terrorist activity would continue to give Canada the necessary tools to prosecute persons for terrorist suicide bombings, whether it's the suicide bomber himself or herself where there has been an unsuccessful suicide bombing, as well as persons involved in the preparation or counselling of a terrorism offence.

Thank you very much.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Brian Murphy

Thank you for your very precise presentation. We'll have a round of questions of you by members of the committee.

If members have questions of Justice officials, maybe they could wait until the clause-by-clause consideration.

Do we have questions of MP Kelly Block on this bill?

Mr. Lee for seven minutes.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Just to go back to the purpose of the bill, I do understand the denunciation function, the denunciation purpose. But beyond that, it seems to me that if you do have a bomb go off, if you do have a suicide that accompanies it, there wouldn't be much in the way of investigation, prosecution, charge, conviction, sentence to follow, because the suicide has occurred.

Is there some other additional purpose beyond what I've described that would be covered by this legislation?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

My understanding is that by amending this act in this way, this would not only demonstrate how seriously we take suicide bombing but it would provide for the prosecution of anyone who might be identified as having counselled, encouraged, or taught someone to be a suicide bomber.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Okay. I do understand that. Good.

Because there is an absence of definition of what suicide bombing is...although the English words seem to paint a picture for us. You've addressed one of the scenarios, but I just....

We are writing law here. We're criminalizing something. So I'm just curious; if somebody with a sign on his car that says “Save the seals” drives the car into service station gasoline pumps, knowing it's going to blow up, is that a suicide bombing? Or would it be...?

If you're not sure, that's okay. We may not be sure either, because there is not a precise definition here.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

I would decline to answer that question simply because I don't feel I'm in the place to answer...as you've indicated, Mr. Lee.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Okay.

You've mentioned flying a small plane into a field of corn with a banner saying “Down with bad guys and up with good guys”. That wouldn't be clear either...knowing the plane was full of aviation fuel and would explode?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

I don't believe I mentioned that as an example. I mentioned the example of an individual who may choose to take his own life by strapping bombs to himself and that it would not be caught in the definition of terrorist activity.

I believe the intent of this bill is to clarify that individuals who use suicide bombing as a way to intimidate, to cause harm, to cause death to citizens--that would be caught in this definition.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Okay.

Forty-four years ago, a guy came into the Centre Block here. He was wearing a bomb and he blew himself up in one of the washrooms in Centre Block. He obviously had a bomb and intended to use it. It may have gone off prematurely.

I couldn't figure out whether that was a suicide bombing or not. Can you?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

I would suggest that it probably was a suicide bombing: the question is was it a terrorist activity?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Yes. He wanted to be president of the new republic of Canada. That was his purpose.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

That would be the answer that I can provide for you, sir.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Okay, thank you for that.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Brian Murphy

Madam Jennings, there are three minutes left in Mr. Lee's time. Would that suffice?